In December, Columbia was shocked to find out that one of its theaters would be a host for the Sundance Film Festival, one of the premiere film events in the United States and the world at large. The city is just one of 25 satellite locations the Utah-based event is utilizing as part of its COVID-19 adjustments for this year’s festivities from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, and it’s the only one in either Carolina.
Still, the question remained: What level of programming would our city receive?
This week comes the revelation of much of what Sundance will show and offer locally — with Spotlight Cinemas Capital 8 serving as the hub for in-person screenings and the Columbia-via-Brooklyn nomadic film organization The Luminal Theater serving as host.
And even though, thanks to an anonymous sponsor, the screenings will be free to attend — with pre-registration required and donations of $10 or more encouraged — it’s clear that we’re not getting short shrift.
The biggest title featured on Columbia’s slate of films is “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which chronicles the infiltration by the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, of the Illinois Black Panther party, led by the charismatic Chairman Fred Hampton. In the film, which has Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther,” “Creed”) as a lead producer, Martin Sheen plays Hoover, while Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out,” “Black Panther”) and Lakeith Stanfield (“Sorry to Bother You,” “Get Out”) star, respectively, as Hampton and FBI informant William O’Neal.
The title will premiere via Sundance’s digital festival platform, and be shown at 16 other satellite locations.
“We are extra excited to have ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ join our lineup,” Curtis Caesar John, Luminal’s executive director, told Free Times. “The Luminal has been an exhibitor and advocate of director Shaka King's work since our founding in 2015, and as a film programmer, I've been proudly showcasing him and his work since 2011. So to be able to present to audiences this important story told by this masterful and caring filmmaker is a boon to our already fantastic lineup."
The remaining slate showcases a similar emphasis on diversity, as one would expect given the Luminal’s stated mission of trumpeting filmmaking from America’s Black diaspora.
There are two world premieres. “Passing” (starring Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland and Alexander Skarsgård) concerns “two African-American women who can ‘pass’ as white (and) choose to live on opposite sides of the color line in 1929 New York.” The documentary “Homeroom” follows as “Oakland High School’s class of 2020 confronts an unprecedented year marked by seismic change.”
The Columbia slate also features two more documentaries. “My Name Is Pauli Murray” is a look at the titular “non-binary Black luminary,” “lawyer, activist, poet, and priest” who “influenced RBG's fight for gender equality and Thurgood Marshall's landmark civil rights arguments,“ while “Ailey” explores the life of visionary Black dancer Alvin Ailey.
There will also be virtual Beyond Film events presented as part of Luminal’s Sundance programming.
There will be a (Re)Defining Carolina Film talk, with a panel of filmmakers, critics, arts administrators and other creatives, including Columbia filmmaker Roni Nicole Henderson, striving to “explore and redefine the identity of filmmaking and media making coming out of the region.” And Henderson and North Carolina’s Atinuke Akintola Diver will offer a special look at their Carolina Works-In-Progress.
Columbia hip-hop artist Preach Jacobs will bring a series of his Loft Sessions DJ sets to virtual audiences on three days during the festival.
Away from its proper Sundance programming, Luminal will present a South Carolina Film Retrospective highlighting local filmmakers at Charleston’s Terrace Theater twice during the festival’s stint in the Palmetto State.
Limited attendance, distanced seating and other COVID-19 protocols will be in place for the in-person screenings at Spotlight Cinemas.