The Streamer's Guide To Sundance 2019: What Non-Festgoers Can Watch At Home

While 2018's edition of the Sundance Film Festival might not have launched any major Oscar heavyweights, it turned out a steady stream of modest summer hits from first time directors (Hereditary, Sorry to Bother You, Eight Grade) as well as three non-fiction films that were blockbusters by documentary standards (Three Identical Strangers, RBG, Won't You Be My Neighbor?). Plus, countless Sundance selections remained critical favorites that stuck around in the conversation through the end of last year (Wildlife, Minding the Gap, Hale County This Morning, This Evening).

This is all to say, never believe anyone who tells you that a given year at Sundance is a "weak" one. Fluctuations in programming focuses and projects submissions rarely yield a continuous trajectory for a festival. That may prove doubly true for the 2019 edition of the Sundance Film Festival, which is the first under Kim Yutani's leadership as director of programming following the long reign of Trevor Groth. This year's festival looks noticeably more inclusive and diverse, both in terms of the stories being told and the people who are telling them. The lineup pulls less obviously from established festival favorites in favor of providing a platform to emerging artists who may have only a scattered short or feature to their name.

There's going to be a lot to follow out of this year's Sundance Film Festival, and thankfully /Film will have several writers on the ground in Park City to report out the big finds and stories. But for those of us who aren't making the trek up into the mountains of Utah for Sundance, there's still a way to be a part of the festival.

The names of these directors and stars, while new to many, are not emerging from nowhere. They have refined their talents under the radar to arrive in the spotlight of independent cinema, and much of their work is accessible online. So if you want to be that person who can snootily say "I knew them before they were big" once these Sundance premieres hit theaters, read on to learn about 10 exciting festival debuts and how you can brush up on the filmographies of the talent involved.

(All streaming availability is accurate as of publication and subject to change.)

Hala (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

After her scene-stealing turn as one of the teenagers in last year's Blockers, Geraldine Viswanathan is due for a breakout. She'll certainly have an opportunity to emerge from the Park City slopes as a young actress to look out for with Hala. Minhal Baig's film tells the story of a skateboard-loving Muslim high school girl that sees the eponymous protagonists struggling with pressures both familiar (a crush on a boy she deems out of her league) and culturally specific (her father wants to get started arranging her marriage).

Can't make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: Baig's proof-of-concept short film, also titled Hala, is 13 minutes well worth your time. In a short amount of time, the writer/director envelops us in her protagonist's interior life – making us understand the anguish as she weighs following her passions and pleasing her parents. (Available on Vimeo)

The Sound of Silence (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Sundance is famous for selecting movies with the kind of "LOL wut?" concepts that can make even the most adventurous festgoers scratch their heads. Michael Tyburski's The Sound of Silence might just fit that bill for 2019. No, it seemingly has nothing to do with the Simon & Garfunkel song, either. Peter Sarsgaard stars a "scientist" who works as a so-called "house tuner" in New York, helping clients determine what in their home might be the culprit behind various maladies.

Can't make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: While The Sound of Silence marks Tyburski's feature filmmaking debut, he's sat in the director's chair on a number of excellent short films. Actor Seeks Role, featuring Alex Karpovsky of Girls fame, gets into the headspace of a struggling New York actor like few films of its ilk can. But for the more obviously relevant short, check out Palimpsest, Tyburski's Sundance-prize winning short that he has expanded into this feature. (Available on Vimeo)

Divine Love (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)

Spirituality has proved fertile territory for filmmakers to explore in recent years. But usually when viewed through a futuristic lens, these films take on a more apocalyptic tone. Might Gabriel Mascaro's Divine Love find a new way to talk about faith in these settings? His film envisions a world in 2027 where people praise God through rave concerts and people receive spiritual advice at a drive-through like they are picking up McDonald's. Yet even in spite of the heightened profile of spirituality in Mascaro's fictional future, his protagonist Joana finds herself locked in an age-old precipitator for crises of faith – infertility.

Can't make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: Brazilian director Mascaro is still fairly new on the world cinema stage, and the movie that catapulted him onto most people's radars was his last feature, Neon Bull. This neorealist-style drama, punctuated with some visually arresting flourishes, follows the travails of the cowboy Iremar. He's seemingly doomed to work at vaquejada rodeos but dreams of becoming a designer for Brazil's flourishing garment business, a tension that complicates a working-class life that's already tenuous enough. (Available to stream for free on Kanopy and to rent on iTunes/YouTube)

We Are Little Zombies (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)

Four Japanese teenagers meeting in a cemetery after losing their parents might sound like the logline for a bleak Hirokazu Kore-eda drama. But Little Zombies takes a morbid situation and goes in a different direction under multi-hyphenate Makoto Nagahisa. The kids, whose grief has rendered them akin to zombies, decide to make lemonade out of lemons and form a band called the Little Zombies.

