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The King of Film Festivals: Watch Sundance Hits For Free on Popflick

Prepare for the 2024 Sundance with our selection of award-winning classics from the Festival / Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Prepare for the 2024 Sundance with our selection of award-winning classics from the Festival / Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

It feels like yesterday when the Sundance Film Festival first took over  Park City, Utah, to dole out prizes to the best American indie movies. Marisa Silver’s “Old Enough,” a dramatic comedy about the class-crossing friendship of two New York girls, was the first to take the Grand Jury Prize. It was 1984. Ronald Reagan was in office, the Cold War was still on, and film studios fought to revive the business with multiplexes growing screens like mushrooms. The world looks very different 40 years later. Or perhaps not - Vladimir Putin wants to build the Soviet Union 2.0, and theaters face a new foe in streaming. 

At least, the creative spirit of filmmakers remains strong. There is no shortage of exciting titles in the Sundance 2024 selection. The festival returns on January 18, 2024. In the meantime, you can measure its legacy with a special selection of winners and nominees who, over time, may have fallen off the radar.

Indie Drama King & Queens

Ruby in Paradise

Peruvian-American director Victor Nuñez struck gold with his second feature film. “Ruby In Paradise” is the ultimate Sundance movie. It made Ashley Judd a star who would lead several box-office hits throughout the decade. It was good for her career, but it was a letdown that the industry failed to give her a role as good as her debut. She plays the role of Ruby, a working-class girl who migrates to a Florida resort town, running away from an abusive relationship. She finds a job and dates two men: a flashy, moneyed mama’s boy (Bentley Mitchum) and an intellectual greenhouse clerk (Todd Field). However, her destiny resides solely in her hands. Words cannot do justice to Nuñez’s beautiful, humanistic tone. Emotional without being cloying, the movie has a steely resolve, just like the heroine at its center.

“Ruby in Paradise won the Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic at the 1993 Sundance Independent Film Festival. You can read our full review .


This is a lyrical drama about a family coming apart and mending itself in the Mississippi Delta. A teenage kid getting dangerously close to a gang, his desperate mother, and a remote uncle who survived a suicide attempt try to connect and help each other out. The themes common to countless urban dramas gain novelty and depth in the rural setting. This three-handed story of despair and redemption finds its characters locked in their crossroads and pushes them to find salvation in each other. After conquering the indie world, director Lance Hammer fell into an unexplained 15-year-long hiatus. The eventual premiere of his belated sophomore feature film, "Queen at Sea," should be celebrated by every self-respecting film buff. French actress Juliette Binoche and British legend Tom Courtenay are the film's lead, currently in post-production. Cross your fingers for a 2024 release!

“Ballast” won the Directing and the Cinematography Awards in the Dramatic competition at the 2008 Sundance Independent Film Festival. It was also nominated for the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize. You can read our full review.

Small Budgets, Big Laughs

Good Dick

Writer-director Mariana Palka takes the starring role in her bittersweet comedy about a shell-shocked sexual abuse survivor obsessed with pornography, fending off the romantic advances of a persistent video store clerk. It’s a high-wire balancing act, considering the charming boy engages in borderline stalker behavior, but Jason Ritter manages to defuse any sinister undertone with puppy dog earnestness. Thanks to the recurrent visits to a video store, the movie also works as a time capsule that portrays a certain kind of cinephilia, thriving between miles filled with DVDs and the Art House theatre next door.

“Good Dick” was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic competition at the 2008 Sundance Independent Film Festival. You can read our full review.

The Maid

The Sundance Film Festival is not only the ultimate authority in indie cinema. Over the years, it has become the most important gateway to the American theatrical market for foreign cinema. There is a separate World competition for dramatic and fiction films. Before streaming turned distribution upside down, theatrical distribution was guaranteed for movies that got into the Official Selection. 

“The Maid” follows the trials of Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), the dutiful domestic assistant of a well-to-do family in Santiago, Chile. Her world turns upside-down when her bosses hire another woman to share the workload. The territorial Raquel goes into an epic meltdown that will bring unexpected changes to everyone’s lives. Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva’s international breakthrough rode its Sundance cachet to a Golden Globe nomination. He went on to a long and fruitful career full of daring comedies. In 2023, he premiered his latest, “Rotten by The Sun,” at Park City.

