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AI and A-listers: Sundance Film Festival line-up unveiled

Among the line-up for Utah's influential indie movie fest are a "generative" music film that plays differently on each viewing, two documentaries about loved ones using AI to communicate after death, and an interactive "digital griot" that will teach audiences how to vogue

Published: Dec 8, 2023 05:20:53 PM IST
Updated: Dec 8, 2023 05:30:01 PM IST

AI and A-listers: Sundance Film Festival line-up unveiledUS actor Steven Yeun (seen here at Busan) stars in "Love Me." US actor Steven Yeun (seen here at Busan) stars in "Love Me." Image: Anthony Wallace / AFP

Kristen Stewart is among several Hollywood stars heading to next month's Sundance festival. But artificial intelligence—the subject of, and technology behind, several new films—could steal the show.

Among the line-up for Utah's influential indie movie fest are a "generative" music film that plays differently on each viewing, two documentaries about loved ones using AI to communicate after death, and an interactive "digital griot" that will teach audiences how to vogue.

"One of the things that was striking to see, as we were going through these films and talking about them as a team, was how AI just kept popping up," Sundance director of programming Kim Yutani told AFP.

"Whether it be in a documentary, whether it be influencing a documentary... that's going to be a really interesting part of the festival this year."

The schedule, announced Wednesday, comes at a time when the entertainment industry is struggling with the encroaching and polarizing impacts of AI—a key sticking point between studios and unions, and part of the reason behind this year's devastating Hollywood strikes.

Among Sundance's new offerings are "Eno," which explores musician Brian Eno's career and creative process, using a "generative engine" to mesh together near-infinite different versions of a film from hundreds of possible scenes.

The technology uses prompts and keywords to find and create associations between scenes, changing or reshuffling the lineup each night, just as a touring band might do at each new gig.

"It's something new—a film that's never the same twice," said Eugene Hernandez, Sundance's new festival director.

Documentary "Love Machina" follows a couple's bid to make their love last forever, by transferring consciousness into an advanced humanoid named Bina48.

"Eternal You" looks at startups hoping to create AI avatars so that relatives can contact their loved ones after they have died—for a fee.

Meanwhile, "Being (the Digital Griot)" invites audiences to interact with and ask questions of an AI storyteller. The "griot" can debate, draw on poetry, and even teach viewers to dance.

"It will be a fun experience, and pretty enlightening too," said Yutani.

Also read: Sundance film fest finally returns to mountains

Stars in the snow

Two months on from the end of Hollywood's strikes, performers—from major stars to breakthrough newcomers—are free to head to the festival's snow-capped Rocky Mountain base at Park City and promote their latest works.

Sundance received a record 17,435 film submissions. Ninety movies and shows were selected, including 85 world premieres.

Among these are a pair of features from Stewart that Yutani predicts will be "two of the most talked-about films at the festival."

"Love Lies Bleeding" casts the former "Twilight" star as a gym manager whose affair with a bisexual bodybuilder turns violent and criminal.

"Love Me," also starring Steven Yeun, is mysteriously billed as the online romance between "a buoy and a satellite" in a post-human world.

"I think we should leave it at that!" joked Yutani. "That was all the information that we had before we pressed play."

Elsewhere, Jesse Eisenberg will direct himself and Kieran Culkin as two mismatched cousins visiting their grandmother's Polish homeland in "A Real Pain." Eisenberg also stars in family drama "Sasquatch Sunset."

Saoirse Ronan gives a hotly tipped performance in "The Outrun" as an alcoholic who returns from London to the wild beauty of Scotland's Orkney Islands to heal.

And Jason Schwartzman experiences a crisis of faith when his former music teacher re-enters his life as an adult bat mitzvah student in "Between The Temples."


Director Richard Linklater has two films at the festival.

He oversees Glen Powell in "Hit Man," about a strait-laced professor turned fake assassin, and offers a portrait of his hometown in documentary series "God Save Texas."

Huntsville, Texas is the location of a massive prison complex, where thousands of prisoners live lives unknown to the residents beyond its walls.

Prisons also provide the subject of six-part series "Conbody VS Everybody," about a former convict whose jailhouse-inspired gym employs other ex-cons in a bid to break the cycle of recidivism.

And in a US election year, a special world premiere of documentary "War Game" will allow audiences to watch as real-life US spy chiefs, defense officials and politicians from several administrations conduct an unscripted role-play exercise in which they must handle a political coup after a contested presidential election.

"It's certainly unsettling, in the pit of my stomach the entire time, knowing that the games can be very close to reality," said Hernandez.

"The topicality of it being an election year makes it for an exceptional opportunity to have just a deeper discussion."

Co-founded by Robert Redford, Sundance runs this year from January 18-28.