Sundance 2018 Preview: From Joan Jett to Usher, The Most Anticipated Music Films

From left: Usher, Joan Jett & M.I.A.
Getty Images; Design by Jessica Xie

From left: Usher, Joan Jett & M.I.A.

The Sundance film festival has long showcased breakout actors and potential Academy Award contenders. But in 2018, major music artists will be driving much of the conversation at the annual film summit in Park City, Utah. “This, by far, was the year with the most options,” says Jarom Rowland, senior manager of the festival’s film music program.

The fest has already established its music-documentary bona fides with premieres of the Oscar-winning films Searching for Sugar Man in 2012 and 20 Feet From Stardom in 2013. The long-awaited MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A. will be unveiled on Jan. 21 after years of delays; it captures the life and provocative art of M.I.A. by using an archive of the Sri Lankan performer’s own footage. Punk trailblazer Joan Jett is the subject of Bad Reputation, named after her defiant rock’n’roll anthem: Directed by music video veteran Kevin Kerlsake, the doc charts the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s rise from 1970s band The Runaways to mainstream solo stardom.

Established actors, meanwhile, are turning their attention to music stories. Ethan Hawke co-wrote and directed Blaze, the saga of country great and Texas outlaw Blaze Foley, with Arkansas rocker Benjamin Dickey in the lead role; Hearts Beat Loud finds actor-comedian Nick Offerman portraying the owner of a failing record store in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood who rekindles his musical ambition after an impromptu jam session with his college-bound daughter. Finally, R&B superstar Usher appears in Burden, about a breakaway Ku Klux Klan member who takes refuge in a black church community. With such a promising selection, Rowland admits that some quality projects simply couldn't be squeezed in: “Turning down [those other] films was heartbreaking.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 13 issue of Billboard.