The Sundance Film Festival unveiled the lineup for its 40th edition on Dec. 6, with documentaries on Luther Vandross, Lollapalooza, Brian Eno and Devo among the highlights for musically-inclined cinephiles headed to the mountain resort festival. Sundance runs from Jan. 18-28 in Park City, Utah.
The festival — among the most significant in the U.S. — has long been a launchpad for music docs, with films such as Dig!, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, What Happened Miss Simone, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck and the Oscar-winning Summer of Soul all having had their first public screenings at the fest. In more recent years, Sundance hosted the premieres of NYC rock doc Meet Me in the Bathroom, Sinead O’Connor bio Nothing Compares, and the three-film Kanye West docuseries Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy.
Notable among this year’s crop is Devo, which the festival calls “a high-energy documentary [that] embraces the spectacle of the band reveling in lofi archival footage, swift montage, and a charging rhythm that leaves you mesmerized by their wild rise. Band members are open with both their memories and archives — finally sharing their full story.” The film is directed by Chris Smith, of American Movie fame.
Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza is a three-part documentary series exploring the early years of the festival, which began as an elaborate farewell for Jane’s Addiction and eventually evolved into an era-defining traveling show, and finally a massive three-day Chicago destination fest. The first two episodes of the series, directed by Michael John Warren, will screen at Sundance.
Acclaimed documentarian Dawn Porter (Trapped, John Lewis: Good Trouble) surveys the legacy of the late Luther Vandross in Luther: Never Too Much, tracking the career of a man who rose from a backup singer for David Bowie into perhaps the defining R&B voice of the 1980s. According to the festival program, in the doc “Porter goes beyond the spotlight to delve into the man behind the music—insights from musicians and friends alongside archival interviews with Luther himself reveal his humor, frustrations, loneliness, and unwavering dedication to his craft.”
Gary Hustwit’s Eno features conversations with the legendary producer, best known for his work with Roxy Music, Talking Heads and David Bowie. As one might expect, given the subject, the film does not appear to be a standard talking head bio-doc, with the festival screening it in the experimental New Frontiers section, and the notes calling it “a groundbreaking generative documentary…that’s different every time its shown.” The description continues: “Hustwit and creative technologist Brendan Dawes have developed a bespoke generative software designed to sequence scenes and create transitions out of Hustwit’s original interviews with Eno, and Eno’s rich archive of hundreds of hours of never-before-seen footage, and unreleased music. Each screening of Eno is unique, presenting different scenes, order, music, and meant to be experienced live.”
Additionally, J.M. Harper’s documentary As We Speak explores “the weaponization of rap lyrics in the United States criminal justice system,” a long controversial issue given fresh attention in recent weeks thanks to the trial of Young Thug.