LGBTQ+ highlights at Sundance 2021

This year’s week-long Sundance Film Festival, which opens on Thursday January 28th, will run digitally via a custom-designed online platform ( alongside drive-ins, screenings at independent arthouses, and a network of local community partnerships. All films in the program will be available online in the United States, with certain titles opting for global availability. The full festival lineup has now been announced and includes a special LGBTQ+ filmmaker panel discussion Barbed Wire Kisses Redux and a raft of LGBTQ+ related narrative features, docs, shorts and episodics. Here are a few of the LGBTQ+ highlights we’re looking forward to catching at Sundance 2021 with official festival descriptions.

Ailey by Jamila Wignot. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jack Mitchell.

Ailey, directed by Jamila Wignot
U.S. Cinema Documentary Competition (World Premiere)

Alvin Ailey was a visionary artist who found salvation through dance. Ailey fully profiles this brilliant and enigmatic man whose search for truth in movement resulted in pioneering choreography that centres on African American experiences. This resonant biography grants artful access to the man who, at only 27 years old, founded one of the world’s most renowned dance companies—the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Told through Ailey’s own words and featuring evocative archival footage and interviews with those who knew him, the film interweaves the creation of a new commission inspired by his life to show the enduring power of Ailey’s vision.

Premieres Saturday January 30th 12pm ET

At the Ready by Maisie Crow. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

At The Ready, directed by Maisie Crow
U.S. Cinema Documentary Competition (World Premiere)

Ten miles from the Mexican border, students at Horizon High School in El Paso, Texas, are enrolling in law enforcement classes and joining a unique after-school activity: the criminal justice club. Through mock-ups of drug raids and active-shooter takedowns, they inch closer to their desired careers in border patrol, policing, and customs enforcement. We follow Mexican American students Kassy and Cesar and recent graduate Cristina as they navigate the complications inherent in their chosen path and discover their choices may clash with the values and people they hold closest.

Through intimate access and a clear-sighted lens, director Maisie Crow takes us inside one of the largest policing education programs in the region, offering a rare portrait of Latinx adolescents grappling with their place within their communities. Unafraid of confronting the difficult questions that lurk at the intersection of identity, immigration, and personal politics, At the Ready asks: What is the price of pursuing dreams that have very real ramifications?

Premieres Sunday January 31st at 12pm ET followed by live Q&A

Flee by Jonas Poher Rasmussen. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Flee, directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen
World Cinema Documentary Competition (World Premiere)

An Afghan refugee agrees to tell a remarkable personal narrative of persecution and escape on the condition that his identity not be revealed. As a means of fulfilling that wish, his filmmaker friend uses striking animation to not only protect this young man but also enhance his tale, bending time and memory to recount a visceral, poetic, and death-defying journey dictated by deception, loneliness, and a relentless will to survive.

The result is a film unbound by documentary constraints and swept up in an astonishing array of archive footage, 80s pop music, and hand-drawn craft that brings audiences directly into the experience of a teen fleeing multiple countries—and the psychological impact on how he loves, trusts, and understands his burgeoning identity. Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee is a triumph of storytelling and filmmaking ingenuity, but its greatest asset is the empathy and trust Rasmussen forms with the film’s protagonist, whose clarity and vulnerability grant us access to a unique refugee tale.

Premieres Thursday 28th January at 10pm ET followed by live Q&A

Cecilia Milocco in Knocking by Frida Kempff. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Hannes Krantz.

Knocking, directed by Frida Kempff
Midnight Program

When Molly hears knocking coming from the ceiling in her new apartment, she naturally searches for the source. The upstairs neighbours don’t know what she’s talking about and dismiss her with cool indifference. Is this all in her mind? After all, she’s still processing a traumatic event that left her mentally unwell, and the unprecedented heat wave isn’t helping her think clearly. As the knocking intensifies and gives way to a woman’s cries, Molly becomes consumed with finding out the truth. Could it be Morse code? Is someone trapped? And more importantly, why doesn’t anyone care?

Knocking is a sharp indictment of the gaslight culture and social stigma that work against those experiencing mental illness. Director Frida Kempff’s stunning visuals induce a dissonant sensation of physical disembodiment and feverish claustrophobia that mimics Molly’s deteriorating mental state. Cecilia Milocco exudes Molly’s vulnerability and strength in equal measures, spiralling in one moment before standing her ground the next. Knocking leaves you, just like Molly, questioning yourself until the very end.

Premieres Saturday January 30th at 12am ET

Lucien Guignard, Idella Johnson and Hannah Pepper in Ma Belle, My Beauty by Marion Hill. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Lauren Guiteras.

Ma Belle, My Beauty, directed by Marion Hill
NEXT Program

Newlywed musicians Bertie and Fred are adjusting to their new life in the beautiful countryside of France. It’s an easy transition for Fred, the son of French and Spanish parents, but New Orleans native Bertie grapples with a nagging depression that is affecting her singing. Lane—the quirky ex who disappeared from their three-way relationship years ago—suddenly shows up for a surprise visit, bringing new energy and baggage of her own.

First-time feature filmmaker Marion Hill takes us on a tipsy, moody dive into polyamory that holds all of the gravity and complexity of sexual fluidity and triangulation, while maintaining the buoyant atmosphere of a hot summer adventure through the fields of Europe. Levitated by an intoxicating acoustic guitar soundtrack by Mahmoud Chouki, Ma Belle, My Beauty is a breezy and meaningful journey through wine-drenched candlelit dinners, fire-lit vineyard parties, farmers’ markets, and sunny hikes alongside the creek, as Fred, Bertie, and Lane grapple with how to get what they want inside the soup of their desires, passions, and life ambitions.

