In “Ailey,” the story of the visionary artist, who found salvation through dance, is told in his own words and via the creation of a dance inspired by his life. The movie will be shown Feb. 1 in Memphis. (Screen capture)

by Brianna Smith-Herman —

Brianna Smith-Herman (Courtesy photo)

Indie Memphis is set to play a major role in helping the world-renown Sundance Film Festival stage its first largely virtual festival this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sundance has partnered with independent cinema communities across the U.S. to screen an array of films beyond the festival’s traditional home in Park City, Utah. 

From Jan. 28 through Feb. 2, adventurous audiences and indie film lovers everywhere will unite to discover and celebrate the bold creative visions and exciting new talent in the film world.

Indie Memphis will host 10 Sundance-selected new films at the Malco Summer Drive-In at 5310 Summer Ave.

The Summer Drive-In will join the ranks of venues across the country, including the Pasadena Rose Bowl, the Sidewalk Film Festival cinema in Birmingham, Alabama, and the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, in hosting films.

Memphis’ opening night film, “Strawberry Mansion” features filmmaker Kentucker Audley, who got his start at Indie Memphis.

Audley, now based in Brooklyn, New York, teamed with Albert Birney to direct and star in the film.  Audley stars as James Preble, a “dream auditor” in a future world, where people must pay royalties if intellectual property appears in their subconscious minds. 

Jan. 29 features two films. They are:

  • “I Was A Simple Man” by Hawaiian director Christopher Makoto Yogi, is the portrait of a dying man, who remembers his less-than-idyllic life in Oahu.
  • “Cryptozoo,” an animated film about a couple who stumble onto a supernatural zoo for Bigfoots and Mothmen.

Jan. 30 will feature two films:

  • “Passing,” directed by Rebecca Hall, starring Tessa Thompson as a Black woman trying to appear white in 1920s America.
Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson appear in “Passing” by Rebecca Hall, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. (Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute.)
  • Erin Vassilopoulos’s “Superior,” a visually luscious thriller that keeps the tension tight as the narrative navigates between violent memories and two sisters rediscovering their bond. 

Jan. 31 films are:

  • “All Light, Everywhere,” an “essay film” by Theo Anthony. “All Light, Everywhere” directs our gaze to fascinating, often surprising connections among technology, weapons and mechanics of motion, as well as the effect of those factors on the ways we construct our realities.
  • “Mayday” by Karen Cinorre is a movie I would describe as a feminist war film.

I am most excited to see Feb. 1’s film titled “Ailey,” by director Jamila Wignot. The film is based on dance pioneer Alvin Ailey.

The final night of the festival, Feb. 2, features two films:

  • Kate Tsang’s “Marvelous & The Black Hole,” a story of a 13-year-old, who is struggling to cope with the death of her mother.
  • “Philly D.A.”: Directors Ted Passon and Yoni Brook rigorously bring to life the people impacted and incensed by the failings of the system, as well as those fighting to maintain the status quo. 

The Festival also will offer an online platform with seven days of premieres, events, artist talks, cutting edge XR exhibitions and dynamic spaces for social gathering. 

The network of partnerships will bring not only feature films but customized local programming — talks, events, artist meet-ups — to communities across the country. 

While not every Sundance premiere will be made available on the satellite screens, all 70-plus features will debut at designated times online, at

Stay tuned for more coverage of Sundance in Memphis. Tickets and passes are available at the Indie Memphis website.