Can't make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: Makoto Nagahisa is no stranger to the Sundance stage, having won the short film Grand Jury Prize in 2016 for And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool. The film is bursting with more visual ideas and panache than many features four times its length. Nagahisa's kinetic talents are a marvel to watch here as they add such vibrant life to a story that could easily have been a straightforward recounting of a ripped-from-the-headlines incident in Japan. (Available to watch on YouTube)

Animals (Premieres)

While Sundance has gifted us with many a narrative about young men finding their way in the world, the festival definitely has room to grow on offering us that same level of insight into developing women. Animals might help the festival balance the scales. Sophie Hyde's film, based on an acclaimed novel by Emma Jane Unsworth, follows two roommates played by Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat as their friendship begins to fray. Shawkat, a frequent MVP on the indie film circuit, looks to be the standout here as Tyler, the more laid-back of the pair.

Can't make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: Hyde has already proven herself an astute observer of fraught relationships. Her last film, 52 Tuesdays, charts the ups and downs of a teenage girl as her biological mother transitions to living as a male over the course of a year – through showing the one day a week in which the two interact. Hyde commits fully to the stylistic gambit, leaving us with a fragmented yet complete portrait of a family in flux. (Available to stream for free to Amazon Prime subscribers)

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (Premieres)

Folks, we're about to enter Zac Efron season in a pretty major way. While he's probably best known as a teen heartthrob or Instagram thirst trap, Efron has worked with interesting directors like Richard Linklater and Lee Daniels throughout his career – and the Neighbors series showed he could have some fun toying with his pretty boy image. He might be going full Robert Pattinson starting in 2019, beginning with Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (which is somehow not the title of a documentary about the child separation policy) in which Efron portrays notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.

Can't make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: The film's director, Joe Berlinger, is no stranger to films about infamous public figures. As a documentarian, he followed the saga of the West Memphis Three, a group of teenagers falsely prosecuted for murdering children. But since that whole debacle required a trilogy of documentaries to chronicle, stick with his more manageable Whitey. It's the film about Whitey Bulger you probably wanted Black Mass to be. (Available to stream for free to Hulu and Hoopla subscribers)

The Sunlit Night (Premieres)

The "woman embarks on a journey of self-discovery after her life falls apart" movie has a long history at Sundance, and it's one that often pays mixed dividends. But Jenny Slate, a comic actress with tremendous heart and sensitivity, is the kind of performer who could probably make just about anything work. The Sunlight Night sees her character Frances impulsively take an art residency in Norway following a tumultuous stretch in her life – just the kind of fish-out-of-water scenario in which Slate can shine.

Can't make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: While The Sunlit Night sounds like a nice, inoffensive comedy, it might shock you to learn that the most notable credit from its director David Wnendt is ... decidedly not family-friendly. Wetlands, his 2013 sex comedy romp, is about as taboo-shattering as they come. The film does not just provoke because it can, however. Sex-obsessed protagonist Helen just wants her divorced parents to get back together and is willing to go to some gross places to get the attention she craves. Wetlands is decidedly not for the faint at heart, but those who can stomach it will be amazed that such emotional earnestness can coexist with such raunchy behavior. (Available to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

The Lodge (Midnight)

What's scarier than two young kids (and twins, to boot) on a mission? That's what Riley Keough's Grace is likely to find out in The Lodge, a horror film about a potential new stepmother to two children and the torture she faces at their hands. The twins, uneasy about young Grace supplanting their biological mother, put her through the ringer while the three of them are trapped together in a winter lodge. Maybe this will be the movie that finally makes Keough happen, too – she's been overdue for a major breakout since at least 2016's American Honey.

Can't make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: Does this concept sound vaguely familiar? It might recall the last movie by directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, Goodnight Mommy, in which two children torment their mother as she recovers from a major cosmetic surgery. While I was a little skeptical about the film's big twist, Goodnight Mommy is a truly chilling horror flick that builds dread and unease like few films in the genre can. (Available to stream for free with ads on Vudu)

MEMORY—The Origins of Alien (Midnight)

Documentaries exploring the making of iconic films often assume a hagiographic tenor, exalting the brilliance of all those involved and privileging anecdote over analysis. MEMORY – The Origins of Alien looks like a joyous exception to the rule. Filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe goes beyond "behind the scenes" navel-gazing on how Dan O'Bannon's 1971 script for Alien morphed into Ridley Scott's 1979 film. It explores how the film resonates by effectively tapping into mythology.

Can't make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: Philippe is no stranger to breaking down famous films and placing them in historical context. In his previous documentary, 78/52, he devoted an entire feature to analyzing the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Philippe nimbly balances an aesthetic appreciation of the master of suspense while also examining why it made such an impact on the national psyche – and how it continues to influence genre filmmakers to date. (Available to stream for free to Hulu subscribers)

Love, Antosha (Documentary Premieres)

With time, I feel confident that we will look back on the passing of Anton Yelchin with the same gut-wrenching sense of loss that we do when considering Heath Ledger or James Dean. Yelchin had the full package: sensitivity, empathy, mystery and rage. A new documentary premiering at Sundance, Love, Antosha, will shine a light on just how special a talent he was. The inclusion of interviews from co-stars like Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pine makes me think a pack of tissues might be a necessary companion for viewing.

Can't make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: Admit it, you miss seeing new Anton Yelchin performances, too. Luckily, Netflix has quite a few standouts of his on their service. It's pretty easy to get a scope of the full Yelchin package from 5 to 7, in which he plays a hopelessly romantic lead locked in an affair with a woman who won't leave her husband, and Green Room, where he leads his punk band in fending off violent skinheads after a concert. (Available for free to Netflix subscribers)