‘A Kid Like Jake’s Claire Danes On Silas Howard’s “Intensely Relatable” Family Drama | Deadline

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Adapted by Daniel Pearle from his own play, Silas Howard’s A Kid Like Jake was “intensely relatable” from the get-go for star Claire Danes.

Starring Danes, Jim ParsonsThe Shape of Water‘s Octavia Spencer and Priyanka Chopra—not to mention Ann Dowd, who has five films at Sundance—A Kid Like Jakefollows Alex (Danes) and Greg (Parsons), a married New York couple who struggle to navigate their role as parents of a young son who prefers Cinderella to G.I. Joe. For Howard, how Alex and Greg navigate this unforeseeable scenario defines the kind of characters and material he likes to explore.

“I’m very fond of characters saying the wrong thing and then ultimately doing the right thing, being able to look at human issues instead of messaging or explaining, and it did that,” Howard said of A Kid Like Jake, appearing at Deadline’a Sundance Studio with Parsons, Danes, Spencer, and Chopra. “It just sort of went to the core of things that come up in a relationship, out of care and concern, especially when someone that you care about is maybe at risk of being hurt or made fun of.”

“In spite of a lot of movement towards understanding differences, it’s still very difficult to have inclusiveness,” the director continued, “and this really does it in a human way.”

For Danes—herself a New York mom of a four-year-old son, “in the depths of marriage, in the best possible way,” the material in hand was “very accessible,” although it wasn’t exactly “self-referential.”

“Daniel does such a deft job of talking about these political concepts, but doing it through the voices of really layered, complex, grounded people who are in actual relationship with each other,” the actress said.

In conversation with Deadline, Chopra touched on her drives as an artist, which involved fighting for onscreen representation and playing characters that defy societal expectations. “To fight that fight for the next generation that comes in and break that concrete, I think for me that’s a huge, huge drive,” Chopra explained—”to just normalize being who I am, and what I look like.”

To hear more from Deadline’s conversation with the A Kid Like Jake cast and director Silas Howard, click above.

‘A Kid Like Jake’: Film Review | Hollywood Reporter

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Sugar and spice and all things nice, but with a big dash of vinegar, too. Claire Danes and Jim Parsons star as a Brooklyn couple facing the possibility that their four-year-old might be trans in Silas Howard’s comedy drama.

Claire Danes and Jim Parsons star as one-time lawyer Alex and therapist Greg, New York City parents struggling in different ways to process what their four-year-old son’s preference for dressing up in skirts and playing with so-called girls’ toys might signify about his gender identity in the simply lovely comedy-drama A Kid Like Jake. Adapted for the screen by Daniel Pearle from his own play, the film strives to present an even-handed account of the couple’s increasingly divergent views, with Alex resistant to “putting a label” on their child, and Greg more open to embracing Jake’s transgender nature.

Director Silas Howard, trans himself, elicits superb performances not just from the leads but from the crack cast of supports, which includes Octavia Spencer, Priyanka Chopra, Ann Dowd and, in an especially vivid turn as a neurotic patient, Amy Landecker from Transparent, a show for which Howard has directed several episodes. In fact, the deployment of that Transparent house style — with its overlapping dialogue, dodging and weaving camerawork and a milieu that centers around an assortment of lovable-vile boho-bougie characters — makes this feel almost like an East Coast spinoff of Jill Soloway’s award-winning series.

Although they live comfortably in a spacious Brooklyn duplex, like so many young New Yorkers Alex and Greg still don’t have enough to afford the astronomical costs of sending gifted Jake to a private school next year when he starts kindergarten. Luckily, they’re good friends with Judy (Spencer), the director of the local preschool where Jake is now, who gives them sound advice on the complex game theory they need to play to get a scholarship for Jake.

Alex throws herself into the time-consuming project, drawing on the skills and naturally ambitious drive that must have made her a good lawyer before she gave up practicing to be a full-time mother. Greg, absorbed with his patients and role as breadwinner for the moment, lets Alex take the lead on the private-school project. When Alex discovers she’s pregnant, a source of joy but also anxiety given she had a miscarriage not long ago, the stakes feel even higher.

Like so many progressive, liberal-minded parents today, Alex and Greg have always tried to be supportive of their child’s desires and interests. They’ve been mindful not to impose gender norms on him with toy trucks and train-themed Thomas & Friends when he clearly expresses a preference for dolls, pretending to be a princess, and watching Cinderella or The Little Mermaid. But when Judy suggests they emphasize Jake’s “gender nonconforming play” in their applications as a positive, hinting that they could work the diversity angle to their advantage, Alex at first balks, hesitant to embrace what the title phrase, “a kid like Jake,” might really mean.

Greg isn’t an expert in child psychology, but he’s more open to the idea that Jake’s femininity might be a sign of a more deep-seated, possibly immutable trans identity, which, according to a growing body of opinion, needs to be accepted and dealt with sensitively to help Jake be the happiest child he can be. Although Jake’s best friend, Sanjay (Rhys Bhatia), the son of Alex’s good friend Amal (Priyanka Chopra), accepts Jake as he is unquestioningly, already other kids have started to call Jake names (such as “flag,” a childish mispronunciation of the word “fag”) and he’s reacted angrily, getting into fights that may negatively affect his chances of getting into a private school.

