Sundance: 21 Rising Stars With the Potential to Breakout at the Film Festival


Sundance BreakoutsSundance/Magnus Wennman

The Sundance Film Festival is upon us, and for many people in Hollywood, that means making new discoveries. Dozens of actors (and filmmakers) will have their lives changed over the course of the next week, but who should talent reps and producers be paying attention to? The Tracking Board is here to help.

This year’s festival brings with it a new crop of up-and-coming stars, especially in terms of performers of color. For the purposes of this list, we decided not to include the stars of past festival hits — all apologies to Jessie Buckley (Beast) and Brady Jandreau (The Rider) — and the young ensemble cast of Summer of ’84 was counted as one cohesive unit.

Take a look below at which up-and-coming actors will have Park City buzzing this week and potentially beyond.

ThomasinSundance Film Festival

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Leave No Trace – McKenzie plays Ben Foster’s teenage daughter who lives off the grid with him in a vast nature reserve on the edge of Portland, Oregon. When a chance encounter blows their cover, they’re removed from their camp and put into the charge of social services. Struggling to adapt to their new surroundings, the duo set off on a perilous journey back to the wilderness, where they are finally forced to confront conflicting desires — a longing for community versus a fierce need to live apart. Director Debra Granik helped launch Jennifer Lawrence’s with Sundance winner Winter’s Bone, and Sundance itself called McKenzie a “similarly dazzling newcomer.” That sounds like a vote of confidence for the 17-year-old New Zealand native.

First Screening: Sat. 1/20, 9:30 p.m., Eccles, PC

Leo James DavidIMDb

Leo James Davis, A Kid Like Jake – Davis plays the 4-year-old title character who loves dresses, fairy tales and princesses. Claire Danes and Jim Parsons play Jake’s parents, who must find a way to support their son’s identity without losing each other in the process. Director Silas Howard previously explored themes of gender identity in Transparent, so expect this one to pack a strong emotional punch, thanks, in part, to the work of its young star.

First Screening: Tue. 1/23, 9:30 p.m., Eccles, PC

American AnimalsSundance Film Festival

Jared Abrahamson, American Animals – Abrahamson was one of the Rising Stars as Toronto last fall, and he’s sure to command attention once again at Sundance, where he co-stars alongside Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan in this crime film from The Imposter director Bart Layton. The heist movie follows four misguided young men who decide to steal a university’s rare book collection as they dream about the kind of life that movies are made about. This could be one of the most fun films at the festival, and Abrahamson is said to be a standout amongst the up-and-coming cast.

First Screening: Fri. 1/19, 3:30 p.m., Eccles PC

BlazeSundance Film Festival

Benjamin Dickey, Blaze – Dickey is a newcomer who impressed director Ethan Hawke enough to score the title role of Blaze Foley in this ode to the country singer, whose legend was larger than life.

First Screening: Sun. 1/21, 3:00 p.m., PC Library, PC

Eighth GradeSundance Film Festival

Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade – Comedian Bo Burnham’s feature directorial debut stars newcomer Fisher as middle schooler Kayla Day, who always has her phone in hand, hoping to find connections online that might make up for those she’s unable to forge in everyday life. She’s simply more comfortable and confident when she’s online than she is in real life. As the end of the school year nears, Kayla struggles to bridge the gap between how she perceives herself, and who she believes she should be. Sundance said her dynamic portrayal of the lead character “feels both incredibly specific and heartbreakingly universal.”

First Screening: Fri. 1/19, 6:00 p.m., PC Library, PC

KelvinSundance Film Festival

Kelvin Harrison Jr., Monster – The young star of It Comes at Night is said to give a “moving” performance as Steve Harmon, a bright, sensitive 17-year-old on trial for acting as a lookout during the lethal armed robbery of a Harlem bodega. Before his arrest, he was an honors student and aspiring filmmaker, but now, Steve is seen as just another young black criminal, assumed guilty and labeled a monster. But Steve and his lawyer declare his innocence and attempt to defy the odds in a bid to win his freedom. Adapted from the award-winning YA novel by Walter Dean Myers, Monster explores how an inquisitive outsider found himself inside of a system stacked against him.

