For 40 years, the preeminent booster of indie filmmaking, the Sundance Film Festival, has set out a snow-covered welcome mat to cutting-edge directors, screenwriters and actors, including many from the Bay Area. That tradition continues in Park City, Utah where celebs, studio reps, press and the public congregate through Jan. 28, all anticipating what will be the next Big Thing.

True to form, the fest showcases Bay Area talent. But do any of the films have the same breakout potential of, say, 2018’s Oakland-set “Blindspotting” with the East Bay-born team of Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal or San Franciscan Joe Talbot’s 2019 “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” starring Jimmie Fails and the scandal-plagued Jonathan Majors?

Only time, and landing a studio deal, will tell.

This week, we look at a few Bay Area titles in the lineup.

Attending festivals is particularly fun when films get buzz and acclaim right after they premiere.

That’s what happened in 2020 when San Franciscan documentary makers Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss brought “Boys State” (available on Apple TV+) to the festival.

After its world premiere, press and industry folk couldn’t stop jabbering about it between screenings and between parties. That talk turned into action; it got snatched up by A24 and Apple for $12 million—a big sum for a doc.

After following male teens as they form a mock government in 2020's acclaimed documentary “Boys State,” the Bay Area documentary filmmaking team of Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss revisit the program for “Girls State.” Even better than the first film, it comes to Apple TV+ on April 5. (Courtesy Apple)

Flash forward to 2024. McBaine and Moss unveiled the gender-adjacent “Girls State” (which has an April 5 release on Apple TV+).

The first feature followed a group of 17-year-old male students participating in a weeklong program organized by the American Legion where they created a mock government built around campaigns and elections for governor and other legislative positions.

This time, the focus is on girls. Once again, McBaine and Moss are on the ground with these teens at a critical political time. (The first film debuted as political discourse was notably disharmonious and coarse as the world was poised for a shutdown.)

“Girls State” is not only a better documentary, its ripped-from-the-headlines quality is more focused as the girls gather in Missouri in 2022, to find, due to a leak in the press, the Supreme Court poised to toss out Roe v. Wade. As the young women address that reality, it’s enlightening to hear what they’re thinking and watch them debate the issue.

Interestingly, though, “Girls State” doesn’t take sides.

Like “Boys State,” it introduces self-identified conservatives and liberals, then reflects their ideological evolution. The girls listen, without interrupting (gasp!), to each side, before processing what is said and what they will say.

Stronger than those discussions, however, is how “Girls State” illustrates the double standard between the two events, which are going on at the same time. The girls must follow a strict dress code, not the boys. The boys’ budget is bigger than the girls. The list goes on.

As “Girls State” illustrates with such clarity, inequities exist, both in mock and real governments.

Another hyped title gaining huge buzz is by the writing-and-directing team known for “Captain Marvel,” “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” and “Half Nelson” with Ryan Gosling.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Oakland-set “Freaky Tales” is an action comedy that connects a quartet of stories set in the East Bay in the 1980s.

While Pass the Remote hasn’t seen it, it premiered to mixed reaction from critics on opening night at Sundance.

Pedro Pascal stars in “Freaky Tales,” which takes place in 1987 in the East Bay and interconnects four tales. It premiered Jan. 18, the first day of the Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy Sundance Institute)

In production materials, Fleck recalls how the Oakland and East Bay of his youth and East Bay hip-hop powerhouse Too $hort (the title is from the Oakland performer's beloved 1987 anthem) inspired him to make “Freaky Tales.” The heavy-hitting cast includes Pedro Pascal, Jay Ellis, Ben Mendelsohn, Jack Champion, Ji-young Yoo, Dominique Thorne and East Bay rappers Normani and Symba in their film debuts.

Fleck and Boden shot on location; the film features landmarks from Fleck’s youth, including the area around the Grand Lake Theatre, the Oakland Coliseum, and more.

One story in the quartet, “The Gilman Strikes Back,” tosses back to a time when the underground punk-rock mainstay, Berkeley’s 924 Gilman Street, was all the rage. When Nazi skinheads crash the scene, the punk rockers decide enough is enough.

We can’t wait to see it. Props to Fleck and Boden, too, for bringing old-school Oakland and Berkeley to the Sundance crowd.

Oakland artist Rashaad Newsome has spent years on “Being (the Digital Griot).” (Courtesy Sundance Institute)

Perhaps the most intriguing “local” Sundance title is Oakland’s Rashaad Newsome’s “Being (the Digital Griot)” in which the multi-talented queer artist takes artificial intelligence to exciting, experimental and educational levels, introducing Being, a “unique and provocative” chatbot.

The project premieres Jan. 23 as part of the festival’s New Frontier program, a showcase for innovators using new and varied technologies, modes and means to dazzle the senses. 

Newsome has been data-gathering and developing an algorithm since 2019; the result of the work takes the shape of a 30-foot tall, Afro-futurist cyborg that also is a prolific reader, writer and workshop leader with an intention to decolonize the minds of others.

“Being (the Digital Griot)” sounds like it will blow your mind. What’s also refreshing is that it takes a positive view of AI and how it can be used to enlighten.

For details on all the films at Sundance this year, visit