Howard and Pearle take scrupulous pains to be fair to Alex, who becomes, as the story goes on, the only one arguing that Jake is just going through a phase. Clearly, the film is on the side of trans identity being a born-with-you thing, visible in childhood (a position some viewers may disagree with). But Alex isn’t evil or anything, just a mother struggling to understand a child she didn’t expect she would have. It helps that Danes is such an inherently sympathetic performer, able to project a signature mix of fierce intelligence and high-maintenance fragility, not entirely unlike the character she plays on Homeland. On the other hand, Parsons gets an opportunity here to assay a character very different from the nerdy, autistic Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, a heterosexual man so very in touch with his own feelings and nurturing capacities that Alex, in a doozy of a marital shouting match at the film’s climax, practically accuses him of turning Jake trans by being so effeminate himself.

Again like Transparent, the hyper-articulate, sometimes selfishly honest people depicted here (shout-out is also due to Ann Dowd as Alex’s monstrously competitive mother) aren’t afraid to express their darkest, cruelest thoughts or, fully conversant in the contemporary psychoanalytic idiom even if they’re not shrinks themselves, to perceive negative feelings that may or may not be there in other people around them. It’s all about infinitely fine shades of nuance, a sophistication that sometimes gets in the way of simply loving in an open-hearted way, childlike in the best sense of the word — like little Jake.

Claire Danes and Jim Parsons Are Stunningly Good in the Smart, Graceful A Kid Like Jake | Vulture.com

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By Emily Yoshida

The Sundance Film Festival is an eavesdropper’s dream for two main subjects: industry gossip and the private-school admissions scene in New York and Los Angeles. Pretty much everything I know about the difficulties of getting a privileged child into the kindergarten that will ensure a successful future and, eventually, great test scores, I learn in line for movies in Park City. It’s about the least moving plight to overhear, especially as the lights lower for the latest documentary about disappearing coral reefs or the Syrian refugee crisis. So when I say A Kid Like Jake made the experience of two Williamsburg parents trying to place their 5-year-old into kindergarten not only deeply sympathetic, but also expansively humane and funny, you must appreciate what a miracle this is.

Of course, as the title suggests, the kid in question is not exactly your average 5-year-old — Jake loves dresses and Disney princesses and his favorite game is Cinderella, all of which he’s been able to enjoy judgement-free at home with mom Alex (Claire Danes) and dad Greg (Jim Parsons). And yet, he also so emphatically is average, a little person just discovering his likes and dislikes, still mostly unaware how they will affect how he fits into society as he grows older. The drama of A Kid Like Jake, which is small and contained and also somehow about everything, is the question of how to protect someone you’re responsible for, or even if there’s anything to protect them from; what to cultivate and what to let run wild, and all the life-altering choices that happen around a child when they’re barely even old enough to remember them.

If this sounds like drab issues-movie territory, director Silas Howard, a trans filmmaker who’s spent the last few years cutting his teeth on TV family fare like This Is Us and The Fosters, disarms you right away with how breezy and chatty and not at all self-serious this corner of Brooklyn is. The film is based on a play by Daniel Pearle, and most of the film is built out of leisurely conversations that often start off as one thing and become something else. Alex talks about and around Jake’s gender identity with her school-counselor friend Judy (Octavia Spencer); their conversations vacillate between candid and intimate and professional from one minute to the next. Alex, a retired lawyer, is a walking ball of neuroses whose anxieties rattle out of her mouth a mile a minute, and Greg, a therapist, is watchful and diplomatic as the couple run around from interview to interview. The couple crack jokes in the margins of their stress like anyone else would — rarely does a scene focus on how their relationship or Jake’s future is in existential crisis. This is not a film about falling apart, but all the conversations and compromises that hold things together.

Danes we’ve seen in a similar mode before, though Alex is a richer character than some of her more crisis-oriented roles, and she’s likably filter-free here. Parsons, however — I’ll admit I didn’t know he had it in him. Greg is certainly the less demonstrative of the two, but in a devastating fight near the end of the film, Parsons reveals his unspoken insecurities with an honesty and fortitude that frankly stunned me. The two have been walking on eggshells so much throughout the film, never wanting to declare one thing or another about their son, while realizing that the world won’t let him stay in a liminal space for long. When they finally start addressing the issue to its face, so much is dredged up — some of it ugly, some of it two progressive Williamsburg parents would like to think that they were above. Howard doesn’t condemn them for that, but rather gives them space to talk it out and try to do their best.

It’s remarkable how engaging and light on its feet the director and cast are able to keep this subject matter, how much permission he gives them to fuck up and try again. Despite all Alex and Greg’s hand-wringing, Howard never feels stressed about Jake’s future — he’s obviously got a couple thoughtful parents looking after him; he’ll be better off than most kids who refuse to fit the mold. But Howard also understands that worrying is Alex and Greg’s job, and this smart and graceful film makes us feel just how important that work is.

‘A Kid Like Jake’ Review: Silas Howard Directs a Simple but Effective Drama About Raising a Non-Binary Child — Sundance 2018 | Indiewire

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Claire Danes and Jim Parsons star in a sensitive and nuanced portrait of raising a non-binary kid in a black-and-white world.

