Sundance Preview: Science at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

Science and film have long been tied together at the Sundance Film Festival through a relationship with the Sloan Foundation that goes back over ten years. At the end of the festival the Sloan Feature Film Prize is awarded to a science or technology-themed film from the festival, so this is an interesting moment to look at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival lineup. This year’s festival features a number of science and technology films in five different sections—a testament to the varied ways these stories can be dramatized. Many of the screenings are world premieres and feature talkbacks with filmmakers. Below are some highlights from the Premieres, Documentary Premieres, New Frontiers, Virtual Reality, U.S. Documentary, and NEXT sections.

The Premieres section features AGNUS DEI from director Anne Fontaine. This narrative feature is a period piece set in 1945 Poland and centers on a young, female French doctor during World War II.

In the Documentary Premieres section, two films include science and technology themes. LO AND BEHOLD, REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD is a documentary from acclaimed director Werner Herzog that will be making its world premiere as well. This technology-focused film explores the broad subject of the Internet. Herzog won a Sloan-Sundance award in 2005 for his film GRIZZLY MAN. Also making its world premiere is James Redford’s RESILIENCE, about brain science and specifically the science of toxic stress told from the standpoint of professionals, from pediatricians to educators.

The New Frontiers section features THE LEVIATHAN PROJECT, created by Alex McDowell and Bradley Newman in collaboration with University of South California’s School of Cinematic Arts World Building Media Lab. This experience combines Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality and puts users, wearing VR headsets, into the year 1895 in a scientific lab…in the belly of a whale. It is based on Scott Westerfield’s best-selling sci-fi trilogy Leviathan.

In the Virtual Reality section is THE MARTIAN VR EXPERIENCEby Robert Stromberg and Ridley Scott done in collaboration with Fox Innovation Lab, RSA Films, and VRC. This interactive experience allows viewers into the role of Mark Watney, the botanist surviving on Mars who is the main character from the Sloan-award-winning movie THE MARTIAN. SONAR is another VR experience by Philipp Maas and Dominik Stockhausen about a drone on an intergalactic voyage to answer a distress call from an asteroid.

In the U.S. documentary competition, HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD (AND LOVE ALL THE THINGS CLIMATE CAN’T CHANGE), by director Josh Fox examines the extent to which climate change has affected our world today. On the quirkier side, NUTS! by director Penny Lane, tells the story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, who invented and marketed the goat-testicle impotence cure in 1920s America.

In the NEXT section making its world premiere is OPERATION AVALANCHE by director Matt Johnson, a mockumentary set in 1967 when four CIA agents infiltrated NASA.

The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 21-31, 2016 in Park City, Utah. The full lineup is available online. Share reactions to any of these films @movingimageNYC #ScienceAndFilm or by posting on the Science & Film Facebook page.