First Screening: Mon. 1/22, 3:30 p.m., Eccles, PC

Monsters and MenSundance Film Festival

Anthony Ramos, Monsters and Men – Ramos plays a Brooklyn man who witnesses a white police officer wrongfully gun down a neighborhood street hustler, and films the incident on his phone. Now he’s faced with a dilemma — release the video and bring unwanted exposure to himself and his family, or keep the video private and be complicit in the injustice? Ramos is said to be very good as a young father striving to support his family. He’s definitely one to watch at this year’s festival.

First Screening: Fri. 1/19, 12:15 p.m., Eccles, PC

Kindergarten TeacherSundance Film Festival

Parker Sevak, The Kindergarten Teacher – Sevak plays a five-year-old poet who may be a prodigy. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays an unhappy kindergarten teacher who becomes fascinated by him, and ends up willing to risk her family, her , and her freedom to nurture the boy’s genius. This is based on an acclaimed Israeli film and marks the sophomore feature from writer/director Sara Colangelo, whose debut Little Accidents premiered at Sundance in 2014.

First Screening: Fri. 1/19, 3:00 p.m., PC Library, PC

The Miseducation of Cameron PostSundance Film Festival

Forrest Goodluck, The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Goodluck plays a young man who crosses paths with Chloë Grace Moretz at a conversion therapy center that treats teens “struggling with same-sex attraction.” Moretz is the clear lead of the Desiree Akhavan-directed film, but Goodluck (coming off The Revenant) is said to make a strong impression as Adam Red Eagle.

First Screening: Mon. 1/22, 12:15 p.m., Eccles, PC

Isabelle NelisseSundance Film Festival

Isabelle Nélisse, The Tale – Jennifer Fox’s drama toggles between the past and present, with Nélisse playing a younger version of Laura Dern’s character. Dern plays a globetrotting journalists and professor who discovers a story she wrote as a young girl that details her “special” relationship with two adult coaches. Deeply shaken yet determined to square her version of events with the truth, she sets out to find the two men, returning to the Carolina horse farm where so much transpired. Nélisse is said to be up to the challenge of playing the same character as Dern at an earlier, pivotal stage in her life.

First Screening: Sat. 1/20, 12:15 p.m., Eccles, PC

WildlifeSundance Film Festival

Ed Oxenbould, Wildlife – The star of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit plays a 14-year-old growing up without siblings in small-town Montana, where he’s prematurely forced into the role of an adult after his father abandons the family. Oxenbould is said to rise the occasion as he observes the gradual dissolution of his parents’ marriage. Paul Dano makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of Richard Ford’s novel of the same name, and Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal add star power

First Screening: Sat. 1/20, 3:30 p.m., Eccles, PC

HolidaySundance Film Festival

Victoria Carmen Sonne, Holiday – Sonne plays Sascha, the girlfriend of a Danish gangster named Michael who whisks her away on a luxurious vacation in Turkey. But when Sascha befriends another man with romantic designs on her, she toys with her boyfriend’s authority and creates a dangerous situation for everyone in their orbit. Sundance says the young actress  that cannot end well “fully commits” to the role of a “complex young moll [who]eludes assumptions and expectations.

First Screening: Sun. 1/21, 8:30 p.m., Prospector, PC

YardieSundance Film Festival

Aml Ameen, Yardie – Idris Elba makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of the cult novel by Victor Headley. Ameen plays a Jamaican man whose brother is killed at a party. A decade later, he’s sent to London on a mission for a mob boss, but when it goes wrong, he decides to hide out with an old flame and find his brother’s killer. Imagine a gritty gangster movie crossed with a dramatic coming-of-age film, and that’s Yardie, which is said to be driven by a star-making performance from Ameen.

First Screening: Sat. 1/20, 9:30 p.m., Ray, PC

ValterMagnus Wennman

Valter Skarsgard, Lords of Chaos – Yes, he’s the younger brother of Alexander (Big Little Lies) and Bill (It) — I mean, just look at him! — but we don’t play the nepotism game around these parts. No, Skarsgard is on this list because Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords of Chaos looks awesome. It’s based on the true story of Mayhem, the most notorious band within the Norwegian black metal movement. The film also stars Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen and Jack Kilmer, but they’ve all had their breakout moment already. This one belongs to the promising Skarsgard even though he’s supporting his better-known co-stars.