David Ehrlich

Jan 24, 2018 8:11 pm

Four-year-old Jake Wheeler (Leo James Davis) isn’t like the other kids who are applying for a spot at one of New York City’s ultra-competitive private pre-schools. For one thing, he’s a lot more developmentally advanced than most of them, his cognitive and fine-motor skills putting him in the 96th percentile for his age group. For another, he loves to wear frilly princess dresses and pretend that he’s Rapunzel when he plays with his friends. He owns not one, but two separate copies of “Enchanted” on DVD, and his favorite movie of all-time is “The Little Mermaid” (not that there’s all that much hyper-masculine cinema out there for toddlers).

Jake’s Park Slope parents, Alex and Greg (Claire Danes and Jim Parsons), are happy to indulge their son’s “gender-expansive play” in the privacy of their own home, but how should they handle this in public? At his birthday party? During those weird pre-school interviews?

Suddenly, one aspect of their son’s identity starts to define him, leading to more difficult questions with much greater consequences. Is this just a phase, or is Jake trying to tell the world who he is? Would it be wrong to heed the suggestion of Jake’s lesbian nursery teacher (Octavia Spencer) and play the diversity card by highlighting their son’s non-conforming behavior on his pre-school applications, even if it might lead the other students to label him for it? And — perhaps most pressing of all — how do parents of kids like Jake reconcile the natural desire to support their children with the instinctive need to protect them from a cruel and prejudiced world?

These are not easy questions for a hyper-liberal Brooklyn couple who think of themselves as allies to the LGBTQ community, and Silas Howard’s new film is nothing if not well-attuned to the difference between the purity of sharing the right values and the messiness of actually living with them. Adapted by screenwriter Daniel Pearle from his play of the same name, “A Kid Like Jake” is an unfussy drama that leverages one of the most bougie conflicts imaginable — “we have to spare our child the indignities of public school!” — into a sensitive and nuanced portrait of modern parenting that boasts a much broader appeal than its setting might suggest. This is very much a “White People Problems” movie, but it’s also a lot more than that.

Nevertheless, “A Kid Like Jake” certainly takes its time in shaking off the feeling that it’s not just a well-intentioned PSA for 21st century parents. Pearle’s script admirably tries to make this story feel much bigger than it ever could on stage, but the movie flounders whenever it tries to pad out the sharp conversation scenes from the original version, or provide them with new context. Subplots and supporting material generally distract from the crux of the story, regardless of whether or not they were in the play.

Ann Dowd is always a welcome sight, and her role as Alex’s iron-willed mother helps texture that character’s stress, but other detours contribute little to the cause. Greg is a therapist, and the film flatlines every time it cuts back to his lightly comic sessions with a patient (Amy Landecker) who’s having marital problems of her own.

These passages can be particularly enervating when processed through Howard’s flat visual approach, the director’s anonymous style at odds with his self-evident concern for the material. Approximately 15 of the opening 30 minutes are devoted to establishing shots of New York City (only a slight exaggeration), the views so random that every cut makes it harder to pinpoint where the Wheelers actually live. That may seem like a petty gripe, but it’s indicative of a single-issue movie that doesn’t quite know what to do with itself whenever Jake isn’t the center of attention.

Jake has the same problem, though Howard finds a much better solution for him. Smartly handling a character who never appears on stage in Pearle’s play, “A Kid Like Jake” makes its title character a real but elusive presence. We see him just enough to appreciate the weight of what’s at stake — Howard chasing the young actor around with handheld shots that capture his rambunctiousness — but also so infrequently that we feel how little agency a child has at that point in their life, and how many of their choices are made for them. The burden lies with the parents, and so naturally this film does as well.

Fortunately, Danes and Parsons are more than strong enough to shoulder it, even though (and especially when) their characters struggle to maintain their confidence in themselves and each other. Danes is wholly convincing as a stay-at-home mother who’s struggling to navigate between what’s best for Jake and what’s best for his applications; growing increasingly tetchy over the course of the film, her anger is layered and raw and always well-earned. Parsons matches her pound-for-pound, playing Greg as a helpless dad whose psychoanalytic passiveness isn’t as effective at home as it is at work. Greg is a little more relaxed about Jake’s behavior, and when push comes to shove Alex blames him for their son’s effeminate nature (casting Greg with an openly gay actor isn’t just a meta shorthand, it also makes that accusation feel twice as cruel).

And blame is where the Wheelers eventually wind up, their frustrations boiling into a brutal yelling match in which they both foam at the mouth with unspoken resentment, re-aggravated loss, and newfound anxiety over how ill-prepared the world still is for a kid like Jake. It’s a scene that trembles with hurt, that feels beautifully written but also inescapably urgent. It’s also a scene that augers the difficulties that may be down the road; for them, for Jake, and for anyone out there who might find themselves in a similar position. This might be the start of a long and winding path, but it’s no small thing for “A Kid Like Jake” to so clearly illustrate how love is always going to be the path of least resistance.

‘Nancy’: Sundance Review | ScreenDaily

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Andrea Riseborough seeks to escape her mundane life in Christina Choe’s intriguing debut

BY FIONNUALA HALLIGAN, CHIEF FILM CRITIC

Writer-director Christina Choe makes an intriguing if resolutely downbeat debut with the mysterious character piece Nancy, starring British actor Andrea Riseborough (who also produces). Delivered very much in a no-frills, American indie vein, the Eon-backed Nancy rises above its dingy settings, drab costumes and Riseborough’s alarmingly matted hair to become an unpredictable story about a character you can never comfortably know.

