Leaving Neverland, a co-production between Channel 4 and HBO, will reportedly feature the stories of two men who claim that the singer sexually abused them as children. The film has already been labelled “an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson” by his estate.
In response to protests from fans, Sundance released a statement to corporate partners. “We don’t currently plan to comment publicly or engage in the discourse around Leaving Neverland and would recommend that you do the same,” it read. “We plan to proceed with the screening as announced.”
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Local police are on alert for protests that are reportedly being planned on social media by Jackson’s fanbase.
The Utah-based festival will also see the premiere of Untouchable, a documentary tracking the downfall of disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein, who allegedly carried out acts of sexual assault at Sundance in years prior. The film is set to feature many of his accusers speaking on camera for the first time. Last year, a hotline was launched for attendees to report incidents of sexual assault and it has been announced that it will be returning this year.
A host of big stars will be descending on Park City with a lineup littered with A-listers from Jake Gyllenhaal to Keira Knightley. The Brokeback Mountain star will premiere Velvet Buzzsaw, his reunion with Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy, a Netflix-produced horror set in the art world. After impressing audiences last year with literary drama Colette, Knightley will take on the role of whistleblower Katharine Gun in Official Secrets, one of many politically impassioned films premiering.
Sundance will also see Vice unveil The Report, a fact-based drama about the investigation into CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program, starring Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein and recent Oscar nominee Adam Driver. Documentaries focused on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Steve Bannon will also be at the festival, which runs from 24 January to 3 February.
The festival was started in 1978 by Robert Redford, who has praised this year’s diverse lineup which boasts female directors behind 45% of features and 36% from film-makers of colour.
“Society relies on storytellers,” Redford said. “The choices they make, and the risks they take, define our collective experience. This year’s festival is full of storytellers who offer challenges, questions and entertainment. In telling their stories, they make difficult decisions in the pursuit of truth and art; culture reaps the reward.”
Last year’s Sundance saw the launch of breakout horror Hereditary, Boots Riley’s satire Sorry to Bother You and critically acclaimed comedy Eighth Grade.
10 films to watch out for
Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders takes the lead in an adaptation of Richard Wright’s controversial novel about a young man’s descent into violence.
Emma Thompson stars as a talkshow host forced to work with a female writer, played by Mindy Kaling, in one of the most high-profile films of the festival.
The directors of Austrian thriller Goodnight Mommy could well score this year’s Sundance horror hit with this slow burn tale of psychological demons.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
A fact-based drama about gentrification in San Francisco focused on a young black man trying to keep his grandmother’s house, played by the man whose life inspired it.
Jake Gyllenhaal reteams with Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy for a creepy art world horror about a cursed set of paintings and the havoc they wreak.
Annette Bening stars as Senator Dianne Feinstein in a political drama about the investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation techniques”.
The story of GCHQ whistleblower Katharine Gun is brought to life with Keira Knightley in the lead role and support from Matt Smith and Ralph Fiennes.
The latest, and reportedly most comprehensive, documentary about Harvey Weinstein, with many accusers speaking on camera for the first time.
A bleakly topical drama about a high school girl who discovers that half-dressed, semi-conscious videos of her have gone viral.
Blinded by the Light
Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha aims for another crowd-pleaser with this coming-of-age tale of a Bruce Springsteen fan.
Related: 15 Buzziest Sundance Movies: From ‘Honey Boy’ to ‘Leaving Neverland’ [The Wrap]