Sundance Programmer Previews Films Tackling Gun Control, Talks Virtual Reality

Trevor Goth - H 2016
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Trevor Groth is excited about this year's crop of films: "The connection now between technology and storytellers is exhilarating."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

What are you looking forward to this year?

Overall, the U.S. Dramatic competition is the strongest it's been in a long time, top to bottom. And in the documentary world, there's a real revolution going on when it comes to pushing the boundaries of what nonfiction storytelling can look like. That's been bubbling up for a while, and this year it really comes into fruition. And we're celebrating New Frontier in a big way because of the sidebar's 10th anniversary.

Sundance has been very welcoming to virtual reality (VR). Do you find mainstream filmmakers are open to the technology?

Yes, I think more and more the storytellers who typically have worked in independent film are moving back and forth between different forms. I think if you look at films that we have this year, the VR work, the other AR [Augmented Reality] and all these new-media technologies, and also even the episodic work — those lines between all of the different fields are blurring. It elevates all of them upward because you really get innovative ideas and stories in all these different forms.

Sundance often premieres documentaries that are centered on hot-button issues. What feels timely this year?

We have two big documentaries playing in the festival that deal with gun control in America. One is Newtown, a U.S. documentary in competition that takes a really personal look at the lives impacted by that tragedy [in Connecticut]. It's very emotional and very powerful. The other is Under the Gun, which looks at the big-picture view of gun control and the people whose lives have been impacted by gun violence.

Do you expect the NRA to respond?

I'm sure they will voice their opinion about the issues raised in this. But the strength of Under the Gun is that it does try to look at the issues from all the different angles. It doesn't feel one-sided. We'll see how they feel once they see it, but they're a very vocal group, so I'm imagining we'll hear from them.

Both Dope and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl were breakouts last year but disappointed at the box office. How will that affect this year's market?

Going into the festival last year, if you told people that those films were going to earn what they did at the box office, I think it would have sounded like a huge win. I know the expectations got set differently after their big acquisitions, but I do believe they got out there, and I think they're going to have long lives. I still believe they were successes. I think coming into this year, what will happen — and it's not a bad thing — is that the scale for what films will sell for will adjust to a point where everyone will feel they are wins.