Choe has taken a slim scenario and used to touch on universal themes

With Riseborough giving a stripped down, effective performance as the title character, Nancy ultimately steps out of the crowd, although it’s more likely to take its next move into streaming than theatrical venues.

This is a reunion for Barbara Broccoli and Michael J. Wilson’s Eon with Riseborough, who starred in the company’s critically-shunned 2015 drama Silent Storm, picked up by Sony’s SPWR. As a writer, Choe weaves small nuggets of information into a scenario with universal fascination, building up a character – with the help of a fearless Riseborough – who says little but is hard to forget. As a director, though, she sets herself some challenges: including the decision to start the film in a boxy ratio which widens at a key moment, Wizard of Oz-style, to also accommodate some colour bursts. The snowy surrounds of working class Upstate New York are dreary confines a character would like to escape from: the trick is not to include the viewer in that desperate urge to get out.

Nancy is first seen helping her invalid mother Betty (Ann Dowd), who has Parkinson’s Disease, off the toilet. Their relationship has clearly long since broken-down, and the sullen Nancy only becomes animated at the appearance of her cat, Paul. A temp at a local dentistry (Perfect Smiles, a grimly ironic place for a character who never does), Nancy also seems to be a troubled fantasist. She tells her colleagues about trips to North Korea, even providing photographic evidence; more dangerously, she befriends online a man (John Leguizamo) bereaved over the loss of an infant and, when she meets up with him, pretends to be pregnant.

A frustrated writer, Nancy is clearly untruthful, although unreliably so. When her mother suddenly dies, will her world open up? Or will the bedraggled Nancy retreat? When she sees a couple on TV (J Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi) talk movingly about their daughter who vanished 30 years ago, there’s an undeniable similarity between the age-progressed photofit of the missing child and how Nancy looks now. She takes steps to contact them with a prospect that they suddenly all want to believe in. But how much of a fantasist is she? It’s hard to second-guess Nancy, and easy to fall into her trap (despite the almost-comedy thatch of hair).

Choe has taken a slim scenario and used to touch on universal themes and thoughts of escape and second chances in life. Buscemi is strong as the questioning father figure, while J Smith-Cameron is warm and open as the mother. It’s Riseborough’s show, however, and she throws away all vanity to present a woman searching for the love of a mother who may – or may not – have abruptly lost her own chance at motherhood. Or is she simply “a total creep from the internet”?

DOP Zoe White films with a real sympathy for the character and milieu, and lives that might be led there. An effectively discordant score from Peter Raeburn keeps the audience on edge, as intended. Choe makes an impact with this Sundance and Biennale College-supported debut, enough to attract industry attention, although she could lighten up the ambiance a little if audiences are to be expected to follow suit.

‘Nancy’ Review: Andrea Riseborough Breaks Loose in Twisted Kidnapping Drama — Sundance 2018 | Indiewire

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The always-reliable actress finally gets a leading role befitting her prodigious talents, thanks to Christina Choe’s artfully crafted drama.

Kate Erbland

Jan 20, 2018 6:30 pm

Nancy is a liar. That’s the first thing we learn about Andrea Riseborough’s eponymous character in Christina Choe’s taut feature debut, “Nancy,” but Choe’s sharp writing and Riseborough’s nervy performance only use that as a jumping-off point. Nancy’s lies initially appear to be her attempt to engage with a world that has eluded and likely discarded her, a 35-year-old nobody who toils at temp jobs, tries to launch a writing career, and is trapped in a messy house with her ailing mother Betty (Ann Dowd, leaving a big impression with little screen time). She’s a little obsessed with the internet and her cell phone, burying her nose into screens while Betty belittles and berates her. Riseborough delivers most of Nancy’s lines with a flat affect, but it’s clear that plenty stirs behind her eyes.

When we first meet Nancy, she’s deep in her latest ploy: a blog that chronicles the recovery of a woman who lost an infant, and uses the platform to reach out to other parents who have suffered the same tragedy. Except, Nancy never had a baby that she lost (or did she?), and the name she uses isn’t her own. When she meets up with a reader (a heartbreaking John Leguizamo), she arrives at their coffee date wearing a fake belly, telling her internet friend that she’s pregnant again and hopeful for the future. As he solemnly promises Nancy that he’s not “a total creep from the internet,” both she and the audience must grapple with the truth: She’s the total creep from the internet.

And yet the emotion that she elicits from Leguizamo’s Jeb is real, and when it later leads to a surprising standoff between the pair in a location as banal as the supermarket, the moment delivers the kind of gasping gut punch that keeps Nancy reeling for the rest of the film’s runtime. It also foreshadows the biggest question of “Nancy”: How do you put a price on the truth when emotions override all honesty?

That’s really what Choe is toying with here, see-sawing between the sense that Nancy is spinning tales to spice up her otherwise boring life and the understanding that perhaps those lies are really all she has. The lies will only get bigger, and so will the emotional impact of “Nancy” and Riseborough’s rich performance. Made even more isolated by recent events, a bored Nancy happens to catch a local newscast dedicated to exploring the kidnapping of a young girl some 30 years ago, with her still-shattered parents (J. Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi) taking to the airwaves to discuss both the scholarship they’ve put in place in memory of young Brooke and to share an aged-up picture of what Brooke might look like today.