“The Maid” won the Grand Jury Prize in the 2009 World Cinema Dramatic Competition. Saavedra won a Special Jury Prize for Best Actress. You can read our full review.

Appropriate Behavior

Multi-threat Desiree Akhavan jumpstarted her career with this hilarious comedy. The writer-director takes on the role of Shirin, the New York-born daughter of Persian immigrants, putting up a fight to get her life in order. A bisexual filmmaker wanna-be with intimacy issues, at odds with the hipster Brooklyn where she yearns to fit in. The cast includes Arian Moayed, who would score massive popularity as the duplicitous Stewy Hosseini in HBO’s blockbuster series “Succession.”

Akhavan is no slouch, either. Her follow-up was the critically praised “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” (2018), which won the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2018. It was a banner year for the director, who also premiered the limited series “The Bisexual” on Hulu.

See how it all began. “Appropriate Behavior" was nominated for the Audience Award programmed in the NEXT sidebar at the 2014 Sundance Independent Film Festival.

The Realest Docs Around


The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre were the original frenemies of the alternative scene. Filmmaker Ondi Timoner followed the bands for over seven years to create a fascinating record of the music industry and the unyielding pressures of the creative life. The push and pull or art and commerce, the ravages of life on tour, pressure from music labels, overzealous fans, onstage brawls, and good old fashioned God complex…it’s all here, in your face. And the music is very cool, too.

“Dig!” won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Independent Film Festival. And now, a plot twist no one saw coming: at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, Timoner just premiered a restored and expanded version of the movie, including never-before-seen archival material and updating us on her volatile musicians. Check out our take on "Dig! XX"

We Live in Public

Director Ondi Timoner became the first to win two Best Documentary awards at Sundance when she returned five years after “Dig!” with “We Live in Public.” The movie follows the exploits of Josh Harris, a pioneer of video distribution through the internet, who turned his business into a multi-million company. His concerns over the effects of technology on human beings led him to found a bizarre social experiment/art project called “We Live In Public,” inviting dozens of artists to live in a loft. At the same time, cameras streamed every moment through the internet. Think “Big Brother” with no limits for sex, nudity, and no dramatic structure. Once that project petered out, he turned the cameras on himself and his girlfriend, with surprising results. From the glory days of the early web to the dot.com bubble burst, this is a fascinating record of an era and an exploration of ideas that retain their currency. 

“We Live In Public” won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2009 Sundance Independent Film Festival.

Being Evel

Daredevils might be relic from a distant past, but they were a fixture of the entertainment world for a long time. None was bigger than Robert “Evel” Knievel, famous for performing motorcycle stunts on TV, like jumping over rows of cars or landmarks like the fountain at the Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. He parlayed his celebrity into commercial endorsements and a line of toys. He even produced “Viva Knievel” (Gordon Douglas, 1977), a feature film compiling his exploits, shoeing them in a dramatic plot supported by performances from Gene Kelly, Red Buttons, and Lauren Hutton. Alas, no amount of star power would keep his career afloat when his inner demons surfaced.

“Being Evel” won director Daniel Junge the Grand Jury Documentary prize at the 2015 Sundance Independent Film Festival.

Foreign Modern Classics

All Your Dead Ones (2011)

From Colombian director Carlos Moreno, who achieved international popularity with the ground-breaking TV series "Pablo Escobar: El Patrón del Mal," comes a dark comedy about indifference in the face of violence. A humble corn farmer finds a pile of dead bodies in his fields and goes to extremes to find justice for the unknown victims. He finds his efforts frustrated by the shocking indifference of everyone around him, including the powers that be. The visually striking movie won the 2011 World Cinema Award for Best Cinematography at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the World Cinema competition.

Journalism in the Frontlines

Jim: The James Foley Story

Filmmaker Brian Oakes pays tribute to his childhood friend with “Jim: The James Foley Story.” Foley was a freelance journalist covering the war in Syria for several outlets, including Agence France-Presse. He was kidnapped by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2012. Efforts to rescue him proved to be unsuccessful. In 2014, the terrorist group released a video on YouTube where he was beheaded. He became the first American citizen killed by ISIS.

Oakes' movie won the Audience Award for Documentary at the 2016 Sundance Independent Film Festival and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. In an unlikely turn of events for a documentary, it was nominated in the Best Original Song category of the Academy Awards for "The Empty Chair," written by J. Ralph and Sting.

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