ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Sundance Film Festival begins tonight in Park City, Utah. NPR's Mandalit del Barco is there with a preview of what's to come over the next 10 ten days. Hey, Mandalit.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: It seems like the films that Sundance chooses each year can kind of be grouped into themes. What's one of the biggest themes in this year's movies?
DEL BARCO: Well, one theme for some of the movies this year is gun violence, a very timely issue. There are a few theatrical films on the subject and several documentaries. Katie Couric has a documentary called "Under The Gun" about the politics of gun legislation. And another doc is called simply "Newtown" about the aftermath of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Filmmaker Kim Snyder interviewed survivors, first responders, parents of the children who were killed. Here is a clip from the film with David Wheeler who lost his son, Ben, to the violence.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "NEWTOWN")
DAVID WHEELER: Every single parent who put their kid on the bus that morning did everything right. And those parents whose children survived and it bothers them and it hurts them, they also did everything right.
DEL BARCO: You know, Sundance is known for tackling really tough topics. And this year, there are also a few films about political figures. One is a feature about Barack and Michelle Obama's epic first date in Chicago. It's called "Southside With You."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU")
PARKER SAWYERS: (As Barack Obama) OK, it's not a date.
TIKA SUMPTER: (As Michelle Robinson) Fine.
SAWYERS: (As Barack Obama) Until you say it is.
DEL BARCO: Another is a documentary about former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who resigned after a sexting scandal. That's not to be confused with another film at Sundance called "Wiener-Dog" about a dachshund.
SHAPIRO: What are some of the buzziest films this year - like, what's the highest-profile thing that you're looking ahead to?
DEL BARCO: Well, you know, the films that open the festival are often the most high-profile - for example, "What Happened, Miss Simone?" the Netflix documentary about signer Nina Simone. Well, that premiered last year on opening night, now it's up for an Oscar. And this year, the big opening night documentary is about Norman Lear, the legendary TV writer and producer. In the 1970s, he gave us such shows as "All In The Family," "Sanford And Son" and "The Jeffersons." And another movie being talked about is "Birth Of A Nation," not to be confused with D.W. Griffith's racist 1915 film. This movie focuses on the real story of Nat Turner, a former slave who led a violent uprising in 1830s Virginia.
SHAPIRO: Mandalit, it feels like in the last couple of years, there's been a blurring of the lines between television and film. Are you seeing that at Sundance, which is a festival that is all about filmmaking?
DEL BARCO: Yeah, independent film at that. You know, the small screen is definitely a new area the film festival is exploring. And one of the biggest high-profile examples is a new series from Stephen King and J.J. Abrams, who directed the new "Star Wars" movie. Well, this Hulu series is about the day President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "11.22.63")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I don't know whether Oswald was the man who did it.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You'll figure out the rest when you get there.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) You see, the past doesn't want to be changed.
SHAPIRO: This all sounds like really intense stuff. Is there anything lighter that you're looking forward to at Sundance this year?
DEL BARCO: Well, you know, Ari, at midnight, they show movies that are really events in and of themselves. People get drunk and they line up in the snow for movies like "Yoga Hosers," which is a comedy horror from director Kevin Smith. It stars Johnny Depp and his daughter. And then there are straight horror films including "31" from director Rob zombie. It's about carnival workers who are kidnapped and held hostage. They have to survive Halloween while being stalked by a violent gang of evil clowns.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Two little clowns I know took a fancy to her. So I think she might be sticking around for a bit.
SHAPIRO: That sounds super intense.
DEL BARCO: (Laughter) It's really creepy. But, you know, movies like this just scream for a rowdy audience.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Mandalit del Barco speaking with us from the Sundance Film Festival, which starts tonight in Park City, Utah. Have a good time over there, Mandalit.
DEL BARCO: Thanks, pass the popcorn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.