A batch of fresh faces are already making a splash at the Sundance Film Festival this year. The festival is organized by the Sundance Institute, founded by Robert Redford, and is long regarded as the premier gathering place for new voices and fresh perspectives. So it’s no surprise that unknown actors are often discovered in Park City, Utah. Take a look at five of this year’s breakout stars:
1. Honor Swinton-Byrne: “The Souvenir”
It would’ve been easy for the child of Tilda Swinton to ride on her mother’s coattails, but Swinton-Byrne’s lead performance in the new drama from Joanna Hogg proves she’s got what it takes to shine without stealing any of her mom’s limelight. In “The Souvenir,” Swinton-Byrne plays Julie, a student pursuing film studies who falls for a less-than-trustworthy man. As Julie travels further into a turbulent relationship that risks her future, she pulls away from family, friends and everything that once anchored her life. Swinton-Byrne is receiving rave reviews for the role, and Rotten Tomatoes has already given the film a perfect score. This is one of Swinton-Byrne’s first big credits; she did a film in 2009 with her mom. And while the duo is reunited in “The Souvenir,” with Swinton playing Julie’s mom, Swinton-Byrne’s portrayal of Julie stands out, all on its own.
2. Rhianne Barreto: “Share”
The British newcomer is making waves for leading the cast of Pippa Bianco’s debut film. Barreto plays Mandy, a sixteen-year-old who wakes up on her front lawn after a high school party with few memories of the night before. But then a video emerges of her being assaulted while lying drunk on the floor. Barreto brilliantly navigates the ostracization that Mandy faces in the aftermath, and her poignant performance is an important one for people to see, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Barreto only has a handful of smaller credits on IMDb leading up to “Share,” but she’s also slated to play a role in the highly anticipated series “Hanna,” coming from Amazon Studios in March.
3. Clara Rugaard: “I Am Mother”
With only a few credits to her name, the breakout Danish star has been generating a lot of buzz for her performance in Grant Sputore’s post-apocalyptic thriller, “I Am Mother.” Rugaard plays the lead, identified only as Daughter, raised by a droid whom she calls Mother, voiced by Rose Byrne. Their world is small and contained until a survivor from the outside world, played by Hilary Swank, breaks into it, upsetting everything Daughter has ever known. Rugaard’s intense portrayal of Daughter has reviewers listing her as the next big thing.
4. Maxwell Simba: “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”
Little is known of the star of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut. “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is Maxwell Simba’s one and only credit on IMDb. But this fresh face is proving his star power here, playing the lead role in the true story of William Kamkwamba, a Malawian student who helps save his community through his inventiveness. Starring opposite the Oscar-nominated Ejiofor could prove intimidating for an actor with years of experience, but Simba effortlessly carries himself and leaves viewers wanting to see more of him on the big screen.
5. Tiffany Chu: “Ms. Purple”
Chu stands out in the latest from Justin Chon: the intimate family drama, “Ms. Purple.” Chu plays Kasie, a young woman living in Los Angeles’ Koreatown with her ill father. To pay their bills, she works as a karaoke hostess, which comes with the occupational hazard of fending off advances of drunk clientele. She eventually reaches out to her estranged brother for help, and together, they face their past and present as their father’s health declines. Till “Ms. Purple,” Chu’s credits have been generally limited to short films, but the strength with which she handles the double life Kasie leads and the challenges she faces suggests a blooming star on the rise.
The actors on this list had little in common before the Sundance Film Festival, but they now share a common bond. All have gone from being unknowns to the talk of the indie film world overnight. And as Sundance is esteemed for ushering new talent into the forefront of the industry, it’s likely we’ll be seeing much more of these five faces in the future.