Bluntly: She looks just like Nancy, or at least enough like Nancy to get her busy brain going (and to get the audience to wonder if perhaps Nancy’s lies aren’t as outlandish as we once thought). It’s a thrilling twist, and further proof of Choe’s canny ability to use the seeming constraints of crafting a story around a character we know to be liar to delve deeper into issues of understanding. While Riseborough’s performance is the main attraction here, at least the most initially dazzling, Choe’s writing is as taut and incisive as it comes. The first-time feature filmmaker is all about delivering compelling details with a minimum of fuss — just one tossed-off comment from Dowd and a single rejection later from The Paris Review, and the status of Nancy’s career is blindingly obvious. A trio of slapdash digital photos conveys years’ worth of Nancy’s twisted pathology and how she ensnares people in her games.

Soon, Nancy is on her way to Ellen (Smith-Cameron) and Leo’s (Buscemi) bucolic upstate New York home, where her own desires begin to give way to a shared delusion that just might be true. (Although the filmmaking of “Nancy” is by no means showy, Choe effectively utilize a squared-off 4×3 aspect ratio for scenes that follow Nancy and Betty, vividly expanding the screen outward as Nancy finally leaves her home, just as her own possibilities are expanding to contain new multitudes. It’s clever, and it works.)

Both Smith-Cameron and Buscemi prove to be solid foils for Riseborough, with Smith-Cameron’s Ellen giving herself over to the stranger almost immediately, while Buscemi’s Leo hangs and holds back until he can no longer. But it’s Riseborough who holds the film fast, rooting its seemingly wild twists and character developments into something haunting and, quite often, eerily understandable. The stories she tells might be fake, but the feeling behind them is real. The past might be unchangeable, but the future can be forced.

Nancy is a liar, but the trick is, we can’t help but believe her. We want to.

Alumna Produces Two Movies at Sundance | Carnegie Mellon

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January 17, 2018

By Nick Ducassi

 

In 2016, Rachel Xiaowen Song graduated from Carnegie Mellon University’s Masters of Entertainment Industry Management (MEIM) program. One year later, she signed on to produce for two feature films, “A Kid Like Jake,” starring Jim Parsons (CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory”), and “Nancy,” starring Ann Dowd (Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”). This month (Jan. 18-28) both are premiering at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, where Song is hoping to sell the film’s distribution rights to major Hollywood players.

This year’s Sundance festival is not Song’s first. Throughout the two-year program, MEIM students attend several prominent film festivals, including Cannes, Sundance and the South by Southwest Film, Interactive and Music Festival.

This year’s festival marks the 10th year that the MEIM program has brought its students to Sundance. MEIM is a joint program with CMU’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy and the College of Fine Arts.

“The trip highlights the importance of the deals that are being made daily at the festival,” said MEIM Director Dan Green. “It’s especially gratifying to go to the festival and have faculty, alumni or current students involved with one of the films being screened.”

At the 2017 Sundance festival, students attended the screening of “Crown Heights,” a film executive produced by MEIM faculty member Jonathan Baker, which went on to win the Sundance Audience Award for Best Dramatic Feature. Additionally, Carnegie Mellon School of Drama alumna Chante Adams took home the Sundance Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Performance for her work in the film “Roxanne Roxanne.”

Song said attending Sundance during her final MEIM semester was inspirational.

“Sundance was the first real filmmaker-driven festival I’d been to, and going there really helped shaped my career path,” she said. “Since I was a child, I’ve always loved watching films … but after Sundance, I knew I wanted to pursue making them. I knew I wanted to be a producer.”

Prior to attending Sundance, Song had worked primarily in film financing, with tenures at the international sales agency IM Global and production company Kylin Pictures (“Hacksaw Ridge”). In 2015, Song co-founded the film financing company Vantage Entertainment. As its head of business, she brokered deals between U.S based productions and Chinese-based financiers, including the film “Billionaire Boys Club,” starring Ansel Elgort (“Baby Driver”).

Hoping to work more closely with directors and writers, she left Vantage to found the production company XS Media in early 2017. Now, she’s “making a bigger difference than just putting together $300 million for a slate financing deal,” Song said. XS is focused on “making something for the audience and creating a spontaneous, genuine voice for them. Maybe you’ll change their lives.”

“A Kid Like Jake” and “Nancy” are XS Media’s first two films, and “the only two films I did this year,” Song said. “I feel incredibly lucky.”

“The mission for XS is to make filmmaker driven projects,” Song said. “To spend the energy and capital on development and to nurture younger talent — especially writers and directors, for projects with award potential and cross-platform profitability.”

Song, who was born and raised in China and is bilingual, said XS projects include English and Chinese-language films and television shows. Joining her at XS is MEIM alumna Julie Zhang, who serves as director of development.

“We’re both from China,” Song said. “We’re developing some Chinese language features with some up-and-coming Chinese directors and writers.” One of the features is the Chinese-language feature film “YOYO.” Song said she hopes to bring her films to Chinese theaters.

“The cinephile audience in China is growing,” Song said. “They’re hungry for content.”

XS English-language feature films include “The Zero,” about a young boy who contracts a mysterious fatal virus, which Song is producing with 2012 MEIM alumnus Jonny Paterson.

“I met Rachel through the MEIM program,” Paterson said. “Her drive and passion to be a producer was something that struck me from the first time we met. She was inquisitive yet knowledgeable, and very passionate. She’s done a remarkable job in a short period of time to have two films at one of the world’s most important film festivals … I’m excited about what her future holds and think the sky is the limit for her as a film producer.”

