Premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Polite Society and A Thousand and One join a long and legendary tradition of Focus films that appeared at the prestigious festival in Park City. Nida Manzoor’s Polite Society (in theaters April 28), is a riotous mash-up of posh manners and impressive martial arts that was picked by IndieWire as one of the “must-see films at this year’s festival.”
A Thousand and One (in theaters March 31), a piercing story about a mother (Teyana Taylor) who will go to any length to keep her 6-year-old son out of the foster care system, is the feature debut of acclaimed video and short film director A.V. Rockwell.
In anticipation of the Sundance Film Festival, which starts on January 19, we are remembering some of the many unforgettable Focus films that started there.
You Won’t Be Alone | 2022
In 2022, If Magazine announced, “Goran Stolevski’s You Won’t Be Alone takes Sundance by storm.” IndieWire named it one of “the best horror debuts in years,” and The Guardian wrote that the film “feels less like a debut and more a late-stage magnum opus.” The enthralling tale of a witch in 19th century Macedonia not only took critics by surprise but was picked by The Atlantic as of one “the best movies to come out of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.” If you were bewitched by You Won’t Be Alone, Stolevski’s new feature, Of An Age, opens in limited theaters February 17.
Promising Young Woman + Never Rarely Sometimes Always | 2020
In 2020, Slate spotlighted two extraordinary films about and by women in the article, “From Violent Avengers to Pregnant Teens, Sundance’s Women Met Obstacles Head-On.” Emerald Fennell’s debut feature Promising Young Woman “drew an exuberant response at its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival,” reported Variety. The sold-out screening wowed audiences with viewers tweeting, “Waiting an hour to get in…So worth it” and “It’s been approximately 15 hours…and I’m still thoroughly in shock.” Eliza Httman’s powerful drama, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, about a young woman (Sidney Flanigan) who must travel to New York City to access appropriate medical care for an unintended pregnancy, particular hit home at the festival. Entertainment Weekly (which gave the film an “A”) wrote in their festival review, “A woman’s right to choose is one of the defining issues of our time; Never Rarely Sometimes Always is an urgent, extraordinary film for this very moment.”
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? | 2018
When Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Morgan Neville’s lyrical remembrance of Mister Rogers screened at the festival, SlashFilm noted, “As the credits rolled here at Sundance, sniffles could be heard as many audience members wiped tears from their eyes and cheeks, yours truly included.” IndieWire picked “the touching and insightful survey of Fred Rogers’ decade-spanning career” as one of the top 12 movies of the 2018 festival.
Pariah | 2011
In 2011, Dee Rees presented her debut feature Pariah at the Sundance Film Festival. Entertainment Weekly reported that when Rees took the stage, “her own charismatic energy and self-possession were in perfect harmony with the fearless, world-here-I-am! film she has made.” Plus Adepero Oduye, who plays a Brooklyn teen grappling with her family, sexuality, and future, was named one of Daily Beast’s "Sundance breakout stars" that year.
The Kids Are All Right | 2010
In 2010, Sundance audiences cheered for Lisa Cholodenko’s family comedy The Kids Are All Right. The story of moms (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) dealing with their teen children who suddenly discover their sperm-donor dad (Mark Ruffalo) became “a Sundance sensation,” according to The Los Angeles Times. The film went on to be a national favorite when it was nominated for four Academy Awards® (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture).
In Bruges | 2008
Fifteen years before The Banshees of Inisherin, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson teamed up for Martin McDonagh’s debut feature In Bruges. The rowdy comedy in which Farrell and Gleeson play a pair of hitmen who hole up in the charming medieval city was chosen to open the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Festival director Geoffrey Gilmore called In Bruges “a quintessential Sundance film—it's brutal, philosophical, funny, and totally original."
Brick | 2005
Before his star-studded whodunits Knives Out and Glass Onion, Rian Johnson showed his mastery of the mystery genre with Brick, his debut feature which premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Staging the LA noir genre in a Southern California high school with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a gumshoe in sneakers, Johnson “has taken a well-worn, much-revised genre, adapted to what’s become a cliched setting and transcended both in the process,” wrote The Los Angeles Times. For its innovative approach, Johnson’s film won a Special Jury Prize for the film’s “Originality of Vision” at Sundance that year.