Dear White People
The conceptual trailer for Justin Simien’s feature became a viral sensation when it appeared on YouTube last year, helping the first-time writer-director raise the funds he needed to finish the movie. Now his satirical film — which explores race relations through the prism of Ivy League college politics — will anchor the festival’s Saturday-night programming, with a cast including Tessa Thompson (When a Stranger Calls) and Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris).
Wish I Was Here
Not long ago, Zach Braff’s second directorial effort became a controversial poster child for crowdsourcing when the Scrubs vet — and director-star of the cult hit Garden State — took to Kickstarter and raised $3.1 million for his dramedy about a thirtysomething’s existential crisis. Braff stars in the new film alongside Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, and Josh Gad. All eyes are on Wish I Was Here to see whether his many investors backed a winner.
From Ethiopian filmmaker Zeresenay Mehari, Difret tells the harrowing tale of an Ethiopian lawyer who comes to the aid of a young girl abducted into marriage and charged with murder for killing her husband. Angelina Jolie has signed on to the film as its executive producer, bringing extra attention to the true story.
Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) plays a prodigious young drummer and J.K. Simmons (Juno) his ruthless instructor in 28-year-old writer-director Damien Chazelle’s feature. Last year the filmmaker’s short, also starring Simmons, nabbed the fest’s top prize — and it served as the calling card to get the full-length version financed. Indie mavens Jason Reitman (Young Adult) and Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity) are producing.
With unfettered access to Roger Ebert during the last four months of his life, documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams) offers an inside look at the man behind the famous thumb. Executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, Life Itself is not just an homage to the film critic, who helped launch the careers of both Scorsese and James, but also an examination of Ebert’s personal demons: alcoholism and an ego that at times held him back.