Winston-Salem native Angus MacLachlan will have his new film screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. His last feature-length screening there came in 2005 with the world premiere of Junebug, filmed in Winston-Salem, with a breakout role by Amy Adams. 

His new film A Little Prayer — also filmed in the city — stars Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn who tries to protect his daughter-in-law when he finds out his son is having an affair.  

MacLachlan, whose daughter was 16 when he started this project and is now 21, says in retrospect, it’s really about parenting adult children.

“How you still want to protect them and tell them what to do and you just, you can’t,” he says. “You don’t have that right anymore. To me, it’s a story about love and choices, and secrets in a family. And also, ultimately, letting go.”

MacLachlan, who first came to Sundance as a volunteer in 1989, says it remains the preeminent film festival in North America, and it’s thrilling to be coming back at this stage in his career.

“It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s hopeful, it’s great to go and not be a starry-eyed 20-year-old, to still be working, to still have something that I feel has value,” says MacLachlan. “And apparently, they feel enough to include it.”

In total, Sundance received more than 4,000 feature film submissions. A Little Prayer was one of only 101 selected. 

MacLachlan who wrote, directed, and produced his latest effort, A Little Prayer, is a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts visual arts program where he says he learned how to be an artist. He continues to live in Winston-Salem, where he sets most of his films, and they often draw from his local perspective. As a director, he says those UNCSA experiences gave him the confidence to lead actors, as well as the visual aspects of directing a film. 

And that association with the school has continued. Three of the main actors — Anna Camp, Steve Coulter, Celia Weston — are alumni, and several film crew members were made up of recent grads and current students.

MacLachlan says those professional experiences are transformational.

“I watched during our shoot the main camera guy teaching his two assistants like, ‘Now, what are we going to use this lens for?’ I mean I saw the aspect of them continuing their learning process,” says MacLachlan. “And I’ve even heard that two of the people have gotten jobs since then. Like our film editor hired our assistant editor who was a student for her next job.”

MacLachlan says the feedback from Sundance judges included mention of a strong sense of place. He says that’s not a coincidence.

“In this film, A Little Prayer, we shot at Old Salem, and Piedmont Sheet Metal, and the Konnoak Hills neighborhood,” he says. “It was important for me to get that sense of real life lived.”

A Little Prayer, about the confusing, funny, heartbreaking, and transcendent aspects of being a member of a family, screens during this month’s Sundance Film Festival. In-person and online tickets go on sale Thursday.

The festival will take place January 19-29, in Park City, Salt Lake City, and the Sundance Resort in Utah.

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