The biggest theme of Sundance 2017 was — intentionally or not — Donald J. Trump

But the best films at the festival reinforced what really matters

Dayveon, A Ghost Story, Band Aid.
(Image credit: | (Courtesy of Sundance Institute))

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival got off to a slow start, both in the screening rooms and in the streets of Park City, Utah. Compared to last year, when Manchester by the Sea, Love and Friendship, Sing Street, Certain Women, Weiner, and Birth of a Nation generated a buzz that carried throughout 2016, even the most talked-about films from the first few days of this year's fest seemed to lack a certain verve. Meanwhile, it was hard to deny that the Sundance attendees were a little… well, let's just say "distracted." With Donald Trump's presidential inauguration happening on Friday, Jan. 20 — the first full day of the festival — and the counter-Trump protest marches taking place on Saturday, the middling quality of the early slate of movies seemed like a less than urgent problem.

And then on Sunday at noon, returning Sundance director David Lowery — the man who helmed 2013 festival favorite Ain't Them Bodies Saints and Disney's 2016 Pete's Dragon remake — debuted his new film A Ghost Story, an offbeat art-piece he shot over the summer in Texas with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. The elliptical tale of a dead man whose spirit returns to haunt the house he shared with his lover, A Ghost Story is as unpredictable as it is poetic, as Lowery follows his subconscious on a winding journey, stopping occasionally to ask some big questions: How will we be remembered? Do we even matter? At one point, a character played by singer-songwriter Will Oldham gives a long, mesmerizing speech about the best that we can hope for as a civilization, which is that some small piece of us will carry forward — in some likely bastardized form — into whatever world succeeds this one.

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Noel Murray

Noel Murray is a freelance writer, living in Arkansas with his wife and two kids. He was one of the co-founders of the late, lamented movie/culture website The Dissolve, and his articles about film, TV, music, and comics currently appear regularly in The A.V. Club, Rolling Stone, Vulture, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times.