Sundance Film Festival comes to Atlanta

View 12 films from 2021 fest on local screens
Darrel Britt-Gibson, Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield appear in <i>Judas and the Black Messiah</i> by Shaka King, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Glen Wilson.

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Daniel Kaluuya plays Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” one of the Sundance Satellite Screens films at the Plaza Theatre. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

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Credit: Handout

For more than 40 years the Sundance Film Festival has been American cinema’s most prestigious showcase for independent feature films and documentaries, launching the careers of such talents as Quentin Tarantino and Ava DuVernay. For this year’s event, which takes place Jan. 28-Feb. 3, concerns over COVID-19 has forced Sundance’s world premiere screenings to shift from Park City, Utah, to a digital platform.

But if the audience can’t go to Sundance’s 44th festival, why not send Sundance to the audience? In addition to making virtual tickets and passes available to the general public, the festival has launched a new, concurrent Satellite Screens initiative offering in-person screenings of select films in 30 U.S. cities, including Atlanta.

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Credit: Handout

Partnering with the Plaza Theatre and the Atlanta Film Society, Sundance will present 12 of the festival’s new films at three locations ― indoors at the Plaza and outdoors on drive-in screens at the Plaza and Dad’s Garage Theatre.

Rather than offer a narrow, take-it-or-leave-it slate of choices, Sundance allowed national partners to select from the 72 films scheduled for the 2021 festival, so no two theaters’ line-ups will be exactly the same. Plaza Theatre owner Chris Escobar says choosing Atlanta’s films meant weighing factors such as the communities the cinema serves, the most popular genres at the Plaza and subject matter with strong local interest, such as race and gender equality.

In addition to the films, the Plaza will offer local programming, including a slate of free, online Beyond Film conversations about the screenings, plus talks and presentations related to the Georgia film industry and more. Confirmed partners include Out on Film, Bronze Lens Film Festival, Videodrome and Women in Film and Television Atlanta.

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Credit: Handout

“If there is a safety measure, we have taken it,” Escobar says about health protocols for the Plaza’s indoor theater, where seating is arranged in pods of four with a total capacity of 126. “The entire experience is contactless, including purchasing from the concession stand.” Food service is also available from The Righteous Room next door.

Audiences that prefer an outdoor viewing experience have the option of the drive-in theaters located in the parking lots at the Plaza and Dad’s Garage. They can accommodate 42 and 54 cars, respectively.

After nearly a full year of fragmented movie viewing, much of it binged in the privacy of our homes, the 2021 Sundance Festival offers a chance to recapture moviegoing as a group activity.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Sundance Satellite Screen Highlights

‘CODA.’ Siân Heder writes and directs the story of a young woman named Ruby, a child of deaf adults (CODA), who finds herself torn between her musical ambitions and her family’s struggling business. Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin co-stars. (7:15 p.m. Jan. 28, Plaza indoors; 7:45 p.m., Jan. 28, Plaza Drive-In)

‘Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It.’ Mariem Pérez Riera’s documentary covers the decades-spanning career of actor Rita Moreno from before “West Side Story” to the current reboot of “One Day at a Time.” Says Escobar, “As the first Hispanic director of the Atlanta Film Society and the first minority owner of the Plaza, I’m excited for the documentary about the first Spanish EGOT winner.” (7 p.m. Jan. 29, Plaza indoors; 7:30 p.m., Jan. 29, Plaza Drive-In)

‘Cryptozoo.’ This off-beat animated film from the director of “My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea” depicts a group of “cryptozookeepers” trying to capture a mythological beast while questioning the morality of their work. The voice cast includes Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Peter Stormare and Grace Zabriskie. (9:30 p.m. Jan. 29, Plaza indoors; 9:45 p.m., Jan. 29, Plaza Drive-In)

‘Passing.’ Actress Rebecca Hall (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) writes and directs this drama, based on Nella Larson’s novel of the same name, about two African-American women (Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga) who can pass as white but live on opposite sides of New York’s color line in 1929. “Anything that Tessa Thompson is in is worth seeing, and the topic is an important conversation for Atlanta to engage with,” Escobar says. (6:30 p.m. Jan. 30, Plaza indoors; 7 p.m., Jan. 30, Plaza Drive-In)

‘My Name is Pauli Murray.’ This documentary profiles pioneering civil rights activist Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray, whose work influenced the likes of Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen (whose documentary “RBG” screened at the 2018 Atlanta Film Festival) are scheduled to be in attendance. (6:30 p.m. Jan. 31, Dad’s Garage Drive-In; 6:30 p.m., Jan. 31, Plaza indoors)

‘All Light, Everywhere.’ Theo Anthony directs this documentary look at police body cameras and other surveillance technologies to explore the challenges of identifying the truth among subjective points of view. (7 p.m., Jan. 31, Plaza Drive-In)

‘The Blazing World.’ Adapting her own short film, which screened at Sundance in 2018, Carlson Young directs and stars as a young woman haunted by the death of her sister in an atmospheric tale that draws on elements of horror and fantasy. Co-stars include Udo Kier and Dermot Mulroney. (9 p.m. Jan. 31, Plaza indoors; 9:45 p.m., Jan. 31, Plaza Drive-In)

‘Ailey.’ Fans of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre will want to see Jamila Wignot’s documentary of the eponymous dancer and choreographer, told in his own words as well as archival footage of his signature dances. (7 p.m. Feb. 1, Plaza indoors; 7:30 p.m., Feb. 1, Plaza Drive-In)

‘Judas and the Black Messiah.’ The powerhouse acting duo of Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”) and Lakeith Stanfield (“Sorry to Bother You”) play, respectively, Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton and a secret FBI informant working against him in the late 1960s. This intense-looking drama from Shaka King could pair well with Netflix’s similarly themed “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” (9:30 p.m. Feb. 1, Plaza indoors and Dad’s Garage Drive-In)

‘Coming Home in the Dark.’ This thriller from New Zealand depicts a family menaced by a pair of drifters while exploring an isolated coastline. “Horror and genre films do well, both at the Atlanta Film Festival and the Plaza,” Escobar says. (10:15 p.m. Feb. 1, Plaza Drive-In)


Sundance Film Festival. Jan. 28-Feb. 3. $15 per virtual screening, $350 for virtual festival pass.

Satellite Screens. $20 for Plaza Theatre indoors; $15-$50 for drive-in. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. Dad’s Garage Theatre, 569 Ezzard St., Atlanta.

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