Sundance Film Festival 2024: Ibelin and Rob Peace

Images from Rob Peace and Ibelin.
Images from Rob Peace and Ibelin. Pic credit: Sundance

Rob Peace and Ibelin premiered at Sundance, showcasing stories about two exceptional individuals with tragic stories.

As far as entries at Sundance, both of these titles were impactful in their own ways.

Ibelin is an uplifting story about a person with limitations who finds his true self in an unlikely realm.

In comparison, Rob Peace is a cautionary tale about making the right decisions.

Should readers see these films?

Here are our capsule reviews of Rob Peace and Ibelin out of Sundance 2024.


Those who have followed this reviewer’s writing are aware of the disability perspective. It’s a minority viewpoint that most people have issues relating to until they are older.

The experience can feel very isolating, especially when a condition is degenerative. Ibelin is a wondrous documentary about an individual who found a community in one of the most unlikeliest places.

Benjamin Ree’s heartwarming documentary is about the incredible sense of connection in virtual spaces. For many parents, gaming too much might seem unhealthy, but Ibelin demonstrates how healthy gaming can be for some.

The documentary Ibelin centers on Mats Steen, a gamer based in Norway with a disability. The majority of the first portion recaps his life in the physical world. His parents explain Mats’ condition, his gaming addiction, and his slow deterioration from being able to walk as a child to being unable to use anything but his hands.

Image from Ibelin.
A still from Ibelin. Pic credit: Sundance Institute

While discussing his condition, muscular dystrophy, the narrative begins to focus on his gaming, which took up most of Mats’ life. When the condition eventually took his life, his parents sent a message to all his contacts, oblivious to his personal life. To their surprise, Mats garnered a massive world of friendships in secret within the virtual space of World of Warcraft. These were not superficial online acquaintances but individuals who changed or were influenced by his friendship.

The documentary becomes one of the most beautiful gaming and mental health examinations. The entire history of Mats’ life on World of Warcraft as a character named “ibelin” is pulled from an archive and then recaptured in gaming animation. The footage reveals how someone with massive limitations can lead an extraordinary life online. Inside the virtual space, Mats had a business, a love life, and friends beyond measure. The documentary also shows how other conditions, such as autism, can be helped through gaming. For example, a mother is unable to show affection to her autistic son in the real world, but when they hug in a virtual space, it breaks a barrier for both of them. The result brings them closer.

Ibelin is captivating, thought-provoking, and surprisingly enchanting. For these reasons, It might be one of the most touching documentaries at Sundance. It’s a documentary begging viewers to challenge their perceptions of meaningful connections. One individual with limited physical ability had more social experiences than most non-disabled people.

Still image from Rob Peace
Still image from Rob Peace. Pic credit: Gwen Capistran

Rob Peace

Rob Peace is simultaneously inspiring and devastating. The film, directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, is a commentary on the harsh balance of navigating poverty, harsh conditions, and potential. And this is a battle most people in various economic positions will never have to confront. The true story of Rob Peace plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy. We know Rob’s choice because we know his heart- but inevitably, it’s the wrong decision at every turn.

The film centers on Rob Peace (Jay Will), a brilliant young man who aspires to study molecular biology. Throughout Rob’s story, he shows impressive knowledge in surprising areas. He is highly proficient in math and science, and even more impressive, he studies law to help his father, Skeet (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a man who has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Rob eventually gets accepted into Yale and becomes a highly regarded student by his peers and teachers. However, his academic excellence is offset by social pressures, primarily by his father, who cannot afford or defend himself in court.

The obligation to his family, neighborhood, and others makes him misunderstand what is important. He begins selling marijuana in mass quantities to rich kids on campus – a choice that complicates his ambition for a scholarly life.

Ejiofor’s screenplay is orchestrated to frustrate the audience. The experience is like watching a good friend make bad decisions and being unable to help. One might feel themselves yelling at the television as events unravel for the main character.

The performances are tremendous, especially from Jay Will and Chiwetel Ejiofor. There are compelling moments between them as father and son. Ejiofor has an emotional intensity that works in diverse scenarios. Jay Will as Robert Peace is truly a standout. Before now, this reviewer had never heard of the actor, but similar to Izaac Wang in Didi, he is clearly a rising star.

Admittedly, as much as this writer enjoyed the film, the movie has a gut-punch nature that makes repeat viewings difficult. There is not a hopeful message behind Ejiofor’s biopic but more of a cautionary message to those caught in the same balance as the title character. This is a film that this writer has not stopped thinking about since seeing it at Sundance. Rob Peace is a poignant commentary on the struggle between poverty and potential and the difficult decisions one must make while fighting between them.

For Sundance attendees at home, enjoy our full list of anticipated films to purchase. Also, read our reviews of other Sundance 2024 movies, such as Thelma, our capsule reviews of Love Me and Eternal You. and our reviews of Girls State and Didi.

Stay tuned for more Sundance 2024 coverage at Monsters and Critics.

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