22 Loglines from This Year's Sundance Films (and Why They Got Festival Attention)
What can we learn from the loglines of the films screening at the Sundance Film Festival this year?
It's Sundance time! Thousands of cinephiles, filmmakers, and fest fans will be showing up virtually to catch the premieres of this year's best indie films. And even if you're unable to check out all the great titles that the film festival has to offer, you can still get a sense of what kinds of stories have caught enough attention to make it onto the program. How? Loglines.
For some of you, you’re painfully familiar with the logline; for others, this may be the first time seeing the word. Essentially, a logline is a sentence or two that sums up the most essential parts of your story -- something short, bite-sized, and makes us want to watch it. Filmmakers use loglines to market their film to agents, producers, and yes, film festivals, which makes them supremely important pieces of prose that all screenwriters should learn to master.
So, let’s look at some of the loglines used to represent the films in Sundance 2022, straight from their program. Soon, you’ll see why these attention-grabbing narratives fit the bill!
You Won’t Be Alone
Written/Directed by Goran Stolevski
Logline: “In an isolated mountain village in 19th-century Macedonia, a young girl is taken from her mother and transformed into a witch by an ancient, shape-shifting spirit. Left to wander feral, the young witch beholds the natural world with curiosity and wonder.”
The best loglines encapsulate the most pivotal hooks in a story, and the same is true of You Won’t Be Alone. The central factor of the story is this young girl’s transformation, and we already know there’s more to it as she’s “left to wander feral”. Ready to explore? That’s what a good logline does to you!
F^¢K ’€M R!GHT B@¢K
Written by Harris Doran & Emmanuel 'DDm' Williams; Directed by Harris Doran
Logline: “A queer Black aspiring Baltimore rapper must outwit his vengeful day-job boss in order to avoid getting fired after accidentally eating an edible.”
The logline for F^¢K ’€M R!GHT B@¢K is also short and sweet: It tells us who the protagonist is, what his goal is, and most importantly, what problem he’s facing — all within the space of one sentence.
Written/Directed by Victor Gabriel
Logline: “After being stuck with the guardianship of their annoying, bookworm nephew, two brothers in Compton, California, have to decide if they are willing to take on the responsibility of being caretakers.”
Obviously, Hallelujah's logline follows the classic template of a one-sentence logline as well: the central conflict is introduced with a life-changing event, and the world of two brothers in Compton is the status quo that gets interrupted with this new addition to the family.
Written by Catherine Léger; Directed by Monia Chokri
Logline: “Middle-aged sexist Cédric gets suspended from work after drunkenly kissing a female reporter during a prank on live TV. Stuck at home with his long-suffering girlfriend and their incessantly crying baby, Cédric teams up with his sensitive brother to co-author a confessional book apologizing for their past misogyny.”
Babysitter shows us another classically set up logline. There’s a clear status quo being interrupted by an inciting incident — a sexist is put on blast, and it spurs him into action writing a confessional book. There are two sentences here instead of one, but the goal is the same and the delivery succeeds in giving readers a clue as to what kind of movie they’re watching — a mark of great loglines.
Directed by Tia Lessin & Emma Pildes
Logline: “In the spring of 1972, police raided an apartment on the South Side of Chicago. Seven women were arrested and charged. The accused were part of a clandestine network. Using code names, blindfolds, and safe houses to protect their identities and their work, they built an underground service for women seeking safe, affordable, illegal abortions. They called themselves Jane.”
Not only is the real-life setup offered in this logline for The Janes, but we also get to know the premise through its buildup. The final sentence is made for impact, short and sweet, as it further cements the picture of a clandestine network by giving them a single, unified alias. Loglines can be used with stylistic approaches like this to really catch the attention of a reader. Advantageous, indeed.
Written/Directed by Joe Hsieh
Logline: “On a late-night bus, a panic scream shatters the night’s calm, a necklace is stolen, followed by a tragic and fatal road accident. The series of intriguing events that follows reveals love, hatred, and vengeance.”
A setup, more than one main conflict, and a teasing phrase to give the reader a sense of what follows. The logline for Night Bus has it all, and accomplishes it within the space of two sentences!
Written/Directed by Alejandro Loayza Grisi
Logline: “Time seems to move slowly far out on the cracked, dry land of the Bolivian Altiplano, where an elderly Quechua couple, Virginio and Sisa, carry on a humble routine. When their grandson Clever shows up, Virginio quickly sniffs out that he is there just to convince them to move to the city. The fact that the drought has left them without water doesn’t help their case for staying.”
