Institute History

  • 2004 Sundance Film Festival


In Speak, her exquisite first feature based on a best-selling young adult novel, Jessica Sharzer delivers a cathartic tragicomic high school drama about the experience of being profoundly misunderstood, yet unable to stand up for oneself. At its center is a quietly dazzling performance by Kristen Stewart, who breathes ethereal and angry intensity into the shell-shocked, ostracized teen heroine who loses and then rediscovers her voice.

Since an unspeakably traumatic moment at a party when she became a notorious squealer, Melinda Sordino has stopped talking and started isolating. A scorned pariah at school, her ex-best friends ignore her, and her sole acquaintance is the prattling, oblivious new girl. Her stressed-out mother, flawlessly embodied by Elizabeth Perkins, is too distracted to notice Melinda's muted suffering. Only her rebellious art teacher (the always marvelous Steve Zahn) encourages her to reveal her true self—something art mercifully allows her to do silently.

As the excruciating school year lurches forward, Melinda gradually confronts memories of that fateful night. And when the noise in her head builds to a roar, she has no choice but to shatter her protective cocoon of silence. Steering clear of didacticism and melodrama, Speak delicately stares down a disturbing reality that muzzles many girls, while underscoring the transformative power of self-expression.

— Caroline Libresco

Screening Details

As you use our Online Archives, please understand that the information presented from Festivals, Labs, and other activities is taken directly from official publications from each year. While this information is limited and doesn't necessarily represent the full list of participants (e.g. actors and crew), it is the list given to us by the main film/play/project contact at the time, based on the space restrictions of our publications. Each entry in the Online Archives is meant as a historical record of a particular film, play, or project at the time of its involvement with Sundance Institute. For this reason, we can only amend an entry if a name is misspelled, or if the entry does not correctly reflect the original publication. If you have questions or comments, please email [email protected]