“A Kid Like Jake”

“A Kid Like Jake” follows a pair of young parents, played by Parsons and Claire Danes (Showtime’s “Homeland”) as they raise their transgender 4-year-old child in New York City.

“I loved the script immediately,” Song said. “It’s such a strong and original story. I was the first financier on-board.” Directed by transgender director Silas Howard (“Transparent,” “This Is Us”), “Jake” also stars Octavia Spencer (Academy Award winner for “The Butler”), and Priyanka Chopra (ABC’s “Quantico”).

Even though the film’s budget is “small,” said Song — under $5 million — “the stars are huge.” Parson’s company “That’s Wonderful Productions” purchased the film rights after watching its original incarnation as a play at New York City’s Lincoln Center Theater in 2013. The film is Parson’s first leading role in a feature film, following a supporting role in 2017 Best Picture nominee “Hidden Figures.”

“‘A Kid Like Jake’ is the first English language film that I produced and was extensively involved in,” Song said.

“A Kid Like Jake” will premiere out of competition in the Premieres category, typically reserved for bigger budget films. Though Song and her fellow producers will seek to sell the distribution rights to “A Kid Like Jake” at Sundance, Song has already secured its Chinese distribution rights.

“Nancy”

“Nancy” stars Andrea Riseborough (“Birdman”), Steve Buscemi (HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”), Ann Dowd (Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”) and John Leguizamo. It will compete for Sundance’s top honors in the U.S. Dramatic competition. The film follows a woman who grows to believe she was kidnapped as a child and ventures to learn the truth. Nancy, produced in part by female-driven film fund Gamechanger Films, sported an all-female production and creative team.

“When I found out that every single executive producer on Nancy was female, I thought it was important that I get on board,” Song said. “I had no idea it would get into the US Dramatic Competition.” Song said she has already sat down with several interested distributors.

NANCY among must-see films at Sundance 2018 | IndieWire

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Originally titled: Sundance 2018: 21 Must-See Films At This Year’s Festival, From ‘Wildlife’ to ‘Sorry to Bother You’

This year’s Sundance Film Festival is mere days from unspooling in Park City, Utah, heralding a brand new year of indie filmmaking. Here are the films to add to your calendar now.

This year’s Sundance Film Festival is mere days from unspooling in snowy Park City, Utah and, with it comes a brand new year of indie filmmaking to get excited about. As ever, the annual festival is playing home to dozens of feature films, short offerings, and technologically-influenced experiences, and while there’s plenty to anticipate seeing, we’ve waded through the lineup to pick out the ones we’re most looking forward to checking out.

From returning filmmakers like Desiree Akhavan, Robert Greene, and the Zellner brothers to brand-new names like Christina Choe, Carlos López Estrada, and newly minted director Paul Dano (himself a regular of the festival, though on the other side of the camera), this year’s festival promises a bevy of big treats and perhaps even bigger surprises. Here’s what we can’t wait to see.

This year’s festival runs from January 18 – 28 in Park City, Utah. Check out the full lineup, plus all of our coverage of the festival, right here.

“Nancy”

Ring the Andrea Riseborough alarm, because we’ve got a hot one. The lauded — and occasionally woefully overlooked — actress toplines what has to be one of the festival’s most intriguing titles, Christina Choe’s feature directorial debut “Nancy.” In the twisted-sounding drama, Nancy (Riseborough) becomes steadily convinced that she was kidnapped when she was a child, a dangerous enough fantasy made even more potent by her meeting a couple who just so happened to have a child — a girl, Nancy’s age — kidnapped when she was small. This can’t possibly end well, but it sounds like the kind of layered, dense role that Riseborough will be able to truly sink her teeth into. -Kate Erbland

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”

“Appropriate Behavior” filmmaker Desiree Akhavan finally returns to the festival that first introduced her prodigious chops and delightfully off-kilter humor to the world, thanks to her long-gestating adaptation of the Emily M. Danforth novel of the same name. Starring Chloe Grace Moretz as the eponymous Cameron, the film tracks the teenager’s first tenuous steps into understanding her sexuality, a fraught enough endeavor made all the worse by her aunt’s horror at the prospect that Cameron might be gay, a horror that pushes her to send Cameron to gay conversion camp. It’s there that Moretz will be matched up with a slew of compelling supporting stars, including “American Honey” breakout Sasha Lane, “Blame” filmmaker Quinn Shephard, Jennifer Ehle, John Gallagher Jr., and Forrest Goodluck. Akhavan has already shown her deft hand at taking complicated, complex matters of sexuality and family and turning them into rich, wily final products. Here’s hoping “Cameron Post” continues that tradition. -KE

“Piercing”

Nicolas Pesce delivered the major discovery of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival with his chilling black-and-white horror film “The Eyes of My Mother,” and now he’s back two years later with a bigger budget, a starrier cast, and hopefully the same level of grisly intensity. “Piercing” stars Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott and is based on the 1994 novel by Ryu Murakami. Abbott plays a businessman who leaves his family behind and checks into a hotel with a plan to hire an escort and kill her, but the woman (Wasikowska) proves far savvier at avoiding death than he could’ve ever imagined. The plot couldn’t be more perfect for Pesce, who proved in his debut that he is more than capable of getting under the skin of sociopath. Expect fireworks to spark between indie darlings Abbott and Wasikowska, too. -Zack Sharf

“Shirkers”

