Master (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Who: Mariama Diallo
Logline: Three women at an elite New England university begin to experience hauntings that may be related to the school’s history.
Our crew size was: about 80-90 before COVID, 100 after COVID
The first spark of an idea for this movie came when: I ran into the Master of my residential college a few years after graduating. I addressed him as Master, and we both seemed to find it strange. As I left the interaction, I knew that I had to examine what the fuck had happened to me.
My favorite scene (or shot) in the film is: I have a favorite shot that I don’t want to give away story-wise, but another favorite shot is at the beginning of the first tenure scene. The camera moves around on a circular dolly as the faculty carry on disjointed, rapid-fire conversations. At the time of making the film, I was watching a lot of Bergman, and this shot definitely emerged from that world. More specifically, Hour of the Wolf.
The most interesting, weirdest, or most difficult location we shot at was: Briarcliff College, which in the film was known as Belleville House. The location was an abandoned college in upstate New York. It was founded in 1903 and was called Mrs. Dow’s School for Girls. There were still portraits on the walls of the school’s founder. It certainly had a melancholic, haunted air to it. The building was in quite a state of disrepair, but our crew worked magic to make it look like the lap of luxury. In actuality, the building had no heating, and there were certain no-go areas thick with mold, and leaks aplenty.
I Didn’t See You There (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Who: Reid Davenport
Logline: Spurred by the spectacle of a circus tent that goes up outside his Oakland apartment, a disabled filmmaker launches into an unflinching meditation on spectacle, (in)visibility, and the corrosive legacy of the Freak Show.
The first spark of an idea for this movie came when: I’ve been gawked at my whole life. I’ve used a wheelchair all of my adult life. It’s hard to discern the degree to which my disability contributes to instances of complete disconnection between me and others, because that disconnection is commonplace. But I thought that if I could envelope people in my perspective and share my experiences, I could gauge the extent to which people could or couldn’t relate. My experiences are crafted by being disabled and by being human, and I hope the film shocks in its depiction of ableism, as it simultaneously resonates.
An audience watching my film probably won’t know that: I shot a big chunk of this film without being sure it was a film.
The biggest lesson I learned making this movie was: Working on a personal feature film takes a large toll.
The Cathedral (NEXT)
Who: Ricky D’Ambrose
Logline: An only child’s meditative, impressionistic account of an American family’s rise and fall over two decades.
Our crew size was: about 18
Camera package: RED RANGER GEMINI with a Cooke 18-100mm T3 lens
The first spark of an idea for this movie came when: I attended my maternal great-grandmother’s funeral after my first semester of college, in 2006.
An audience watching my film probably won’t know that: my mother was an extra in the wedding scene, and therefore was a witness to a filmed reenactment of the day she married her ex-husband.
The biggest lesson I learned making this movie was: problems are inevitable and difficult to anticipate.
The Dark Heart (Indie Episodic)
Who: Gustav Möller
Our crew size was: 30-40
Camera package: ARRI ALEXA with Canon K35 Primes, Canon K35 macro zoom, Angenieux HR zoom lenses
My favorite scene (or shot) in the film is: recreating a mise-en-scene from The Godfather II, but with farmers in rural Sweden instead of mobsters and politicians in Cuba. Watch the series and see if you can spot it!
An audience watching my film probably won’t know that: the true story was even crazier.
The biggest lesson I learned making this movie was: Never wear sneakers when filming at a cattle farm!
Neptune Frost (Spotlight)
Who: Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams
Logline: The love story between an intersex runaway and a coltan miner unearthing the virtual marvel born as a result of their union.
Our crew size was: 89
Camera package: ARRI ALEXA Mini with LOMO Illumina s35 lenses
An audience watching my film probably won’t know that: it features the beloved Rwandan musical icon Cecile Kayirebwa, making her screen debut at SAUL the age of 75.
The most expensive thing in our budget was: a half-ton of e-waste computer parts.
The biggest lesson I learned making this movie was: Don’t fall for “It’s impossible!”
When we heard we got into Sundance: we danced.
Who: Audrey Diwan
The first spark of an idea for this movie came: after having an abortion, when I first read Annie Ernaux’s book.
The most expensive thing in our budget was: the genital prosthesis.
The biggest lesson I learned making this movie was: silence as language.
Cha Cha Real Smooth (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Who: Cooper Raiff
Logline: A wayward college grad embarks on a relationship with a young mom and her teenage daughter while learning the boundaries of his new bar mitzvah party-starting gig.
Crew size: about 100 on set each day
The first spark of an idea for the movie came when: I was thinking about different life stages — how being 12 is different (or not that different) from being 22 and 32. I’m also always thinking about what it means to be a parent.
The most interesting, weirdest or most difficult location we shot at was: an abandoned mall for 10 days.
The most expensive thing in our budget was: my directing fee. Just kidding. I didn’t get paid to direct.
The biggest lesson I learned making this movie was: a bigger budget doesn’t mean things will be easier. Quite the opposite!
A darling I had to kill along the way was: my directing fee.
When I heard we got into Sundance: I woke up my friends’ children sleeping upstairs. I screamed and jumped up and down and drank lots of wine with them. The friends, not the children.
Sundance Film Festival 2022 runs tomorrow through January 30.
All photos courtesy of Sundance Institute.