Willie Nelson sings before a crowd estimated to be in excess of 50,000 people at the 10th annual Farm Aid concert held at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville Ky., Oct. 1 1995. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Willie Nelson Doc Leads Sundance Film Fest’s Episodic Slate

Sundance announces indie episodic and shorts selections

10 mins read

Willie Nelson headlines the latest wave of programming announced by the Sundance Film Festival. Willie Nelson and Family represents documentary among the Indie Episodic selections for next year’s festival. The five-part mini-series is the first authorized work about the life and music of the country icon. Sundance audiences can follow the musician’s story from his humble origins in Texas to his success Grammy-winning success and advocacy for marijuana that cemented him as a pop culture icon. The series is directed by Thom Zimny, best known for his collaborations with Bruce Springsteen including Springsteen on Broadway and Letter to You, and Oren Moverman, who makes his documentary debut as a director following the dramas The Messenger and Rampart. Keith Wortman, Mark Rothbaum, Eddie Vaisman, Julia Lebedev serve as producers.


Sundance Shorts

Sundance also announced its short film selections today. They include 10 non-fiction films from the U.S.A, Ireland, China, and Peru. The non-fiction shorts include a new work from Paula Eiselt, who won a special jury prize at Sundance earlier this year for the feature Aftershock. Her short Under G-d offers another study of women’s reproductive rights and examines the Dobbs U.S. Supreme Court decision and interfaith challenges to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Sundance swipes right with the short doc Bigger on the Inside, directed by Angelo Madsen Minax. The film unpacks the rabbit hole of dating apps in the era of social distancing. Meanwhile, Call Me Mommy, directed by Tara O’Callaghan, profiles a single mother and online sex worker. Doc profiles also come in Kylie, Sterling Hampton’s portrait of a Black ballerina, and Shirampari: Legacies of the River by Lucía Flórez sees a young boy put his manhood to the test while fishing. Liturgy of anti-tank obstacles takes audiences to Ukraine as director Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk observes how artists reconfigure the front lines in defense against Russia. Jessica Bardsley explores new frontiers in Life without Dreams, while family stories fuel Margie Soudek’s Salt and Pepper Shakers, directed by Meredith Moore; Parker, directed by Sharon Liese and Catherine Hoffman; and Will You Look at Me, directed by Shuli Huang.


Can Con

On the Canadian front, Xavier Dolan’s drama The Night Logan Woke Up has its international premiere in the Indie Episodic series, while Oscar nominees Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby bring their brilliant NFB film The Flying Sailor to the animated short selections. Canadian dramas in the Sundance line-up include Baba, directed by Anya Chirkova and Meran Ismailsoy; Pro Pool, directed by Alec Pronovost; and TIFF Short Cuts winner Simo, directed by Aziz Zoromba.

The 64 short films selected for Sundance broke the record of submissions. The festival received nearly 11,000 submissions with selections representing 23 countries.

“Short films and episodic projects are an integral aspect of the overall mission of the Sundance Institute — to empower artists who are taking risks, bringing new perspectives to the forefront, and creating work that entertains and provokes conversation,” said Kim Yutani, Sundance Film Festival Director of Programming, in a statement from the festival. “These platforms provide artists with the ability to expand beyond the boundaries of traditional cinema, while also motivating a unique creativity through an ever expanding format.”

Sundance previously announced its feature selections and competition titles. This year’s festival runs in-person January 19-29 and online in the US from January 24 to 29.


Documentaries announced today for Sundance are as follows


Indie Episodic

Willie Nelson and Family / U.S.A. (Directors: Thom Zimny, Oren Moverman, Producers: Keith Wortman, Mark Rothbaum, Eddie Vaisman, Julia Lebedev) — With a career spanning seven decades, Willie Nelson is widely recognized as one of the greatest singer/songwriter/guitar players in the history of popular music. A badass, outlaw cowboy who transcended his humble beginnings in small-town Abbott, Texas, he remains beloved in blue states, red states, and let’s not forget—altered states. Willie continues to speak for people from all walks of life with his music, philanthropy, marijuana advocacy, and activism on behalf of the American farmer. Award-winning filmmakers Thom Zimny and Oren Moverman fuse their own unique styles to construct an intimate and cinematic memoir of the Red Headed Stranger, traversing the highs, lows, and in-betweens of Willie’s personal life and professional career. Alongside close friends and family who have accompanied him on a remarkable journey, Willie tells his story in his own voice, staying true to his longtime philosophy: “Don’t be an asshole. Don’t be an asshole. Don’t be a goddamn asshole.” Sundance is proud to present all five parts of this definitive docu-film about a true American icon. World Premiere. Available Online


Non-Fiction Short Films

Bigger on the Inside / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Angelo Madsen Minax, Producer: Lyle Ravi Kash) — Through snowy stargazing, flirting with guys on dating apps, taking ketamine (or not), and watching YouTube lecture videos, outer and inner space collapse – to draw a warped cartography of desire and distance. Available Online.

Call Me Mommy / Ireland (Director: Tara O’Callaghan, Producers: Aaron McEnaney, Louise Byrne, Ross Killeen) — Uncovering the multifaceted life of Sinead, a middle-aged single mother and online sex worker. North American Premiere. Available Online.

Kylie / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Sterling Hampton) — A young Black ballerina expresses her passion and pain as a dancer in the ballet community while performing in the inner-city neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Available Online.

Life Without Dreams / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Jessica Bardsley, Producer: Caitlin Mae Burke) — Set in the outer space of consciousness, where the surfaces of far-out planetary bodies form the terrain for an exploration of 24/7 capitalism, insomnia, and the disappearance of darkness. Available Online.

Liturgy of anti-tank obstacles / U.S.A., Ukraine (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk, Producers: Soo-Jeong Kang, Daniel Lombroso, Oleksandra Sorokhan) — In western Ukraine, sculptors who used to make religious statues are retraining for different skills. They now build anti-tank obstacles to help fend off the Russian invasion. Available Online.

Margie Soudek’s Salt and Pepper Shakers / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Meredith Moore, Producer: Jonna McKone) — An artist and visual effects instructor connects with her aging grandmother, Margie, through collecting, art-making, and obsessing as a way to enhance reality. World Premiere. Available Online.

Parker / U.S.A. (Directors: Sharon Liese, Catherine Hoffman, Producers: Sharon Liese, Funmi Ogunro, Samantha Hake) — Three generations of a Kansas City family are finally unified when they do something that countless other Black Americans could not — choose their own last name. World Premiere. Available Online.

Shirampari: Legacies of the River / Peru (Director and Screenwriter: Lucía Flórez, Producer: José Miguel Pérez) — In one of the most remote places in the Peruvian Amazon, an Ashéninka boy must overcome his fears and catch a giant catfish using only a hook to begin his adult journey. Available Online.

Under G-d / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: Paula Eiselt, Producer: Darcy McKinnon) — The Dobbs U.S. Supreme Court decision sparked a national Jewish response. Inspired by the lived experiences of Jewish women, lawsuits are currently being launched by rabbis, Jewish organizations, and interfaith leaders to challenge the overturning of Roe v. Wade. World Premiere.

Will You Look At Me / China (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Shuli Huang) — As a young Chinese filmmaker returns to his hometown in search of himself, a long-overdue conversation with his mother drives them into a quest for acceptance and love. Available Online.


Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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