January 28, 2014 : 11:55 am | by Maggie Sanger

“Today is the worst day ever!” This was just one of the many funny quotes said by one of my Sundance family members on the trip. This sarcastic quote, not remembered as one of laughter at the expense of others, but because this guy, along with the entire group, had the best attitudes of any group of people I have been on a winter term trip with. My first Sundance Film Festival was one to remember. Not only was I surrounded by delicious food, beautiful mountains, a cool city, and mind opening independent films, I had the opportunity to enjoy it with some of the best people I have met.

I think my favorite films were from shorts programs. From “Gregory Go Boom,” where a paraplegic, man decides to venture from his home out into the real world, where things are not as great as he thought they would be. And who thought there could be a deeper story after the first disgustingly entertaining scene involving a girl who makes a cake where the main ingredient is her fecal matter in “Two Girls, One Cup.” Or mind-bending murder mysteries in “Jonathan’s Chest,” after a troubled teen’s brother returns home after being “kidnapped” and tells his brother that his mom was behind the evil plan and he must get away before he is forcefully taken away by their evil mother too. Or possibly one of my favorite actors, Steve Little, in “Rat Pack Rat” where a Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator deals with moral dilemmas at the death bed of a dying man who wants more than a private show from Sammy Davis Jr.

The most commanding and influential documentary I saw was about the power of music and how it affects the minds of people suffering from alzheimers and dementia, in “Alive Inside.” This tear jerking documentary followed a man trying to bring personalized music into the lives of the elderly in nursing homes after talking with their families about music that their family members used to listen to. Their goal was to demonstrate how music could possibly take them back to another time or place in their life in hopes of awakening a part of them trapped inside that everyone thought was lost. Then there was the story of a young boy sent to become a monk in Bhutan just after the announcement that the use of televisions were now allowed in “Happiness.” This beautifully shot, and somehow interestingly relatable film depicts a contrast between personal happiness being the same as nation-wide happiness.

Other relatable and inspiring films about the struggles of coming of age included “My 52 Tuesdays,” which tells the story of a girl whose mom decides she wants to become a man a get gender reassignment surgery. Shot from an interesting perspective, the daughters, this film gives a glimpse into the Tuesday’s of the two’s relationship and how the inner struggles the daughter is going through manifests themselves. “God Help The Girl” focuses on an anorexic teenager who finds herself through music. I have never heard of a film being referred to as an ‘indie-pop musical’ before, but what enticed me was that it was inspired by songs written by the lead singer of Belle and Sebastian, whose music I had a brief love affair with in high-school and who also did a great job in intertwining the music with the film to create a whole new story.

Speaking of love affairs, “Appropriate Behavior,” was written, and directed by Desiree Akhavan, who is also the leading lady. This film is about a Persian woman who is trying to muster up the courage to tell her parents that she is a lesbian. Her girlfriend at the time doesn’t understand why Shirin (Akhavan) can’t just tell them. What she doesn’t understand is that LGBT is not so black and white, especially when you’re growing up in an Iranian-American family. This movie was great at capturing the grey area of LGBT. “The Disobedients” is shot and set in a dream-like world with this seemingly perfect fairy tale love story that ends as abruptly as it is rekindled after the two find themselves traveling along through this fantasy world after escaping their real lives back home. These in contrast to a not so cushy, very blunt “living pussy hygiene experiment” in “Wetlands.” To say this girl is free spirited would be the understatement of the festival (and this was on the tip of everyone’s tongue at the festival.) Obsessed with anything sexual, this girl’s experience as a young child is the reason she rebelled against her mother’s obsession with hygiene. By the end of the film, not only did I find her actions purposeful, for reasons other than sexual pleasure, I found them to be a way of coping with her childhood experiences and memories. I mean hey, we all carry with us some unhealthy coping mechanisms, her’s just happen to be more radical than other peoples….or are they?

The one disappointing documentary I saw was “Private Violence.” I say this because they introduced this documentary with a short film about how people all over the world were combating violence against women, whether it is domestic violence, rape, stoning, or female genitalia mutilation. The editor of this short film said that he had to go through close to 18,000 videos sent in from all around the world. Unfortunately, in contrast to this inspiring short documentary, “Private Violence” seemed like such a narrow view on woman’s violence, focusing only on two white females, of the same age and economic status, living in rural North Carolina. Although I am glad this issue is gaining more attention worldwide, I did not feel that this documentary truly met its goal in capturing a wide range of stories of females of all ages, races, and economic statsus’.

The film that took the cake for me was “Land Ho!” A hilarious story, beautifully shot in Iceland, where two older friends reunite, and get their groove back. I also loved the mystery behind the movies “Blind” and “The Sleepwalker” these were some of the first films I saw at the festival and they set the bar very high for the others that followed. They did not spell everything out for you like Hollywood does in the first 5 minutes, said the director of “Blind.” It seemed as though I was not only watching a film, but I was part of it, or actively participating with it, by looking for clues and finding subtle messages and truths that allowed me to, at the end, be able to piece together what had really happened.

I was also fortunate to have gotten to see “The World Made Itself.” A performance piece unlike any performance piece I have ever seen before. Miwa was incredible at incorporating he body into her projected animations to create this new and really advanced, but seemingly simple performance. I was so surprised when she came out for Q&A out of breath, because all of her movements behind screen looked so effortless.

Among all of these great movies I was also fortunate enough to see “Camp X-Ray,” “Hits,” “They Came Together,” and “Boyhood.” Other favorite shorts included “Allergy to Originality,” “My Sense of Modesty,” “Best,” “Of God and Dogs,” and “The Big House.”

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