When I heard that Alex Gibney had a new film premiering at Sundance this year I had to get my hands on a ticket. Luckily I was able to get one early and was eagerly awaiting the screening of his new film Magic Trip. I was a huge fan of his past documentaries including Gonzo: The life and works of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, and also Enron: The smartest guys in the room. Magic Trip was a documentary about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters embarking on a country wide road trip from California to the Worlds fair in New York. Gibney uses original footage in this documentary and it is always entertaining to see these weird acid heads driving across country in their bus, Further. A major theme of this film was the application of LSD. It was very obvious that their use of LSD was in the name of expanding their mind and conscinous and pushing the laws of the universe. As hard of a concept that is to grasp Ken Kesey and the merry pranksters exemplified it gloriously. In order to illustrate the effects of LSD and also better help the viewers who have not taken LSD better understand the drug Gibney has a scene in which the audio tape of Kesey’s first use of LSD playing with the words illustrated and strange images and bright colors flashing. Also it was a monumental task gathering all of this footage and arranging it in an understandable manner. The audio and video taken during the road trip usually were not synched up so Gibney had the challenge of having great footage but with no sound and having to figure out a way to make this dilemma work out in the end. Another issue is that most of the video is out of focus, I can imagine it would be a difficult thing for the merry pranksters to operate a camera while tripping on LSD. Also it was really cool that they brought one of the women on the bus with Kesey to the screening as a special guest to answer questions for the audience. I found Alex Gibney’s newest film was very well done and that he overcame many tough challenges to retell the strange story of Ken Kesey and the merry pranksters, it did not disappoint.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Sundance film festival to me was the accessibility of meeting the filmmakers and actors and also their friendliness to their viewers. During a screening of a film the director and usually some of the other people involved in the film such as actors, producers, editors and so on are at the screening and give an introduction and also a question and answer session after the film. I thought it was really interesting to hear what the directors have to say about their films. Also being given the opportunity to ask questions to the director is a rare and important opportunity. It was an awesome thing to me that at every screening that I attended while at the festival I was able to meet and shake the director’s hand. Also it seemed to me that the directors and actors really cared about what their viewers had to say and also were happy that we enjoyed their films. On multiple occasions I met the director and actors at the question and answer session and then on a completely separate occasion they would recognize me and say hello, which really struck me. When I met the director of the woods for the second time he was excited that I enjoyed his film and happy to meet me again. However he was disappointed because they had already given out most of their swag and he really wanted to have something. He ended up finding one last sticker and also gave me his button off of his shirt because they didn’t have anything left. I wasn’t asking for these things but it was still neat that they wanted me give me some type of memorabilia from their film. This struck me as someone who really cares about his viewers, and I am glad that this type of spirit is exemplified at Sundance.
“We were promised change, but it never came. Our cities crumbled around us. Our streets ran red with Hawaiian Punch.” The Woods was an interesting film which was one of my favorite films I’ve seen at Sundance. The premise of The Woods is that a few grown up children retreat to the woods in order to bring about change for themselves. However the group doesn’t really know how to survive in the woods naturally. They hook up electrical outlets into the trees, they bring washers, dryers televisions, and a refrigerator to their base camp. They try and revert back to nature and political simplicity but no one in the group really cares other than the leader Daniel. They eat only brand name foods like hot pockets, kool-aid jammers, and cheez-its. I found it slightly ironic that they go out into the woods and eat these types of foods and take televisions and such with them. The film was also kind of a play on the counter-culture films of the 70s. Some of the cinematography was amazing with the mix of shots of nature, the strange outfits the characters were wearing, and also the body paint they wore. One of the best scenes was when the characters were spraying each other with water guns filled with different colored paint. All the different colors flying around, everyone laughing covered in paint really made for an amazingly overwhelmingly happy aesthetic. A major theme in this film is the idea of realizing things in the world are messed up but not really knowing what one can or could do to change that. This is an important theme in my opinion because I agree with the director and feel that many people our age also agree and struggle with the same dilemma. One of the cool aspects of Sundance is that you are able to meet the director and actors and such. It was amazing to me to meet and talk with the director and actors that I had just seen on film. They were all really cool people and I saw them again later and told them how much I enjoyed the film and the director gave me a button of his off his shirt because they didn’t have any swag left. This had an awesome impact on me and showed me that he actually cared about his viewers. This film really struck me personally and I found it right up my alley for types of films I enjoy watching. I really hope it gets distribution so that others can see this film and connect with it the way that I did.
