Kate – Day 4 at Sundance

#11 – A Teacher: If you do Sundance in Salt Lake, including Best-Of-Fest screenings, it is possible to see 38 films in 11 days. There was nothing I wanted to see in the Monday 3:00 slot, but it was an opportunity to pull ahead of Ron. The choice was between a shoot-em-up thriller in Manilla, and a teacher-student affair in Texas. I ended up at the latter. There was plenty of white-on-white skin as the participants did what participants do when they are having an affair. Other than that, it was like this is such a disgusting situation.
The director stood for Q&A after. The first question posed was “What do you think that your film is really about?” A moment of thought and then “I think it is really about loneliness, and desperation, and the lengths to which a person will go to justify behavior which she knows is really, really bad.” Hand it to the director, she absolutely nailed it on this.
#12 – Salma: As a documentary, this had some sloppy story-telling, as essential facts were either confusing or simply left out. This became apparent in the Q&A when the audience was asking for clarification of events. Luckily, the careless direction did not diminish the power and grace of the woman featured. Salma’s life and poetry speak for Muslim girls locked away at puberty and contracted for marriage. Her story exposes the ferocity of Muslim men whose concept of life and society is challenged. This film is worth seeing.
#13 – In a World: A break from the overwrought angst of Sundance and an opportunity to laugh and laugh and laugh IS WELCOME!!!!!!    For that reason alone this film tops my list. Yes, there is a dysfunctional family, and yes, there is sex (but only a little itty bitty teeny tiny bit, by Sundance standards). None of that matters. This film is just plain funny.

Kate – Day 2 at Sundance

#3 – Mother of George: This is a poignant story. Unhurriedly following an emigrant Nigerian family in Brooklyn, New York, a clash of cultures and of generations is framed in richly colored fabrics that form a character unto themselves. The bride is desperate to produce a son, and her mother-in-law is eager to produce a remedy. The family ends up with an unbearable secret, and the husband an untenable dilemma. People go to great lengths for love.
#4 – Twenty Feet from Stardom: What voices! What beauty, what power, what joy, what fun. Backup singers make the music and the sound.
#5 – Don Jon’s Addiction: This is an issues movie. My first thought was to simply report not to go see this one, enough said. The characters are not particularly sympathetic and have minimal development, and some disgusting imagery is included. On the other hand, it is an issue which is quietly and conveniently ignored, and Sundance is saying you know, we ought to take a look at it. Don Jon’s uses pornography. Half the world, like Don Jon, may well respond “Yea, so? What’s the issue?” The other half, like his girlfriend, may well respond “Are you kidding me?” The problem is that with the internet we have eliminated the controls to access which existed a generation ago. Use has skyrocketed, and an argument can be made that it interferes with gender relations. If you want to talk further, let’s go out for a (insert drink of your preference here).
#6 – Touchy Feely: This was yet another dysfunctional family. Each member has a skill. Each looses the skill. Each regains the skill, and is transformed in the process. Except that the director was not particularly successful in conveying the audience along a dramatic arc. Boring.

Death day: Circles, Kill Your Darlings, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes

What started as a quick note between films has turned into another end-of-day summary. It’s definitely been a good day, though.

To start it off after Sunday brunch, Circles, directed by Srdan Golubovic: Another slow film (I’ve seen a lot of those thus far) but very powerful. Dialogue was minimal, but sufficient. The story was quite lovely (my favorite word) and lyrical, about redemption and forgiveness. There were lots of long shots of Eastern European men staring off into the distance that gave me time to reflect and feel the characters’ emotions and understand the storyline. I felt quite pleased with myself for following the film and mostly getting the director’s intent (per his explanations during the Q&A). The Q&A was fantastic because, despite the language barrier, the crew was very generous about sharing their thoughts and experience; i.e. they actually answered questions instead  of offering the typical, “well, that’s for you to decide/interpret/whatever.” There were some interesting tidbits shared, including that the Trebinje market in which the murder of Srdan Aleksik occurred was used for the movie scene and that one extra in this scene was at the scene of the crime.

Next was Kill Your Darlings, which received a lot of pre-festival buzz mainly due to the all-star cast. Truthfully, I saw this film because nothing else in the time slot sounded any better; I wasn’t all too excited and expected that it would be a disappointment. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this film about the murder of David Kammerer and the first escapades of the Beat Generation. Good acting (props to Elizabeth Olsen for making the most of a 5 minute part), strong characters, interesting story. The balance between a murder mystery/thriller and coming-of-age story (to paraphrase the director, “who or what do you have to kill to become yourself and become your best”) worked for me. Also, fantastic soundtrack.

