Coming soon to Sundance: Four films with Philly connections

The Sundance Film Festival will take over Park City, Utah, this week for 10 days of screenings that will help define some of the moviegoing world’s can’t-miss flicks for 2018. This year, the City of Brotherly Love is well-represented with several Philly-centric projects.

Sundance runs from Thursday to Jan. 28 and will feature screenings of more than 100 films from around the world. Ranging from documentaries and comedies to dramas and foreign films, the focus is wide, and this year  includes premieres of highly anticipated films Sorry to Bother You, starring Get Out’s Lakeith Stanfield, and documentarian Marina Zenovich’s Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind.

Local film buffs will want to look out for projects from Philadelphia filmmakers Don Argott and Sheena Joyce (2009’s The Art of the Steal), Jeremiah Zagar (2008’s In a Dream), and Nathaniel Kahn (2003’s My Architect). Another film, from nonlocals Sophie Sartain and Roberta Grossman, focuses on Philadelphia-born lawyer Gloria Allred.

Thanks to the exposure Sundance provides, those filmmakers could find wider recognition for their work, as Philly’s Jonathan Olshefski did with his documentary Quest last year. Having premiered in the festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition, the film was named an official Sundance selection for 2017. Quest was released theatrically in December.

These are the Philly-connected flicks with a chance at big-screen success this year.

Camera icon Don Argott / Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Dan Reynolds in “Believer.”


Argott and Joyce made their careers in 2005 with the Sundance premiere of Rock School, an intimate documentary that follows the young musicians at the Paul Green School of Rock Music. Since then, through their 9.14 Pictures production company, they have become known for such documentaries as The Art of the Steal, about the Barnes Foundation, and The Atomic States of America, about nuclear energy.

They return to Sundance with Believer, debuting in the festival’s Documentary Premieres. The film follows Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds as he examines how his Mormon faith deals with its LGBTQ members. The journey ultimately takes Reynolds to the LoveLoud Festival, a concert featuring Imagine Dragons and Neon Trees that last year drew some 17,000 attendees to Orem, Utah, to raise money for LGBTQ organizations.

Camera icon Zak Mulligan / Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Raul Castillo and Evan Rosado in “We the Animals.”

We the Animals

Many Philadelphians know the name Zagar because of  mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar, but his youngest son, Jeremiah, is working on making a name for himself. He’s an accomplished filmmaker, with documentaries like In a Dream and Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Stuart, the latter of which screened at Sundance in 2014. But a guy can’t live on documentaries alone, it seems.

Zagar will hit Sundance with We the Animals, his first narrative feature. Based on the 2011 book by Justin Torres, the film revolves around three brothers as they grow up in a working-class, interracial family.  We the Animals, which premieres in Sundance’s NEXT category, presents the story primarily from youngest son Jonah’s perspective as he explores “his heritage, his sexuality, and his madness,” according to an official synopsis.

Camera icon Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Jeff Koons in “The Price of Everything.”

The Price of Everything

Writer/director Nathaniel Kahn’s film career stretches back to the early 1990s, but today he is best known for My Architect, the 2003 documentary detailing the life of his father, famed architect Louis Kahn. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Nathaniel Kahn went to Sundance in 1996 with My Father’s Garden, a documentary about technology and farming that he cowrote with  Abigail Wright.

Kahn heads back to Sundance this month with The Price of Everything, part of the festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition. The film is an in-depth look at the economy of the art world, with a particular eye toward what modern art pieces cost, why they are priced that way, and who sets their value. The film features interviews with artists including Jeff Koons and Gerhard Richter, as well as top art gallery staffers and collectors.

Camera icon Courtesy of Sundance Institute
“Seeing Allred,” directed by Sophie Sartain and Roberta Grossman.

Seeing Allred

Sartain and Grossman collaborated on 2012’s Hava Nagila: The Movie, a documentary detailing the cultural history and meaning of the Jewish folk song. Since then, they’ve gone on to helm  individual projects, such as Grossman’s Above and Beyond and Sartain’s Mimi and Donna (both from 2014). This year’s Sundance festival reuinites them for a film with a Philly focus: Seeing Allred, about  women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred, a Philadelphia native who is representing nearly 30 women who have accused comedian Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct. Allred also represents several women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct. In Seeing Allred, premiering in the U.S. Documentary Competition, Allred’s history, career, and cases against Cosby and Trump come to the big screen.