Premieres Saturday January 30th at 6pm ET

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World by Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Mario Tursi.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, directed by Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri
World Cinema Documentary Competition (World Premiere)

Björn Andrésen was 15 when he starred as Tadzio opposite Dirk Bogarde in Luchino Visconti’s adaptation of Death in Venice. A year later, during the film’s Cannes premiere, Visconti proclaimed Andrésen to be “the world’s most beautiful boy.” A comment that might have seemed flattering at the time became a burden that tainted Andrésen’s life. Through a fascinating mix of archival footage and contemporary interactions with Andrésen, co-directors Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri explore the nature of overnight stardom and the objectification that sometimes comes with it. Andrésen, now in his 60s, bravely opens up about the irresponsible treatment he was subjected to and how the “curse of beauty” distorted his formative years. Being immortalised as an iconic boy meant that Andrésen spent most of his adult life trying to be invisible, refusing to have his identity shaped by a shallow fantasy about who he was. The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is a thoughtful and quietly devastating meditation on obsession, trauma, and the cost of fame.

Premieres Friday January 29th at 3pm ET

My Name is Pauli Murray by Betsy West and Julie Cohen. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Pauli Murray Foundation.

My Name is Pauli Murray, directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen

It’s not often we’re introduced to a true luminary, and Pauli Murray was just that—as well as a lawyer, Black activist, feminist, poet, and priest. Murray questioned systems of oppression and conformity throughout the mid-twentieth century, with a radical vision consistently ahead of the times. Murray’s trailblazing legal foresight influenced landmark civil rights decisions and gender equality legislation that transformed our world.

Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen (RBG) return to Sundance with an illuminating portrait of an inspiring leader. Murray’s writings, photographs, and audio recordings, along with newly discovered footage and interviews, interlace to tell the story of a pioneer with a tenacious spirit. West and Cohen balance numerous professional accomplishments with a window into Murray’s full and complex private life. Murray’s personal letters reveal years of grappling with and resisting gender categories, affectionate exchanges with loved ones, and confident and resolute demands for justice. Pauli Murray has a legacy far-reaching and deep. This is a name you won’t soon forget.

Premieres Sunday January 31st at 6pm ET

We’re All Going To The World’s Fair by Jane Schoenbrun. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, directed by Jane Schoenbrun
NEXT Program

Late on a cold night somewhere in the U.S., teenage Casey sits alone in her attic bedroom, scrolling the Internet under the glow-in-the-dark stars and black-light posters that blanket the ceiling. She has finally decided to take the World’s Fair Challenge, an online role-playing horror game, and embrace the uncertainty it promises. After the initiation, she documents the changes that may or may not be happening to her, adding her experiences to the shuffle of online clips available for the world to see. As she begins to lose herself between dream and reality, a mysterious figure reaches out, claiming to see something special in her uploads.

This debut feature from writer-director Jane Schoenbrun dives into deep emotional terrain, exploring themes of identity and isolation while skillfully building in online wormholes and creepypasta. This haunting contemporary work thrives as the audience stares into the eyes of lead actress Anna Cobb, who provides a captivating performance.

Premieres Sunday January 31st at 9pm ET

The World to Come by Mona Fastvold. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The World to Come, directed by Mona Fastvold

Mona Fastvold’s rugged period romance is adapted from Jim Shepard’s 2017 short story of the same name and premiered in competition at the Venice International Film Festival.

In eighteenth-century upstate New York, Abigail (Katherine Waterston) is increasingly defeated by grief and the drudgery of rural life. Her deference and propriety maintain a mundane equilibrium with her husband, Dyer (Casey Affleck), but her narrated diaries offer a picture into a richer internal life. When spring brings newcomers Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) and husband Finney (Christopher Abbott) to the otherwise empty landscape, the journal entries frantically anticipate—and then enthusiastically document—an affair with Tallie. As menial machinations are interrupted and patriarchal sovereignty is questioned, both marriages buckle. The wives’ connection is threatened, but Abigail and Tallie’s love for each other is steadfast, both onscreen and in handwritten pages.

Fastvold exquisitely captures the oppression of settler life while adopting a devoutly literary approach to portray her protagonist’s internal life, striking a transportive balance between warmth and chill.

Premieres Tuesday February 2nd at 3pm ET

4 Feet High by María Belén Poncio and Rosario Perazolo Masjoan. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Natalia Roca.

4 Feet High, directed by María Belén Poncio and Rosario Perazolo Masjoan
Indie Series Program (World Premiere)

This beautiful mix of live-action and animation tells the story of Juana, a spunky 17-year-old in a wheelchair who aims to explore her sexuality but is ashamed of her body. Trying to find her place in a new school, she endures failure, friendship, fear, and politics until she builds her sense of pride. Upon viewing these six remarkable episodes, head over to New Frontier to experience Juana’s unique perspective on life in four additional 360-degree episodes.

Premieres Thursday January 28th at 10am ET

This is the Way We Rise by Ciara Lacy. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Chapin Hall.

This is the Way We Rise, directed by Ciara Lacy
Documentary Shorts Program

An exploration into the creative process, following native Hawaiian slam poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio as her art is reinvigorated by her calling to protect sacred sites atop Mauna Kea, Hawai’i.

Premieres Thursday January 28th at 10am ET

Sophia William and Luciana Souza in Unliveable by Matheus Farias and Enock Carvalho. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Gustavo Pessoa.

Unliveable, directed by Matheus Farias and Enock Carvalho
Shorts Program 2

In Brazil, where a trans person is murdered every three days, Marilene searches for her daughter, Roberta, a trans woman who is missing. Running out of time, she discovers one hope for the future.

Premieres Thursday January 28th at 10am ET

For the full Sundance 2021 lineup and to purchase tickets and passes head to the official Sundance Film Festival website. This year’s festival runs Thursday January 28th through Wednesday February 3rd.

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