I took a brief break for some ultimate frisbee and finished the day at Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes, another film that I had been avoiding, this time because “a hyperstylized … film that vacillates between surrealism and realism” sounded a bit too New Frontier-y to me. Again, I am so glad that I went. SPOILER ALERT, highlight to read: In as few words as possible, this film is about a daughter who has killed her mother (in childbirth) and a mother who has killed her daughter (accident, blames self) and how they help each other heal. Overall, two thumbs up to this female-dominated film (director/screenwriter, cinematographer, 3 complex and generally sympathetic leads). Given the sniffles throughout the theater during the credits, I’m not the only one who thought so. Jessica Biel impressed as Linda, one of her more complex and mature roles to date, and it was fun to meet the talented Kaya Scodelario. I haven’t heard much rumbling about the breakout starlets of 2013, but she makes an obvious candidate (although she has quite a career in England). Our party of family, friends, and neighbors had a brief but interesting discussion about whether this film featured family disfunction (my mother) or a broken family (everyone else). My first reaction was that this film is the new Beasts of the Southern Wild, but after sleeping on it, this film wasn’t quite as tightly knit. The artsy water/fishes theme felt heavy-handed and awkward. I would have loved to hear this explained by the director, but unfortunately there was no Q&A. I must admit that my ballot/vote/grade/thing was lower for this reason.

Now, finally, to bed!

~Nan

Kate’s Opening Day in Salt Lake City

#1 – Google and the World Brain: This is really about Google’s attempt to digitize the world’s libraries for the sake of democracy, so “anyone anywhere can have any information any time,” according to utopian statements by Google’s leaders. Sounds great, until you realize that what Google is really doing is gaining a monopoly on information to which it will eventually control access for Google’s own profit and power. Is this really what you want? No sex was used in the making of this movie.
#2 – Shorts Program II: As per Sundance standards, a ranging mix of student and young-professional films. Lofty artistic ambition is typically matched by lack of focus. Sex is generally gratuitous, more for practice in filming it than for anything else. Even I could do better than that. The notable exception was “Skin,” about a young boy trying really, really hard to be kind and thoughtful and do the right thing, and ultimately not quite getting it. Poignant.

The start of a new year

Another day 1 come and gone – this week is going to fly!  I started the evening at Documentary Shorts 1 which was a nice way to ease myself into the festival.  One of my favorites of the set was Paraiso, which followed skyscraper window washers in Chicago. To me, this was a nearly perfect film. The footage was lovely – there was one shot of ropes being secured, rhythmically knotted around and around a metal post, that really resonated with me. The subject was a nice balance between the corporeal and the philosophical.  We followed a group of men up and down the sides of buildings, peering into the buildings, the men’s lives and worries, and their reflections on death and the afterlife.  In the Q&A the director mentioned that the question he wanted to raise and explore was, “How do we deal with mortality in our jobs and lives?” and I thought that his product fulfilled this aim quite well. I left wanting more, which can sometimes be frustrating, but it worked for me here.

Next, Outlawed in Pakistan, about the gang-rape of Kainat Soomro in rural Pakistan and the subsequent social, emotional, and legal battles. This film piqued my interest because of my work for the Rape Recovery Center here in Salt Lake City and I must admit that despite the filmmakers’ journalistic efforts to show all sides of the story without judgement or prejudice, my own background prevented me from watching with such an unbiased view. I am having a hard time finding the words to explain why I liked this film. It was compelling, complex, emotional. I am in awe of Kainat’s strength and perseverance; even more than that, I am humbled by the support of her family. I am curious (and wish that I had asked during the Q&A) as to what inspired her father to fight for his daughter and believe in her right to life and justice.

Just a brief summary of the other shorts: Endless Day was very artsy; Skinningrove was a haunting portrayal of a town through photographs and memories; The Whistle (Gwizdek) was not as funny as I expected; and When the Zombies Come was much funnier than I expected (it often had the whole house in laughter), although the characters often seemed like they were hamming it up too much for the camera.

I finished this first short day at The Crash Reel, another winner from Sundance regular Lucy Walker. She has a knack for identifying wonderful subjects and weaving a compelling story. Definitely a crowd-pleaser. I’m not sure if this film was what I expected or not, but I certainly enjoyed it. I actually would have liked to have seen a little less of the pre-injury Kevin Pearce and a little more of the recovery process, including learning more about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) (more science, that is, in addition to the emotional interviews with other TBI survivors and victims), but that’s just personal preference. It probably wouldn’t have fit in stylistically and it was already a busy film, with a number of subjects touched upon in addition to TBI (Down Syndrome in particular). Although this film was about Kevin and while he is certainly a character, it was brought to life by the entire Pearce family. Walker did a wonderful job capturing their dynamic and I felt honored to have a glimpse into their lives. I was inspired yet again this evening by a strong and supportive family.

With that, I should wrap up and get ready for day 2. It’s is going to be packed – possibly 5 films, although I may skip out on the last one to head to a birthday party (theme: Cowboys and Indians, so much fun!)

Also, I just want to get up on the podium for a moment with a brief post-script: Rape and sexual assault are crimes of power, not sexuality. Victims of rape and sexual assault are never at fault. If you or a loved one have been a victim of rape of sexual assault and need help – from answers to questions to emotional support and beyond –  please get in contact with the Rape Recovery Center (local, raperecoverycenter.org) or RAINN (national, www.rainn.org).

~Nan