First-time Filmmakers Make A Splash at Sundance

First-time filmmakers Justin Chon and Gerard McMurray debuted socially relevant films at Sundance this year.

Chon’s GOOK features Chon himself as a discount shoe store owner facing violence the night of the Rodney King verdict in South LA.  His relationship with a pre-teen black girl who hangs out at his store complicates the lives of him and his aspiring pop star brother. Shot entirely in black and white, the film transports us into the tension-filled day when emotions ran high and anger against a failed system pitted neighbors against one another. Standout performances all around by Chon, Simone Baker, Curtiss Cook Jr. and David So make this a must see.

In Burning Sands Gerard McMurray highlights the dangers of fraternity hazing as pledges try to survive hell week.  Getting into the frat means being a part of the brotherhood for life and the freshmen stake everything — school work and relationships — on making it through.  As the week progresses the torture intensifies jeopardizing the health of the candidates and straining their friendships. Co-written by Christine Berg, McMurray’s film delves deep into questions of black maleness while counter-balanced by strong female characters who each hold their ground. Alfre Woodard and Steve Harris round out the cast of mostly newcomers.

Malik Bazille, Trevor Jackson, Tosin Cole, Octavius Johnson and DeRon Horton appear in Burning Sands by Gerard McMurray, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. © 2016 Sundance Institute | photo by Isiah Donté Lee.