Level-Upper: Robert Greene, director, Kate Plays Christine
Employing a meta-fictional approach to a real-life subject, Robert Greene’s latest film is also the one that will likely get him the most attention yet, despite a filmography studded with similar explorations (most notably his 2014 documentary Actress). Chronicling actress Kate Lyn Sheil’s preparation for the role of Christine Chubbuck, a Sarasota newscaster who committed suicide in 1974 during a live TV broadcast, Greene blurs the line that supposedly separates fiction from non-fiction. Chubbuck’s death famously inspired Paddy Chayefsky’s Network and its scathing indictment of sensationalist news. Greene similarly points the finger at his own discipline: documentary film. As Sheil rehearses her lines, interviews people who personally knew Chubbuck, and ruminates on the woman she will be playing in a (made-up) micro-budget indie, Greene confronts the voyeuristic tendencies of both artists and audiences. The effect is both compelling and eerie, building to a climax that’s as suspenseful as it is accusatory. – J.M.
Anna Rose Holmer, director, The Fits
Anna Rose Holmer’s eclectic career to date is hard to summarize: She’s served time in the camera departments of films like Twilight, Tiny Furniture and Northern Lights; directed her own doc, Twelve Ways to Sunday, about a rural community in New York State, in 2010; produced Jody Lee Lipes’ 2014 New York City Ballet study, Ballet 422. It’s that last, movement-centric title that laid the groundwork for her Sundance ’16 NEXT feature, The Fits, about a team of high-school dancers in Ohio who suffer mysterious, random convulsions. Leading an ace team all around, Holmer lets that arresting premise unfold with a lovely tinge of surrealism and a sensitivity to female camaraderie—a touch of Catherine Hardwicke, a pinch of Lena Dunham, perhaps. –K.L.
Level-Upper: Matthew Johnson, director, Operation Avalanche
Multi-hyphenate Canadian moviemaker Matt Johnson is an intriguing and exciting emerging talents, one who has recently taken an impressive leap forward with an ambitious sophomore effort. While Johnson’s Slamdance-winning debut, The Dirties, is widely considered a masterpiece of the found-footage subgenre, the film had trouble finding wide distribution in the U.S., probably due to its sensitive subject matter (a high-school shooting). A different fate was in store for Johnson’s latest, Operation Avalanche, an ingenious faux documentary that follows a pair of filmmakers working for CIA to carry out the moon-landing hoax—Lionsgate picked up North American rights for the film ahead of its Sundance premiere. Using incredibly detailed visual tricks to blend footage from the 1960s with contemporary images, Johnson and his team of film buffs-turned-moviemakers showcase their ability for boundless innovation. – C.A.
Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, writer/director, As You Are
Not many 23-year-olds have their first feature win the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award at Sundance. Many aspects of Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s life helped to get his debut feature, the 1990s-set high school drama As You Are, off the ground. He wrote the script with a childhood friend, based on a short that he produced as a film student at Bard College. It is set and shot in his hometown of Albany, New York, with kids he used to babysit for playing extras in the movie. As You Are shines with its strong performances and the way Joris-Peyrafitte uses every tool at his disposal—camera, lighting, set design—to reveal character. –Maddy Kadish
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, directors, Weiner
Steinberg and Kriegman reveal the human frailty behind the punch line in their documentary Weiner. The duo, who have worked together for about four years, gained unrestricted access to chronicle Anthony Weiner’s run for mayor of New York City in 2013. The campaign, aimed at redeeming him from his Twitter sexting scandal that led to his resignation from Congress in 2011, instead unleashes Weiner’s second Twitter sexting scandal and its ensuing media firestorm. Steinberg previously directed an episode of documentary series American at a Crossroads: The Trial of Saddam Hussein, whereas Kriegman had dabbled in TV producing after serving as chief of staff to Weiner from 2005 to 2006. This film, which nabbed the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize, marks the feature directorial debut for both. –M.K.