The Sundance Film Festival has long been a bastion of values of inclusion and diversity - values that have suddenly become deeply politicized after the recent election cycle.
The festival has begun to roll out the programming announcements for its 2017 edition with the release Wednesday of an initial slate of 66 films for the U.S. Competition, World Competition, and Next sections. The festival (Jan. 19-29) overlaps with two events from beyond Utah that may, nevertheless, have an effect on it - the presidential inauguration and the announcements of Oscar nominations.
Sundance's programming team was deep into planning long before the election results, but they expect the mood of the event may now be far different than anticipated.
"I do think audiences are going to be looking at these movies differently, even though we weren't bringing that to them in the moment," said festival director John Cooper.
"It didn't change any of our decisions, but we did talk about what the lives of these films might be postelection," said director of programming Trevor Groth.
That urgency likely will be felt most strongly with the 16 world premiere titles in the U.S. documentary competition. Matthew Heineman's City of Ghosts will include footage from inside a Syrian village overtaken by the Islamic State. The New Radical, directed by Adam Bhala Lough, will look at millennial radicals in the United States and Britain.
Peter Nicks' The Force will look at the Oakland Police Department, and Sabaah Jordan and codirector Damon Davis' Whose Streets? will explore the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Sundance organizers said movies like these, while telling difficult stories, would provide a reminder of the power of cultural expression in complicated times.
Among other films in the U.S. documentary competition are Kitty Green's Casting JonBenet, on the local effect of JonBenet Ramsey's story on her Colorado hometown, and Peter Bratt's Dolores, about activist Dolores Huerta.
For the first time, the festival is spotlighting a specific theme across its programming, with an emphasis on climate change and environmental preservation. The New Climate program includes the documentaries Chasing Coral; Trophy, Water & Power: A California Heist; Plastic China; and Machines.
"Climate change is one of the big issues facing the world, and we think a lot of it is getting lost in the notion of who is telling the story," Cooper said.
But it's the special alchemy of the right movie at the right time that keeps hopefuls returning to the festival year after year.
Groth said there was a sense that previous winners Beasts of the Southern Wild and Whiplash were like that. But with 2016 Grand Jury winner The Birth of a Nation, "I never could have predicted it was going to have the festival life that it had. So in that sense, who knows? We'll see what happens . . . with these new films."