It may be a bit long, but there’s something poetic about the way Utama represents themselves in the setup sentence at the beginning of their logline, but the writer also introduces a more specific central conflict — the arrival and agenda of Clever, who shows up at a crucial time for the elderly couple. If you write so a reader is privy to the central conflicts of a story via the logline, that’s always a good thing.
Directed by Ed Perkins
Logline: “Decades after her untimely death, Princess Diana continues to evoke mystery, glamour, and the quintessential modern fairy tale gone wrong.”
Most of the world knows the real-life events of Princess Diana’s life to an extent. That’s why the logline for The Princess works without having to show much of the central conflicts; we see mention of her death, and that’s a crux of her narrative, but the rest of the story focuses on the feelings surrounding that “fairytale gone wrong,” an idea that immediately sparks intrigue in readers who come across that powerful phrase.
To The End
Directed by Rachel Lears
Logline: “Stopping the climate crisis is a question of political courage, and the clock is ticking. Over three years of turbulence and crisis, four remarkable young women of color fight for a Green New Deal and ignite a historic shift in US climate politics.”
Not only does the logline for To The End offer a sense of urgency, with the mention of a literal “ticking clock”, but there is also an explanation of the conflict, the characters, and even more about the story’s appeal to audiences, like these women of color being the central players.
Written by Xóchitl Enríquez Mendoza & Samuel Sánchez Tual; Directed by Xóchitl Enríquez Mendoza
Logline: “Catalina submits to the tradition of her people to demonstrate her purity and worth as a woman to her beloved, but her body betrays her and she fails to demonstrate her chastity.”
Again, it’s about setting the backstory in a way that informs the narrative: here in Maidenhood, we already know that Catalina’s people have specific ideas about purity and chastity. The idea that she fails to demonstrate this chastity is the main conflict, but the setup lets us know there are expectations that won’t be met as a result of the plot. Without that background in the logline, we wouldn’t know why it matters that Catalina’s “body betrays her,” but with it, we now expect something to be very wrong and at odds with her people’s culture.
The Panola Project
Written/Directed by Jeremy S. Levine & Rachael DeCruz
Logline: “Highlighting the heroic efforts of Dorothy Oliver to keep her small town of Panola, Alabama, safe from COVID-19, The Panola Project chronicles how an often-overlooked rural Black community came together in creative ways to survive.”
The Panola Project is a true story, but due to it highlighting something not so well-known, it’s crucial that this docu-short’s logline paint the setup and conflict present, which it does easily. We now know exactly what Dorothy Oliver is facing — and what she aims to accomplish within the story.
Written/Directed by Mariama Diallo
Logline: “At an elite New England university built on the site of a Salem-era gallows hill, three women strive to find their place. Navigating politics and privilege, they encounter increasingly terrifying manifestations of the school’s haunted past… and present.”
Master not only evokes imaginative ideas of what will happen, but it uses the origin of the setting, a Salem-era gallows, as the fuel for those ideas. This is what has to happen in the logline if the backstory is integral to the narrative, which in this case it clearly will be.
Fire of Love
Directed by Sara Dosa
Logline: “Katia and Maurice Krafft loved two things — each other and volcanoes. For two decades, the daring French volcanologist couple was seduced by the thrill and danger of this elemental love triangle.”
This logline for Fire of Love not only offers an emotional connection by describing this couple’s passion for volcanoes as the third lover in a love triangle but it also accomplishes a clear outline of what we’ll see in the doc, as the two volcanologists face “thrill and danger” in their pursuits.
Written by Nash Edgerton & David Michôd; Directed by Nash Edgerton
Logline: “‘Shark’ tells the continuing adventures of Jack, who loves to prank — but in his latest relationship, he may have finally met his match.”
This short is encapsulated in both setup and central conflict all in one succinct sentence. Not only that, but the phrase “finally met his match” implies a lot about what we will see in the film, without giving it all away. Keeping audiences interested with teasing phraseology is but one smart way of finishing off a successful logline, and Shark does just that.
Directed by Ben Klein & Violet Columbus
Logline: “Brash and opinionated, Christine Choy is a documentarian, cinematographer, professor, and quintessential New Yorker whose films and teaching have influenced a generation of artists. In 1989 she started to film the leaders of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests who escaped to political exile following the June 4 massacre.”
Documentaries often have the ability to talk about the content delivered, as well as discuss the important facts about filmmakers that make them relevant to the content. This is true of Christine Choy, whose own experiences were tied specifically to the massacre and aftermath that are chronicled in The Exiles. In other words, the story comes across, but so does the reason for this existing point-of-view — both marks of an impactful logline.
Written/Directed by Gabriela Ortega
Logline: “When the death of her grandmother unleashes a generational curse, a disenchanted flamenco dancer resigned to a desk job is forced to experience the five stages of grief through a visit from her female ancestors.”
