It's an irony that the creator of an independent or art-house film might appreciate:
If you want to see the movies selected for this year's Sundance Film Festival in a theater, stay away from Park City, Utah, the festival's home city.
Instead, come to Memphis.
Set to run Jan. 20-30, the 2022 Sundance Film Festival had been expected to attract thousands of people to Park City. The event was expected to expand upon last year's pandemic-compromised "hybrid" festival, which offered a mix of in-person and online activities.
But on Jan. 5, organizers announced they had decided to scrap the "in-person" events in favor of an entirely "virtual" festival, due to what a press release called the surge in the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, "with its unexpectedly high transmissibility rates."
So, Park City's Sundance screens will be dark. Meanwhile, the festival's seven "satellite" screens — including the Crosstown Theater in Memphis — will be up and running, giving audiences a now more exclusive opportunity to be the first people to see these new films in their world premieres in a public setting.
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Sundance expands beyond Park City
"We're incredibly excited to continue this partnership with Sundance," said Indie Memphis executive director Knox Shelton. In years past, "these films would only have been available to attendees at Sundance, so it's really a unique opportunity to get to screen them here at this time."
"It's kind of a huge pressure, and an honor," said Miriam Bale, Indie Memphis artistic director.
The Indie Memphis-Sundance "satellite" was launched last year, when the Memphis film organization became an official partner of the premier American independent film festival, co-founded by actor Robert Redford 44 years ago.
Seeking to expand its national reach even as the pandemic forced the festival to contract its Park City activities, Sundance invited Indie Memphis to host one of its new satellite screens.
Twelve films were shown over five days at the Summer Quartet Drive-In, including "Judas and the Black Messiah," which went on to win two Academy Awards, and "Passing," which is expected to earn some Oscar recognition this year, when the nominations are announced Feb. 8.
This year, the satellite has drifted indoors. Eight films will be shown over three days at the Crosstown Theater, in a film-festival-style format that schedules up to four movies per day.
This satellite designation puts Memphis in some select company. Last year, Sundance authorized close to 30 "satellites." This year, in premature anticipation of a more back-to-normal festival, Sundance reduced the number to seven. The other 2022 Sundance satellite screens are located at film forums and art-house cinemas in Seattle; San Diego; Baltimore; Lawrence, Kansas; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and Amherst, Massachusetts.
"It presents an interesting but special opportunity," said Kayla Myers, Indie Memphis programmer and Black Creators Forum coordinator. "I'm glad we're able to provide this experience for people here in Memphis. These are films that people are going to be talking about for the rest of the year."
Bale said the features selected for the satellite screens were selected by Sundance representatives after Zoom meetings between festival organizers and satellite venue programmers. The goal was to arrive at a slate of films that would reflect "our shared values" while also offering "a mix of types," Bale said. "There are comedies, there are informative documentaries, there are more experimental films..."
She said one of the films, "Emergency," is likely to be "the talk of Sundance. I think the director handled some really heavy material using comedy rather than just drama in a way I haven't seen before. It's a really bold film."
What films are playing in Memphis?
Here's the Crosstown schedule. Some films will be followed by Zoom interviews with the filmmakers.
"Sirens" — 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28. Based in the outskirts of Beirut, Rita Baghdadi's documentary follows the members of the Middle East's first all-female thrash-metal rock band.
"Every Day in Kaimukī" — 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 29. A cynical young skateboarder who has spent his entire life in Hawaii plans a move to New York in this slice-of-life debut drama from director Alika Tengan. The film will be preceded by two shorts, including "What Travelers are Saying About Jornado del Muerto," directed by Hope Tucker of Memphis, an associate professor of film and video at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, who will be in attendance to introduce her film.
"Free Chol Soo Lee" — 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29. The complicated fate of a Korean immigrant wrongfully convicted in a 1973 San Francisco Chinatown gang murder is the basis for a documentary, directed by Eugene Yi and Julie Ha.
"La Guerra Civil" — 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29. Actress Eva Longoria directed this documentary look at the rivalry between boxers Oscar De La Hoya and Julio César Chávez, which in the 1990s "sparked a cultural divide between Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans," according to Sundance.
"Emergency" — 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29. Director Carey Williams' timely comedy-drama follows a group of young Black and Latino friends who debate the pros and cons of calling the police after they find themselves in a tragic emergency situation after a night of partying.
"Marte Um (Mars One)" — 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30. Writer-director Gabriel Martins' drama follows a lower-middle-class Black family in Brazil as it copes with the country's new social-political reality following the election of far-right populist Jair Bolsonaro as president.
"Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul" — 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30. Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown star as the "first lady" and pastor of a Baptist megachurch in this satire of for-profit religion, created by the Ebo Twins (writer-director Adamma Ebo and producer Adanne Ebo).
"Alice" — 9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30. Sounds like a Sundance mix of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village" and the recent horror film "Antebellum": Keke Palmer stars as a field worker in rural Georgia who escapes from a slave plantation and finds herself in 1973. Directed by Krystin Ver Linden. Memphis actor Kenneth Farmer, who has a key supporting role in the film, will attend and will introduce the screening.
Tickets are $12 per film, or $36 for a four-ticket bundle. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required for attendees, and masks must be worn in the auditorium. Seating capacity will be reduced by half, meaning that about 180 tickets will be available for each show.
To purchase tickets or for more information, visit indiememphis.org.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Sundance Film Festival in Memphis: What's playing at Crosstown Theater