All Good Things…
Well I seem to have reached the end of Sundance 09. Even as someone who has a veracious appetite for films, I must admit, this feels like a good place to stop. After watching so many it will be good to give my brain time to process some of the artistic works which have been flashing before my eyes these past ten days.
It has been a fantastic ten days though. I’ve been so impressed by how many of the movies I thoroughly enjoyed. With only two films leaving me disappointed (Let’s Make Money, and Peter and Vandy), everything else managed to bring something interesting to the table at the very least.
But Sundance can never be boxed up and put out into a DVD collection because it is much more than just the movies that happen to be showing there. Everywhere I turned it seemed people who simply loved movies surrounded me. Some of these people get bored with cookie cutter Hollywood films, others just want to see something unique. Some were part of the industry, others desperately fought just to get their film made and shown here in Park City. It makes for a group of people who are fun to converse with while waiting in the freezing cold while you’re doled out a waitlist number for that flick you just have to see.
The local residences here seem to have put up with our movie obsessions very well all things considered; some even getting their own indie film fixes in. But I can understand why some are less than pleased with such a dramatic influx of people descending on their town in the middle of winter.
With the current economic crisis rocking industries all around the world, I was worried that the filmmaking industry would have been hit the hardest. And in some ways it has, but after viewing these fantastic films, it seems not to have hurt the independent filmmakers, as much as the mainstream world of Hollywood. Hopefully with will provide an opportunity for the studios to snap up some of these great movies and save themselves some money in the long run.
Which of this year’s Sundance gems make it to theaters has yet to be seen. However, I can guarantee it won’t be enough. Whether it’s the love and devotion poured into The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle, or the haunting cinematography captured in The Clone Returns Home, there is something far more valuable in the films shown here in Park City than the endless sequels and comedies the studio system gives us each year.
As sad as it is to think of which films won’t make it past Sundance, its heartbreaking to think about the films that never made it that far. Slamdance has shown me a true fallibility in Sundance’s competitive selection process. All of the films I managed to see at Slamdance were great and would have felt right at home replacing some of the films I saw at Sundance. While talking to people in and around town it was disheartening to hear how many Sundance veterans had never even heard of Slamdance. The sliver lining in all of this is the fact that there is a wealth of creative talent fighting its way to bring us compelling, funny, and imaginative stories.
Now that the dust has settled I can look back and reflect on the films I’ve been lucky enough to see. While I was not able to make it to every film I wanted to see (Push, and Dirt! The Movie are the two I’m especially sad I missed), I got to see some really great works.
Mary and Max * * * * * An unusual friendship is formed between a young socially awkward girl in Australia, and a middle aged man in New York who suffers form Asperger Syndrome. The well-timed humor helps ease the film’s dark subject matter and the art direction brings the claymation to life.
Short Program V * * * Some of these were really great, others were less enjoyable. The clear standout was a New Zealand film called Netherland Dwarf
Cold Souls * * * Paul Giamatti plays himself in this sci fi comedy in which souls are able to be extracted from the body. While the humor is pulled off very well through most of the film, the rest feels uninteresting and is clearly missing a deeper connection.
Endgame * * * * A political thriller set in South Africa during the events which led to the fall of apartheid. Takes a while to pull you in but once your in, it becomes hard to let go. Bucking a common trend in Endgame’s genre, the film closes on a very optimistic message which can be easily related to the modern political landscape.
Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle * * * * * David Russo’s debut feature film is lighthearted, vivid, loud, and about men who give birth to blue fish. My favorite film at the festival and one in which the entire cast and crew gave their all to create a visual roller coaster with a really fun story. Someone please do the world a favor and pick this up because it needs to be seen by many more people!
Bronson * * An artistic interpretation rather than a biopic, Bronson tells the story of the man now known as Charles Bronson, England’s most violent criminal. Tom Hardy puts in a groundbreaking performance and there are some great moments in the storytelling, but these are few and far between.
Peter and Vandy * A story about a simple relationship which has fallen apart over the little things in life. Told out of chronological order, we get to see a fractured memory of events. While this is a somewhat interesting concept (although not at all unique), the film if pulled apart by a crippling script and amateur production values.
No Impact Man * * * * A documentary about a New Yorker who decides to radically change his (and his families’) life and see if its possible to live a year without leaving a carbon footprint. While the environmental messages are interesting enough, the real heart of the film lies in how shedding oneself from the luxuries of consumerism leads to a more loving relationship among friends and family.
Mystery Team * * * * An absurdly stupid comedy, and that’s a good thing. Three high school seniors (who really act like socially challenged 5th graders) decide to embark on one last mystery for their Encyclopedia Brown-esk club to solve. They get in over their heads before it even starts and vulgar hilarity ensues.
The Killing Room * * Four people volunteer for a psychology study but end up part of a secret government program in which the subjects are pushed to their limits as they watch each other getting killed off. In the end this is a mildly altered version of the plotline in Saw. While The Killing Room does a better job with the concept (and removes any torture porn aspects of the series), we still need to ask if we really need this where there are already so many similar films.
In the Loop * * * * A retelling of events similar to those leading up to the invasion of Iraq as seen from the eyes of the politicians who had their hands in the whole mess; oh and did I mention it’s a comedy? This out of control farce is riddled with pitch perfect performances from the ensemble cast and provides some much needed comedic relief to the real life disaster.
Sin Nombre * * * * * A member of a notorious gang in Southern Mexico has a falling out with his romanticized lifestyle and ends up fleeing for his life after killing the leader of his gang. Along the way he helps a young girl cross the US boarder so she can lead a new life in New Jersey. This film is painted with both gritty and vivid cinematography which captures the slums of Mexico in a compelling and fresh way. Stunning performances permeate the film, with special attention to the lead character played by Edgar Flores, a non-professional actor.
Strongman * * * * A Slamdance documentary using Stanless Steel, the world’s strongest Strongman, as a subject mater. Steel makes for an interesting subject because of his kind heart, and constant struggle as he starts to come to terms with the ways in which, despite his strength, he is still imposed by limitations.
Zombie Girl * * * * * Another Slamdance doc, Zombie Girl is about the youngest (thirteen years old) full-length feature filmmaker Emily Hagins and the making of her first zombie movie. The film chronicles the difficulties a new filmmaker faces, and also the double-edged sword of having a mom who is willing to hold the boom mic.
Let’s Make Money * A documentary about the ways in which the global economic system is structured, and how it supposedly benefits the Western World. Unfortunately the subject mater turns out to be infinitely boring, and because the film refuses to stay on point, ends up being uninformative as well. Made up of awkwardly framed talking head interviews, Let’s Make Money needed far more focus to get its point across.
End of the Line * * * A documentary about the world’s fishing industry and the dire warnings about the ecological collapse of fish populations. While well made, the film did not tell me much I did not already know although it helped as a substantial reminder. It also felt the filmmaker would only pretend to address detractors by cutting them off before they could explain their side of the story.
The Clone Returns Home * * * * * Subdued, meditative, beautiful. These are some of the words to describe first time filmmaker Kanji Nakajima’s magnificent sci fi exploration into the nature of souls and the painful loss of a loved one. Groundbreaking work with visible influences from films such as cinematic masterpieces such as Solaris.
Unmade Beds * * * * * Probably the biggest surprise for me at Sundance, Unmade Beds tells two stories which briefly intertwine at the end of the film. It explores the ways in which people are able to make real connections and lasting memories. Shot in a realist style, Unmade Beds lacks a traditional narrative, yet manages to feel well structured throughout.
Tags: Jason Voss