SAN ANTONIO — While Texas's marquee film festival, South by Southwest, is still weeks away, the 2021 Sundance Film Festival is set to kick off next week with virtual movie premieres, panels and interactive events.
In addition to a diverse program stocked with movies from younger filmmakers and international storytellers, the festival also finds itself in the position of premiering a final group of Oscar hopefuls after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences delayed this year's ceremony by eight weeks to April 25. Thus, mixed in with the smaller cinematic selections of the ilk that Sundance typically showcases are bigger marquee titles. The most anticipated of them: Shaka King's "Judas and the Black Messiah," which dramatizes the story behind the assassination of Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).
But also vying for the eyeballs of virtual festival-goers is a trio of movies with ties to the Lone Star State, including two documentaries that tell Texas stories.
One of those docs is "At the Ready," which explores the personal and interpersonal conflicts of students who enroll in law enforcement classes at an El Paso high school with aspirations of entering the field. "At the Ready" is the follow-up to director Maisie Crow's first feature-length documentary, 2016's "Jackson," in which she chronicled the blossoming abortion debate in the political area through the lens of Mississippi's lone clinic still performing them. "Jackson" won several awards on the festival circuit, and also the Emmy for Outstanding Social Issue Documentary in 2018.
Not only is Crow's upcoming movie more relevant for Texas audiences; it's also closer to home for Crow herself. She lives in Marfa, and serves as editor-in-chief of both the Big Bend Sentinel and Presidio International newspapers.
"Cusp," from directors Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt, treads on Texan land while diving into more universal subject matter. The film's Sundance synopsis describes it as depicting "one formative year of teenage life for three friends in a Texas town where there’s little to do but party—and where liquor, drugs, and guns are standard recreational accessories."
The project has humble origins; Hill and Bethencourt say they met the girls by chance while stopping to fill up at a Texas gas station, and were struck by their "unbridled teenage energy." The rest is history, and Sundance attendees will be able to observe that energy for themselves when the film premieres at the end of January.
Moving away from the horrors of teenagerdom and into the horrors of psychological paranoia—the horror thriller "The Blazing World," which finds its protagonist journeying "down the smokiest and scariest corridors of her imagination," will also bow at Sundance. It comes from Fort Worth native Carlson Young, the seasoned actress who pulls triple-duty here as director, writer and lead actress. It's a full-scale adaptation of Young's own 2018 short film of the same name.
Sundance kicks off Jan. 28 and will last through Feb. 3 this year.