The awards conversation surrounding the last year in movies may be reaching a fever pitch, but it’s time for the cinematic story of 2020 to get started. The Sundance Film Festival begins on Thursday, and its lineup of fresh, original indies is coming fast to kick off a whole new decade in movies.
Among this year’s entries in the festival’s innovative NEXT section is day one film Summertime, the second feature from director Carlos López Estrada, whose debut Blindspotting premiered at Sundance two years ago. The cast of Summertimeconsists of 27 teenage spoken-word poets, all performing their own poetry woven together in a loose narrative about a group of Angelinos whose lives overlap during a single summer day in L.A.
The young cast are all artists with Get Lit, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit arts organization whose mission is to “use poetry to increase literacy, empower youth, and inspire communities.” After seeing a spoken-word showcase presented by the company last spring, López Estrada was inspired to try to capture the essence of that performance on film. “These were just high school and early-college artists talking about really complicated subjects in very beautiful, very creative, very unique ways,” the director tells EW. “I think that to get such a young, fresh, optimistic perspective on all of these conversations was just really, really moving.”
Guided entirely by the poets and the concerns they wanted to address, López Estrada found a common thread in that “the city [of L.A.] played this really big character in all of their stories,” he says. “How either the city affects them or they affect the city, or where in the city do they fit in or do they not fit in.” It’s a familiar theme for fans of the director’s previous film; Blindspotting, too, put a huge spotlight on its setting, actor-screenwriters Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal’s hometown of Oakland.
“I think it’s just, when [you] are open and being honest, you have to sort of look around and see how your environment is influencing you. I think that’s exactly what happened with Daveed and Rafa,” López Estrada says. With Summertime, “because these kids are being so honest, they have to speak about their surroundings. They have to speak about how their environment affects them.”
The film’s unconventional approach was “definitely messy,” López Estrada admits. “Movies don’t normally have 27 writers, and also all of the writers in this film had never written a movie before.” His cast were all nonprofessional actors, too, though some of them had appeared in school plays. “This whole project was like a big exercise of letting go of control, letting go of the structure, embracing the unknown,” he says. “I think that was really important, because the movie only exists because we gave control over to this group of kids, and because we trusted that what they had to say was more important than what we already knew about making movies.”
Having relinquished that control, the filmmaker is much more relaxed heading into his second round at Sundance, where he is confident that his talented teenage cast — all of whom will be in attendance — is going to “charm the hell out of the festival.” Because of the Sundance Institute’s sense of community and championing of inclusion, “I cannot imagine a better place to premiere a movie about a diverse community of young artists,” López Estrada says. “I think it’s everything that Sundance stands for, and I’m so happy to know that they made that same connection, and they’ve embraced the movie.”
Check out the exclusive poster above. Summertime will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 23.