Host your own ‘Couchfest’: Streaming films online
January 16, 2018
Not everyone is lucky enough to score a film festival ticket. Even those who do can't possibly take in all of the whirlwind events Sundance has to offer over its 10-day run in Park City. (This year's fare includes 121 features, 69 shorts, plus special events, panels and more than a dozen virtual and augmented reality experiences!)
That's OK. Breathe. Even if you are ticketless, take a dip in the festival frenzy: hop on the bus, mosey down Main Street, grab a stool at the coffee shop. Listen to the vibe, ask a stranger what they've seen, what they liked, or hated. Jot it down. And take some comfort in knowing that many of the films will return online.
Unlike the past, when little-known independent gems slipped from the screen after Sundance, never to be seen again, it is now possible to find many past winners and even cult favorites online. Several streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon, now have sections devoted to Sundance films. The Sundance Institute website also has a guide for finding fledgling films from past festivals.
The trick is knowing what titles to look for. If you happen to be your household's designated entertainment captain this list may help. But be forewarned: part of the fun of choosing an independent film is not knowing what to expect. Be prepared to take the brunt of criticism if a film turns out to be "too weird" for your spouse or teens and take pride in the fact that you are broadening their horizons.
*A note of caution, though: independent films are not always rated for age-appropriate content. While many are kid-friendly, some tackle mature topics without traditional audience filters. Buyer beware.
Where to look:
For devoted Sundance fans, the Sundance Institute has its own streaming service that is compatible with just about every device from Apple TV to Xbox One, including Chromecast and Roku. The cost is $4.99 per month or $59.99 annually and a student discount is also available.
If you have a Netflix subscription, type 'Sundance" in the search bar and you will find several categories, including "Sundance Film Festival Award Winning Movies." There are also subheads for Sundance Dramas and Sundance Documentaries.
Amazon's video streaming service also has a Sundance section — many of the titles are even available for Prime members — a bonanza for adventuresome home movie watchers.
On your account, go to the store, select movies and in the search bar type in "Sundance." iTunes has an especially abundant selection of World Cinema Documentaries and Dramas.
If you are an Android user, Google Play will take you to a world of Sundance films and epic features. Just type Sundance into the search bar.
Most of these services offer films to buy or rent. Expect to see a $3 to $5 charge on your credit card for a one-night rental.
What to watch:
OK, you probably already have a favorite way to stream — and a favorite spot on the couch. But what to watch? Here are a few suggestions. There are no guarantees you will like them all, but you are sure to be fascinated and when the last reel is packed up at the end of this year's Sundance film festival, there will soon be more to choose from.
A riveting documentary about the far-reaching implications of the Hulk Hogan versus Gawker trial on free speech. The film depicts the origins of the attacks on the media during the 2016 campaign season.
A fascinating documentary film about performance-enhancing doping among Olympic-level athletes with an uncanny plot twist that ties into today's news headlines.
The Eagle Huntress
A young Kazakh girl bucks tradition to become the first female competitor in an age-old contest using trained eagles to hunt for prey. The images of the stark Mongolian landscape are awesome.
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom
An elegant short film about the aftermath of the Tsunami in Japan.
Another stunning documentary about environmental degradation by the makers of Chasing Ice (also worth renting).
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World
A great music documentary about the unheralded role that Native American musicians played in the development of rock and roll.
Last Men in Aleppo
A World Cinema grand prize winner for the heroic volunteers who rescue bombing victims in Syria. Like many of Sundance's best documentaries, the film turns black and white headlines into compelling human stories.
An idealist resolves his career crisis by volunteering to work in an orphanage for children with AIDS and his best friend goes along to film the experience. Sounds hard to watch but the warmth of the characters' hearts won over Sundance audiences in 2013.
A New York Times reporter turns his lens on his own family and their experience raising an autistic child. Hopeful and heartwarming.
An Afghan teen rebels against her culture by composing rap music about her country's complicit role in forced child marriages. An inspiring role model for young women.
This 2013 documentary features the high stakes risks taken by competitive athletes in extreme sports and centers on the recovery of an Olympic snowboarder who was injured while training in Park City.
Viggo Mortenson charmed Sundance audiences in 2015 as an eccentric dad coping with the death of his wife while trying to raise their children in a decidedly nontraditional fashion.
The 2014 story about a talented drummer and his maniacal teacher (played by J.K. Simons) earned first-time feature filmmaker Damien Chazelle a Grand Jury award. The talented director went on to create the multiple Academy Award-winning "LaLa Land."
In a World
A breakout role for Lake Bell as a voice-over actress, the film won an audience award in Park City.
Deidra and Laney Rob A Train
A pitch-perfect comedy with excellent young actors. And it was filmed in Utah so locals will have fun checking out the scenery.
The Big Sick
A heartwarming romance about bridging cultural divides, about family and hope.
The Last Word
A treat for Shirley MacLain fans — invite mom over for popcorn and some intergenerational bonding.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints
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An intense tale of a crime, revenge and romance, with excellent acting by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.
Based on a true story, the film was ahead of its time depicting police brutality and racial violence.