Sundance 2014: What Is Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’?

By  · Published on January 14th, 2014

Filmmaker Richard Linklater’s relationship with the Sundance Film Festival has so far proven to be a very fruitful one – Linklater memorably premiered both his Before Sunrise and Before Midnight at the festival (Before Sunset, the middle film in the current trilogy, bowed at Berlin), his Slacker won the Grand Jury Prize at the festival back in 1991, and the festival even honored the film with a special anniversary screening back in 2010 (similarly, this year’s “From the Collection” screening will honor the twentieth anniversary of Hoop Dreams) – so it’s not surprising that the festival will be the one to debut one of Linklater’s most talked about features. It is, however, (pleasantly, to be sure) surprising that it will be his long-promised (and long-filmed) Boyhood.

Honestly, we sort of didn’t think it was real.

Sundance will often fold in late additions to its slate – this year, both Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here and the documentary Lambert & Stamp have been added to the program long after the main slate was announced – and now Linklater’s Boyhood joins the fold. For a film that’s been filming since 2002, the reveal that it will bow at the United States’ preeminent film festival, delivered via a very innocuous email, is almost too wonderful to imagine. Make no mistake, Boyhood is now (easily) the most anticipated film of the festival and its first screening will likely be the “must-see” event of the entire program.

But just what is this Boyhood?

As the official Sundance program tells us: “Filmed over short periods from 2002 to 2013, Boyhood is a groundbreaking cinematic experience covering 12 years in the life of a family. At the center is Mason, who with his sister Samantha, are taken on an emotional and transcendent journey through the years, from childhood to adulthood.” The film’s cast includes frequent Linklater star Ethan Hawke, along with Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, and Lorelei Linklater. Simply put, the film follows the childhood of one boy (from middle school up through high school) with a specific focus on his relationship with his parents. While that idea sounds simple enough, Linklater’s decision to actually film the project over the course of a real twelve-year span is special, intriguing, and profound. (And, yes, it does resemble a fictionalized version of the Up documentary series.)

From its inception, Boyhood was an ambitious project for Linklater and his cast. Long referred to as just “The Twelve Year Project,” the filmmaker was firm on his aims when he first began shooting the film in the summer of 2002. He then shared (via’s the film’s Wikipedia page), “I’ve long wanted to tell the story of a parent-child relationship that follows a boy from the first through the 12th grade and ends with him going off to college. But the dilemma is that kids change so much that it is impossible to cover that much ground. And I am totally ready to adapt the story to whatever he is going through.”

Young Ellar Coltrane (who has been professionally known as Ellar Salmon in the past, though Sundance documents now call him by the Coltrane surname, which is actually one of his middle names) was picked for the role, and he has continued to film with Linklater and crew for twelve years. Coltrane has appeared in small roles in other films over the course of Boyhood filming, including Fast Food Nation.

Star Hawke has long been eager to talk about the film (even over the course of more than a decade!), and he has memorably described it as a series of short films, one filmed each year over the twelve-year period. Hawke and Linklater have long been preoccupied with the aging and evolution of characters and storylines in real time (see: the Before series), and Boyhood seems like a natural (albeit bold) extension of those interests.

So how is Boyhood? Sources who have seen the film (read: cinephile friends of friends) have declared it to be a “masterpiece,” heady words about a daring film, and just the kind that might prove true. We certainly hope they do. The film is expected to be released sometime later this year.

Boyhood will bow at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, January 19th at the Eccles Theatre. While other screenings have not yet been announced, the official Sundance press release repeatedly mentions that there will be special screenings (that’s multiple!), so we’ll keep you abreast of any other further announcements.