Hell and back again is a truly moving documentary that follows a wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan and makes the viewer wonder what effects war has the soldiers. The director Danfung Dennis was embedded with the marines in Afghanistan for about 7 months on three separate occasions. Dennis was able to gather an impressive 500 hours of footage from his time overseas. This is Dennis’ first film, he is actually a photojournalist for the New York Times. During the question and answer session Dennis said that he chose to use film instead of photos because we have seen so many photos of war that we have become numb to photos, so he decided to use film to convey his message. Personally I found this film to be very moving, and it really made me wonder about what this war is doing to the youth of our country. I found it very interesting that the most moving images were the scenes that were filmed back in the states. A major issue that is raised in this documentary is how the soldiers deal with problems when they get back to the states. The soldier that Dennis follows was shot in Afghanistan right before his last mission. The film shows how his whole life is thrown off kilter from doing what he loves, being completely dependent on his wife after his injury, and also how his mind is affected from all the pain pills he has to take because of his injury. One of the most impressive aspects of the documentary was the use of sound layering. When there would be a scene where the soldier would be dealing with memories of the war there would be audio of gunshots and screaming from the footage Dennis captured in Afghanistan. This really helped add another moving layer to the scene and also helped the viewer better understand the weight of what the soldiers are dealing with. All in all I found this documentary to be very moving and really made me wonder and care about what our soldiers are dealing with. This really was one of my favorite films that I have seen while at sundance.
I found an African Election to be an interesting film; it had good editing and amazing shots of political rallies in Ghana. However I could see how some viewers could lose interest since the film seemed to carry on for a good amount of time. I found that if the viewer has an interest in politics and the struggles of the common man would find this to be a very interesting documentary. One of the impressing aspects of the documentary was the amount of coverage given to the filmmakers. They were able to follow around the main presidential candidates from both of the political parties. The filmmakers were able to film rallies, interviews, and also private conversations between major players of the political parties. The most amazing access was that they were given access to the strong room. The strong room is the room in which the results of the election go to and members of the political parties forward the results to the presidential candidates. To me this is so important because I could never imagine access like this being given in our country. Also I found an aspect of this film that helped add interest to the viewer the idea that each viewer kind of agrees and supports with one of the candidates so at the end the viewer is on the edge of their seats when the final results come out. I found this documentary to be an interesting look into the political system in a foreign country. Also looking into a different political system gives us insight into our own political system. All in all I found this documentary to be very well done and also make the viewer interested in the political system and the political process.
If a tree falls: A story of the Earth Liberation Front is in my opinion an amazing documentary because it raises more questions than it attempts to answer. A film that makes viewers ponder and converse about complex issues is one that I personally hold in high regard. If a tree falls follows an activist, Daniel, who took part in some of the arsons that were done in the name of the Earth Liberation Front. Daniel was arrested as a part of a nationwide roundup of so called eco-terrorists. Deeming these activists as terrorists is a major theme in this film, and raises the idea of the emphasis that we as a society put on the word terrorist. The Earth Liberation Front was responsible for many arsons and destruction of property, but all of which were in the name of preserving life. Also the arsonists made sure that there were no people in the buildings they destroyed when they were destroyed. The fact that they had this intention in mind makes it hard for me to categorize these activists as terrorists. However the federal government does not share my viewpoint and Daniel was termed a terrorist and put into a special prison set up for terrorists. Another issue that this film brings up is the fact that police brutality towards nonviolent protestors only radicalizes the activists’ viewpoints. When someone sees a person being beaten in the streets or pepper sprayed for participating in peaceful nonviolent protest really pulls upon one’s emotions and makes the activists feel like nonviolence is being answered with violence by those who are supposedly protecting the people. So it is only logical that eventually violence would be answered with violence. Only in the case of the Earth Liberation Front no people were targeted, only property was targeted and destroyed. In my opinion this was a great film that raises many good issues that should be discussed and questioned.
While we were out here one day a bunch of us in the class decided to hit the slopes. It was a bit expensive for the lift ticket but other than that everything worked out in our favor. The snowboard rental was cheaper than I could ever imagined, the sun was shining bright, the trails was freshly groomed, and we got some great footage of us going down the trails and hitting some jumps. < — Read the rest of this entry — >
In my limited time at Sundance and exploring Main Street in Park City, I have noticed one feature that particularly stood out about its current layout: The severe lack of cheap dining options. As my Professor, who has intimate knowledge of Park City having grown up in Utah, has pointed out, Park City is a very wealthy place, not to mention from the look of it every house seems to be the size of a small mountain. Despite those facts It is still hard for me to believe that are not any real inexpensive dining as well as retail options along Main Street. When I think of Main Street, USA I picture a small, serene place where family owned and operated businesses are the mainstay of the town and from that when it comes to quality business acumen would have cheap places among them to eat and shop. The picture I have in my mind of a main street and the reality of main street in Park City is quite different. < — Read the rest of this entry — >
On Wednesday night at The Yarrow hotel theater I had the fortunate chance to see a screening of Bellflower, a film apart of the next category at the festival. The film is set in California and tells the story of Woodrow, writer and director of the film Evan Glodell, and Aiden played by Tyler Dawson, best friends heavily influenced by the film Mad Max and regular consumption of alcohol who in their spare time build flame throwers and other weaponized gadgets, in order to be prepared when a global apocalypse occurs, and have their imaginary gang Mother Medusa take over when the proverbial dust settles. < — Read the rest of this entry — >
I am here to apologize and thank you all at the same time. In many ways I wish we met in different conditions or better yet had more days together. Like a great friend you introduced me to great food, people and places to shop. Yet I want to thank you for allowing me to have the days I did have with you, and for providing me with another town that feels like home. I will miss you but you will have provided with the backdrop for some of my greatest memories.