Local cinephiles now have two options if they want to catch a public screening of films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
They can catch a cross-country jet to Park City, forking over serious coin for food, accommodations, and festival passes.
Or they can just hop on I-85 and drive to Winston-Salem instead.
The famous international film festival has chosen a/perture cinema, an art-house theater in the Twin City, as one of seven satellite screening sites across the country. The downtown movie house, known for its eclectic mix of independent, foreign, and documentary films, will show eight of the festival’s feature films and three shorts during the last weekend of Sundance, January 28–30.
The festival began its satellite site program in 2021 to reach new audiences and strengthen partnerships with independent cinemas, film festivals, and arts organizations threatened during the COVID pandemic. Sundance screened films in 31 cities outside its Utah headquarters last year.
With theaters reopening across the country over the past year, the festival scaled its satellite program back, selecting seven venues out of the 107 that applied from 40 states. According to Brenda Coughlin, Sundance’s director of engagement and advocacy, the festival sought out independently owned and accessible theaters “committed to vibrant independent film, excellence in community programming and outreach, and to inclusion and equity.”
In particular, Sundance looked for partners “who demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion in their leadership, staff, and programming.”
“We really try hard to represent diversity in our programming,” says Lawren Desai, a/perture’s executive director and curator. “We bring films to screen by underrepresented filmmakers and women directors, and world cinema is a significant part of our programming.”
Foreign films from over 50 countries made up roughly half of the 251 films the cinema showed virtually and in-house in 2020; a third of its films were directed by women.
That year, a/perture also screened 95 new documentaries and 47 movies with directors who were Black, Indigenous, or people of color.
According to Coughlin, Sundance “saw in a/perture all the qualities we were looking for. They are a contributor to a vibrant regional cinema culture and we’re thrilled to be working with them.”
“As best we can, we try to do for film what Sundance does obviously on a much higher level,” notes Desai. “These are the kinds of films we show all year. If people like them, they don’t just have to come for Sundance.”
Individual tickets for the North Carolina shows, while available, will be less expensive than those available in Utah, at just $15 a pop. And those tickets will be sold à la carte; a/perture won’t be aggregating shows in passes for the festival weekend.
“Since there’s such a limited number of tickets, we wanted to make them as accessible as possible,” Desai says.
And there’s the rub for interested theatergoers, since the four-screen complex in Winston-Salem is a decidedly intimate venue.
Its largest rooms seat 80 patrons. Each of the eight Sundance features will be screened once over the festival weekend. And tickets go on sale to members of the cinema on January 5, one day before they’re available to the general public. (Interested theatergoers can buy qualifying memberships online, starting at $35 for young adults, seniors, teachers, and the military.)
Desai is particularly interested in screening Sirens, a Lebanese documentary about the Middle East’s first all-women heavy metal band, Slaves to Sirens, and the band members’ struggles to pursue their dreams amid the ongoing unrest and destruction in Beirut.
“Heavy metal isn’t for everybody, but you’re really pulled in from the beginning of the film,” Desai says. “There’s an LGBTQ+ storyline, and the women—you’re just drawn to them.”
She also thinks the dark comedy Emergency has its finger on a current cultural pulse point. In it, Black and Latino college students have to weigh the potential risks to their own well-being if they call the police when they encounter a crisis.
“As we know, a college campus is not a bubble,” Desai says. “The issues still present themselves.”
Hawaiian filmmaker Alika Tengan’s Every Day in Kaimukī “really shows the indie side of Sundance,” Desai notes. “It’s clearly a Hawaiian’s story, when films generally tell stories about Hawai’i from the point of view of people going there from outside.”
Among other features, Alice, a drama inspired by accounts of Black Americans kept in peonage well after the end of slavery, stars Keke Palmer, Common, and Jonny Lee Miller. Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul, with Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown, satirizes for-profit religion in the South. And the Brazilian drama Marte Um (Mars One) depicts the struggles of a lower-middle-class Black family after a far-right extremist is elected president of Brazil.
The satellite site will also screen two other documentaries. Free Chol Soo Lee focuses on a Korean immigrant’s wrongful murder conviction during a 1973 gang war in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and La Guerra Civil examines the cultural divide between Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans during the 1990s boxing rivalry between Oscar De La Hoya and Julio César Chávez.
Finally, three shorts—Kicking the Clouds, Chilly and Milly, and ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (Udeyonv – What They’ve Been Taught)—will round out the festival weekend in Winston-Salem.
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