Sandi Tan’s documentary in the World Cinema competition section stands a good chance at being one of this year’s major non-fiction discoveries. The movie stretches back to 1992, when the teen filmmaker and her friends shot a road movie in Singapore with the help of an American mentor who later disappeared with the footage. Tan hits the road 20 years later to unravel the mystery of this unexpected thievery and finds that there was much more to the story than she imagined. As much as Sundance often supports strong observational and issue-driven filmmaking, it always makes room for these more personal, unpredictable projects, and the peculiar events at the center of “Shirkers” are likely to drum up plenty of conversation in Park City and beyond. —Eric Kohn

“I Think We’re Alone Now”

Before Reed Morano was named the Emmy Award-winning director of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” she impressed the festival circuit with her feature directorial debut “Meadowland.” The drama premiered at Tribeca, which makes Morano’s latest, “I Think We’re Alone Now,” a more-than-overdue Sundance debut. The drama stars Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning as two people who discover they’re the only humans left in the country and maybe even the world. Morano’s camera has such a piercing subjectivity to it that we can’t wait to see what she’s able to do with the dystopian genre. With a Sundance breakout waiting in the wings and a Blake Lively-starring action drama now filming, Morano is hitting the big leagues like never before. -ZS

“Damsel”

It’s been five long years since brothers David and Nathan Zellner were at Sundance with the brilliant and beguiling “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter,” but now the filmmaking duo is finally back at the festival with another unexpected twist on a classic American genre. Sure to be as delirious as their previous work, “Damsel” is a bonafide Western, albeit it one with that turns a drunken mess of familiar tropes upside down. Fresh off his revelatory performance in “Good Time,” Robert Pattinson stars as pioneer Samuel Alabaster, who — accompanied by an alcoholic sidekick (David Zellner) and a miniature horse named Butterscotch — sets out to manifest destiny and marry the love of his life (Mia Wasikowska). Slapstick antics and silly hats ensue. We can’t wait. –David Ehrlich

“Blindspotting”

Poised to be one of the major breakouts of Sundance 2018 (the festival has confidently reserved it a coveted opening night slot at the premier screening venue), “Blindspotting” is a buddy-comedy set in the inner-city. Co-written by and co-starring Rafael Casal and “Hamilton” breakout Daveed Diggs, Carlos López Estrada’s directorial feature debut tells the story of an ex-con (Diggs) who’s on the last day of a long probation, and the troublemaking childhood friend (Casal) who completely derails his path back to the straight-and-narrow. As much of a love letter to a rapidly gentrifying Oakland as “Lady Bird” is to a turn-of-the-millennium Sacramento, “Blindspotting” could pave the way for a number of exciting new voices, and formally bring one of the brightest stars of Broadway to the big screen with a role worthy of his talents. —DE

“Bisbee ’17”

Robert Greene’s chimeric documentaries — whatever you do, don’t call them hybrids — have been getting progressively more ambitious with each new effort, a trend we hope to see continue with “Bisbee ‘17.” He returns to Park City with a look at Bisbee, Arizona, an old mining town near both Tombstone and the Mexican border that’s (in)famous for a violent deportation in which “1,200 striking miners were violently taken from their homes, banished to the middle of the desert, and left to die”; Greene catches up with the would-be ghost town as it reckons with the centennial of that dark event. He was last at Sundance two years ago with “Kate Plays Christine,” a cerebral look at a news reporter who committed suicide on air in 1974, winning a special screenwriting prize for his efforts — a rarity for a documentary, and an honor that speaks to his predilection for blurring the line between genres. —Michael Nordine

“Wildlife”

Carey Mulligan appears in <i>Wildlife</i> by Paul Dano, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Paul Dano has been at Sundance before with movies like “Swiss Army Man” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” but what he really wants to do is direct. He does just that in “Wildlife,” his behind-the-camera debut, an adaptation of Richard Ford’s novel of the same name. About a mother (Carey Mulligan) and son (Ed Oxenbould) left to fend for themselves in 1960s Montana after the man of the house (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his job and decides the only thing left to do is help fight a fire raging near the Canadian border, the film was co-written by Zoe Kazan and also stars Bill Camp. Ford’s novel has earned praise for its depiction of a teenager helplessly looking on as his nuclear family falls apart, and with it his conception of how things are and how they should be; if Dano can tap into that perspective, “Wildlife” could emerge from Park City as a must-see. —MN

“Private Life”

It’s been a decade since writer-director Tamara Jenkins (“Slums of Beverly Hills”) scored an Oscar nomination for her poignant and hilarious screenplay for “The Savages.” She’s back with Netflix’s “Private Life,” about a woman (Kathryn Hahn) trying so many fertility therapies to get pregnant that her husband (Paul Giamatti) is suffering. That’s when dropout Sadie (Kayli Carter) comes into the picture with another option. Produced by Anthony Bregman (“Foxcatcher”) and Stefanie Azpiazu (“Enough Said”), the movie also stars Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch, Emily Robinson, and Francesca Root-Dodson. -Anne Thompson

Sundance: Exclusive Look at Andrea Riseborough’s Psychodrama ‘Nancy’ | Variety

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Nancy,” a psychodrama about a woman with a tenuous grip on the line separating fact from fiction, seems to speak to our “fake news” era. The film premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 20 and features Andrea Riseborough as the title character, a 35-year-old woman who spins elaborate hoaxes on the internet.“Reality caught up with my fiction,” said Christina Choe, the film’s writer and director. The film was in production when Donald Trump was inaugurated and the script was written long before his election, but Choe sees parallels between the president’s fib-telling and her central character’s penchant for stretching the truth.

