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The robots are coming for you at Sundance 2024

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

The Sundance Film Festival turns 40 this month, an awkward age that is too old to be considered young and too young to be considered old.

It’s a time to reflect on where you’ve been and to wonder about where you’re going, a duality this annual spree of independent cinema will embrace over its 11-day run from Jan. 18-28 in mountainous Park City, Utah.

As the festival strives to define its smaller post-COVID form, an in-person/online hybrid introduced last year that makes it unique among top-tier fests, there will be celebratory screenings of such past Sundance hits as “Napoleon Dynamite,” “The Babadook” and “The Times of Harvey Milk.”

There will also be premieres of films exploring technological advances — artificial intelligence is a big theme this year — while also pondering the future of humanity.

One of the hottest tickets for Sundance ’24 is Sam and Andy Zuchero’s drama “Love Me,” a post-human romance between a buoy and a satellite (you read that correctly) starring Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun. The film has already won this year’s Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, given to the most outstanding depiction of science and technology in a feature film. Sloan jury members include Toronto filmmaker Matt Johnson (“BlackBerry”), a Sundance veteran.

Peter Sillen’s documentary “Love Machina” tills similar digital soil in a real-life situation. Married futurists Martine and Bina Rothblatt commissioned an advanced humanoid AI named Bina48 to transfer Bina’s human consciousness to a robot brain as part of an effort to make their love live forever.

Other AI-influenced films and experiences premiering at Sundance ’24 include Jazmin Renée Jones’ “Seeking Mavis Beacon,” an investigative doc about Black representation in the digital world; Gary Hustwit’s “Eno,” a doc about ambient music pioneer Brian Eno (U2, Talking Heads, David Bowie) that creates new images with each screening; and Rashad Newsome’s “Being (the Digital Griot),” a “participatory experience” that uses an AI-driven digital storyteller to engage audiences in discussions derived from Black communities, theorists, poets and activists.


(Originally published in the Toronto Star.)


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