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Diverse stories dominate Sundance Film Festival



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Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in "Call Me By Your Name." Buy Photos

The past few months have seen the most diverse Hollywood awards season in years, and the industry’s long-overdue attention to sexual and racial inclusivity has carried over into the first of this year’s major film festivals.

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival saw a variety of premieres, ranging from documentaries to independent dramas. Of the first-time screenings at the festival, two films stood out above the rest.

The first big hit of Sundance came Jan. 21 as Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” premiered to a packed house at the Eccles Theatre. The drama, which is based on a 2008 novel by Hillary Jordan, follows two families — one black, one white — in World War II-era Mississippi.

Starring Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedlund, Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan, “Mudbound” examines the racial tensions that emerge between two friends when they return from the war. Rees, whose last film, “Pariah,” debuted at Sundance in 2011, had a panel after her triumphant Saturday night screening. According to Entertainment Weekly, she told the packed theater, “This film is about a search for citizenship. It’s about the impossibility of going home.”

Although the 2017 Academy Awards are still weeks away, “Mudbound” immediately sparked talk of next year’s Oscars among critics.

While it may be too early to count it as a lock- especially considering what happened with similarly lauded “The Birth of a Nation” last year- “Mudbound” seems bound for major awards 
conversation.

While critics applauded “Mudbound” on Saturday, they positively swooned over “Call Me By Your Name” the next night.

Luca Guadagnino proved himself the king of sensual summer romances with last year’s “The Big Splash,” and according to early reviews of his latest work, Guadagnino has outdone himself this year with his adaptation of Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel.

In “Call Me By Your Name,” erudite teenager Elio falls in love with an older grad student who visits his family’s summer home in order to study with Elio’s father.

Amid the sweltering heat of an Italian summer, Elio, played by “Miss Stevens” breakout Timothée Chalamet, and Oliver, played by Armie Hammer, enter into an all-encompassing, borderline obsessive relationship.

If a sweeping, romantic drama about two bisexual men doesn’t seem like normal Sundance fare to you, you’re not alone. Many critics remarked just how lucky this year’s festival-goers were to see the film at all. Based on its subject matter and production value, “Call Me By Your Name” would perhaps have been more suited to Venice Film Festival or even Cannes.

Either way, this may be the film that catapults Guadagnino into the director’s race at next year’s Oscars. Stars Chalamet, Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg, who apparently delivers a stunning monologue near the end of the film, are also already receiving plenty of 2018 awards buzz.

We may be getting ahead of ourselves, but it’s heartening that two films such as these would top one of the world’s biggest festivals. Next year’s Oscar race has to start somewhere, and the Sundance domination of “Mudbound” and “Call Me By Your Name” points to an encouraging, diverse start to the 2017 lineup.

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