“It’s become a timely topic because of our lovely president, the liar-in-chief,” she said. “It’s a strange time as a society when the nature of truth is under attack.”

Nancy”s’ plot kicks into gear when the title character becomes convinced she was kidnapped as a child and goes off in search of her parents, putting her in touch with a couple whose daughter went missing three decades ago. It’s a meaty role for Riseborough, who will be very busy at Sundance, where she is appearing in four films (the other three being “Death of Stalin,” “Mandy,” and “Burden”).

“I wanted to create this female anti-hero character who is morally ambiguous, but compelling,” Choe said. “She’s kind of my answer to the Travis Bickles and Walter Whites of the world — the parts that always seem to go to men.”

Choe’s work has mostly been in the short film world. She won the grand jury prize for best short film at the Slamdance Film Festival for “I Am John Wayne” in 2012. “Nancy” isn’t the only work of Choe’s to deal with the issue of reality. She’s also making a documentary about a trip to North Korea, the so-called “hermit kingdom,” where a totalitarian regime has cut its citizens off from the world.

“What’s true and authentic is becoming the theme of my work,” Choe said. “I’m spending a lot of time navigating between truth and lies.”

“Nancy” will be looking for distribution at Sundance. The cast includes Steve Buscemi, Ann Dowd, J. Smith-Cameron, and John Leguizamo.

A KID LIKE JAKE among 13 Hottest Sundance Movies for Sale | The Wrap

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Originally titled: 13 Hottest Sundance Movies for Sale: From Ax Murders to Notorious RGB

By Beatrice Verhoeven and Matt Donnelly

sundance hot titles

Sundance 2018: Streaming companies and indie distributors will battle it out for these movies.
Park City, Utah, is about to be flush with cash — and we’re not talking about buying apres-ski gear. Here are the most promising sales titles of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

tyrel

Sundance
“Tyrel”  After his stunning performance in “Mudbound,” Jason Mitchell is back in this drama alongside Caleb Landry Jones, Michael Cera and Ann Dowd. Buyers should go crazy for the film about a guy who goes on a weekend birthday trip to a cabin — but he’s the only black guy on the retreat.

lizzie

Sundance
“Lizzie”  There’s much interest in “Lizzie,” which chronicles the life of Lizzie Borden, who was tried and acquitted for the 1892 ax murders of her father and stepmother. Chloe Sevigny, Kristen Stewart and Denis O’Hare star.

burden

Sundance
“Burden”  Garrett Hedlund also gave a stellar performance in “Mudbound,” playing the son of a man associated with the Ku Klux Klan. In “Burden,” Hedlund is a repo man rising through the ranks of the KKK, but everything changes when he falls for a woman (Andrea Riseborough). The additional cast of Forest Whitaker and Usher should entice buyers.

miseducation of cameron post

Sundance
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”  Chloe Grace Moretz stars as a high school teenager who gets caught in the backseat of her car with another girl. She’s quickly shipped off for conversion therapy, where she for the first time feels like she can find her place among fellow outcasts. The strong themes of pain and loss while finding yourself and your identity should make it a hot title — after all, it’s based on Emily Danforth’s acclaimed novel as well.

juliet, naked

Sundance
“Juliet, Naked”  Perhaps one of the most anticipated films on the Sundance schedule, “Juliet, Naked” is an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s best-selling novel. Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke and Chris O’Dowd star in this comedic drama about a woman who is in a transatlantic romance with a once-revered musician.

RBG

Sundance
“RBG”  What better time to release a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

PIERCING

Sundance
“Piercing”  Based on Ryu Murakami’s critically acclaimed novel, this steamy yet bloody thriller will get Midnight audiences’ — and buyers’ — heart rate up.

A KID LIKE JAKE

Sundance
“A Kid Like Jake”  Director Silas Howard is debuting his film “A Kid Like Jake,” featuring an ensemble that includes Claire Danes, Jim Parsons, Octavia Spencer, Priyanka Chopra, Ann Dowd and Amy Landecker. Howard, who’s directed boundary-pushing TV series like “This Is Us” and “Transparent,” here focuses on parents whose young son prefers princesses to action figures.

happy prince

Sundance
“The Happy Prince”  Rupert Everett’s directorial debut details the final three years of Oscar Wilde’s life. Colin Firth and Emily Watson round out the cast of this period film.

wildlife

Sundance
“American Animals”  There will never be enough heist films in the world, and the cast of “American Animals,” which includes Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan and Blake Jenner, promises to pull off one of the biggest art thefts in recent history. Plus, it’s a true story.

ophelia

Sundance
“Ophelia”  “Ophelia” retells Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” from the point of view of the melancholy Danish prince’s presumed future wife — played by Daisy Ridley, hot off “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” Naomi Watts and Clive Owen round out the cast.

sorry to bother you

Sundance
“Sorry to Bother You”  This film boasts one of the most impressive casts of any film heading to the festival, and that won’t be lost on buyers: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun and Armie Hammer star in the original comedy.

wildlife

Sundance
“Wildlife”  Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan star in Paul Dano’s directorial debut, about a couple in a foundering marriage in small-town Montana in the 1960s.