First Screening: Tue. 1/23, 11:59 p.m., PC Library, PC

Never Goin BackSundance Film Festival

Maia Mitchell and Cami Morrone, Never Goin’ Back – Mitchell and Morrone play a pair of high school dropouts who work in the same shitty diner. When a drug deal goes bad and their home is invaded, they’re forced to find some quick cash while wandering the purgatory that is the Dallas suburbs. Sundance promises you’ll find yourselves rooting for the two girls thanks to their “gonzo charm and stoned drive.” I’ll take the festival at its word and trust that Augustine Frizzell’s feature debut is worth a look.

First Screening: Mon. 1/22, 11:45 p.m., Egyptian, PC

DominiqueSundance Film Festival

Dominique Fishback, Night Comes On – Fishback plays an 18-year-old woman named Angel who leaves her stint in juvenile detention with nothing but a few bucks and a dead cellphone. After serving time for unlawful possession of a weapon, she’s thrown back onto the streets and into a world riddled with the demons of her past. Her little sister, Abby, is stuck in foster care, while her dad, who’s responsible for the murder of their mother, roams free in some undisclosed suburb. But Angel, strong-willed and resourceful, has a quick-fix plan — find Abby, get a gun, hunt down her father, and hit the reset button on her and her sister’s life. Fishback is coming off a trio of TV series between The Deuce, The Americans and The Affair, but this is really the first leading role for the 26-year-old Brooklyn native, who could break out at Sundance.

First Screening: Fri. 1/19, 9:30 p.m., Ray, PC

Madeline's MadelineSundance Film Festival

Helena Howard, Madeline’s Madeline – Newcomer Howard is said to give a “virtuoso” performance as Madeline, a young girl who is dedicated to her prestigious, progressive, and experimental theatre troupe, which places an intense focus on authenticity. When an ambitious theater director (Molly Parker) pushes Madeline to weave her troubled history and rich interior world into their collective art, the lines between performance and reality begin to blur in surprising and potentially destructive ways, spiraling out of the safe rehearsal space and into her everyday interactions. Sundance says Howard’s “powerful screen presence commands attention,” and I’m inclined to take the festival at its word.

First Screening: Mon. 1/22, 3:00 p.m., PC Library, PC

Summer84Sundance Film Festival

The cast of Summer of ’84 – Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery and Cory Grüter-Andrew play a group of friends who suspect that one of their neighbors is a serial killer, and begin to investigate the unassuming, single man, who just so happens to be a police officer. The film hails from Turbo Kid directors François Simar, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell, and we expect this coming-of-age horror flick (replete with a throwback ’80s synth score) to score points with the Midnight crowd. Who knows? Maybe these young actors breakout like the kids from Stranger Things and It. We’ll see…

First Screening: Mon. 1/22, 11:59 p.m., PC Library, PC

Dede LovelaceGetty Images

Dede Lovelace, Skate Kitchen – Crystal Moselle’s narrative feature debut follows an introverted 18-year-old skateboarder named Camille who lives on Long Island with her single mother. After a startling injury, she promises her mother she’ll hang up her board, but the pull to skate is too strong. On Instagram she discovers “The Skate Kitchen,” a subculture of girls (including Lovelace) whose lives revolve around skating, and bravely seeks them out. The sexually fluid, rambunctious big-city girls quickly adopt the naive Camille as part of their gang, but she soon learns the complexity of friendship when she befriends a boy from a rival group of skaters. Again, Lovelace may not be the lead here, but I hear she’s the standout among the young ensemble.

First Screening: Sun. 1/21, 9:30 p.m., PC Library, PC

White RabbitSundance Film Festival

Vivian Bang, White Rabbit – Comedian Bang plays a newly-single LA artist who devotes herself to her public performance art, but does odd jobs on TaskRabbit to pay her bills. Bang co-wrote the quirky dramedy with director Daryl Wein, and given the dearth of Korean stars in Hollywood, she has a real opportunity to make a name for herself at Sundance. Bang seems like she has that “It Factor,” so stay tuned.

First Screening: Fri. 1/19, 3:00 p.m., Park Ave., PC

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