The Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in the United States, is currently ongoing. While it's a major showcase for a bunch of exciting filmmakers, what really has our attention is that four films by directors of Nigerian descent premiered there this year.
Julius Onah, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Shola Amoo and Chinonye Chukwu had their films shown for the first time at the festival, and all four of them received largely positive reactions from the critics in attendance. Here are some of the early reviews:
Chiwetel Ejiofor's The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Currently at 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, tells the story of a thirteen-year-old boy in Malawi who invents an unconventional way to save his family and village from famine. Critics have great things to say about Ejiofor's directorial debut.
"Made with the intelligence and good taste one expects from Ejiofor, the involving film cares about much more than the sweeping images of triumph with which it inevitably closes."
"It's a conventional film in many ways but one that slowly and effectively builds to a remarkably rousing climax, displaying an act of overwhelming ingenuity that's hard to deny."
Julius Onah's Luce
Luce follows a married couple forced to reckon with their idealized image of their son, adopted from war-torn Eritrea, after an alarming discovery by a devoted high school teacher threatens his status as an all-star student. It stars Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts.
"What makes Luce so ingeniously subversive as a piece of theater — positioned squarely in the realm of the speculative — is that it forces audiences who identify as progressive to confront their deepest fears about how that kind of trust can go wrong."
"At the root of Luce is a fascinating mystery. Luce is a smart and sophisticated inquiry into race and class that retains the underlying appeal of J.C. Lee’s 2013 play."
Chinonye Chukwu's Clemency
Clemency follows a prison warden who confronts her own psychological demons, as she develops an emotional connection to the death row inmate she is scheduled to execute. The movie stars Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn and Danielle Brooks.
About Clemency, Eric Kohn of IndieWire says:
"At a time when movies can be reverse engineered to generate awards season buzz, Clemency provides a welcome alternative: A mature, star-driven vehicle elevated by a brilliant performance that deserves all the awards it can get."
Gregory Ellwood of The Playlist is in awe of Alfre Woodard's performance in the movie:
"Alfre Woodard may have graced us with the performance of her career. This is not hyperbole. It is not an exaggeration.
As a prison warden grappling with the toll of overseeing the executions of men on death row she delivers a nuanced and heartbreaking turn in Chinonye Chukwu's drama, Clemency."
Shola Amoo's The Last Tree
The Last Tree follows Femi, a British boy of Nigerian heritage who, after a happy childhood in rural Lincolnshire, moves to inner London to live with his mum. Struggling with the unfamiliar culture and values of his new environment, teenage Femi has to figure out which path to adulthood he wants to take.
From Guy Lodge at Variety:
"The Last Tree is an imperfect but stirring and assured study of a black teenager carving out his own identity in modern Britain."
"It’s hard for me to say that The Last Tree is the best movie at Sundance. But I will say that this is a movie I am going to recommend to all of my friends and family… So do with that as you may."