Huella has a classic logline: In just one sentence, it carries the necessary setup, the detailed introduction of a main character, and the central conflict and concept that the film is about!
Written/Directed by Hannah Peterson
Logline: “After basketball practice one night, Genevieve reveals a dark secret about their coach to her teammates. Wielding strategy and grit off the court, Genevieve works together with her teammates to find a way to retaliate.”
The logline for Champ shares the main inciting incident and the central conflict all in one fell swoop without giving too much away: there’s a dark secret about Genevieve’s coach, and she’s revealed it. Now, with the mention of revenge, it’s clear this secret is a big one that requires action — and we’re hooked by the promise of retaliation before we even know the secret itself.
Written by Carlos Melian; Directed by José Luis Aparicio
Logline: “Walfrido dreams of the Red Woman, whose image persists and becomes an obsession. Something tells him she is near. Over the course of a day, Walfrido will follow her trail as he travels through the suburbs of an infested city.”
Tundra's entire narrative is told in only a few sentences, as the main concept, this obsession with the Red Woman, becomes the central reason for Walfrido’s own journey as well. This is powerful, as it tells festival-goers what “Tundra” is all about, without breaking the magic and suspense of what it means to travel “an infested city.”
You’ve Never Been Completely Honest
Written/Directed by Joey Izzo
Logline: “Through animation and reenactment, ‘You’ve Never Been Completely Honest’ brings to life Gene Church’s original, never-before-heard interview recounting the harrowing physical torture and brainwashing he endured at a secretive, four-day business seminar in California in 1970.”
Since this is based on a real-life event, it’s imperative that the logline reflect that in some palpable way. The logline for You've Never Been Completely Honest does exactly that by talking about Gene Church’s interview — a strong call to action for anyone looking for documentary material and such. But what’s more powerful about this is the fact that we still see an attention-grabbing conflict within the logline: that secretive seminar where Church endured torture and brainwashing. Thanks to those stark details, we’re already hooked, and ready to follow the story wherever it takes us.
Written/Directed by Krystin Ver Linden
Logline: “Alice spends her days enslaved on a rural Georgia plantation restlessly yearning for freedom. After a violent clash with plantation owner Paul, Alice flees through the neighboring woods and stumbles onto the unfamiliar sight of a highway, soon discovering that the year is actually 1973.”
The promise of the premise doesn’t happen right away, and in doing that, Alice's logline manages to manipulate the devices of suspense and surprise in a powerful way before giving the reader the most interesting reason to watch: the realization that Alice’s bondage was kept over her more than a hundred years after the abolition of slavery. Readers experience surprise here, and thanks to the impact of that surprise, they watch to learn what happens next.
Written/Directed by Riley Stearns
Logline: “Recently diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease, Sarah is unsure how to process the news. To help ease her friends’ and family’s impending loss, she is encouraged to participate in a simple futuristic cloning procedure called ‘Replacement,’ after which Sarah’s last days will be spent teaching the clone how to live on as Sarah once she’s gone.”
There’s not only one chief conflict in the story — there are two, as evidenced by Sarah’s uncertainty and the introduction of the Replacement procedure. But more than that, the logline we see here encapsulates the entire concept in a shorter, detailed manner, something that’s usually imperative in a sci-fi concept narrative like Dual.
Directed by Ramin Bahrani
Logline: “In 1969, bankrupt pizzeria owner Richard Davis invented the modern-day bulletproof vest. To prove that it worked, he shot himself — point-blank — 192 times.”
It’s simple, straightforward, and it outlines its relevance as a real-life story. However, the biggest thing that this logline for 2nd Chance accomplishes is its call to attention: the 192 point-blank gunshots that Richard Davis endured to prove his project worked — and to get himself out of financial ruin.
There’s a lot that can make a logline stand out to a reader, and to a festival. It’s a competitive world out there, especially for filmmakers and screenwriters who want the attention their projects deserve. That’s why it’s important to learn lessons from the loglines that do catch people’s attention, and while no logline is “perfect”, the best ones are those that make a reader think, that make them interested, and that, in the case of a festival, make them watch the film.
If you can do that by putting the best elements of the above into practice, you’ll be well on your way to the best possible loglines your stories can have!
David Wayne Young is an independent film producer and screenwriter with years of experience in story analysis, even providing coverage for multiple international screenwriting competitions. David's obsessions include weird fiction and cosmic horror, and he's formally trained in the art of tasting and preparing gourmet coffee in various worldly traditions, from Turkish coffee to hand-tamped espresso — all enjoyed while writing, of course.