I’ve read some overriding impressions of this year’s Sundance, Peter Knegt’s on Sex and Sundance naturally caught my attention immediately. While I agree with his observations and would add that CAA’s party was the cherry on top of it all, I actually think that whatever one’s concerns of the moment are, that subject will be addressed for that person by more than one film at Sundance. After all, the reason sex sells so well is that everyone is concerned with sex just about every minute of the day (according for Freud, that is)
The Wrap cites “a Sundance for bold, kinky subject matter, for lots of sex (onscreen), for indie directors ramping up the excess and melodrama in a way that would have seemed completely out of place back in the days when the phrase ‘a Sundance movie’ usually meant something restrained and naturalistic like ‘Frozen River’ or ‘In the Bedroom’."
Sundance might also be said to be skewed this year toward: Women (on the rise), Violence (by gun, government, war), or, for me personally, reality.
Whether the loss of reality as in Escape from Tomorrow, Crystal Fairy or Magic Magic, or even The World According to Dick Cheney, or God Loves Uganda in which the person’s grasp on reality was lost in the normal course of living, or the thin border between reality and fiction as expressed in the panels on documentaries or “true fiction” or the Sloan Foundation panel on Science and Film, I found that most of what I was watching and hearing was concerned with “reality”. For those who know me, they are aware that my concerns at this time are dealing with the shifting realities of my life. And that is what I found being addressed by the events of Sundance.
I did not see the acquisitions films. I concentrated on World Cinema and mostly Latino and Eastern European cinema, though I was lucky to catch What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love from Indonesia. The reality of the deaf, mute and blind differs from ours though love is the same and is summed up when one person says, “the male loves what he sees and the female loves what she hears”.
I was also lucky to have seen Fruitvale, the winner of so much acclaim. The huge disconnect between reality and fantasy is found in the security guards’ readiness to resort to violence simply by seeing the color of another man’s skin. They were either looking for a fight or were panicked by the number of revelers on the train. Either way it was a tragic ending, redeemed only by the yearly memorial held in Oscar Grant’s honor. God Loves Uganda shows an entire nation deluded by extremists who speak only the deadly evil of homosexuality. I couldn’t stand watching the degradation of a people taking place because of the glib jabber of a white right-wing evangelist purporting to be speaking for G’d. Circles deals with a reality creating events otherwise unimaginable except for their occurring within a context of race hatred and war. Crystal Fairy’s gringo protagonists live in an unreal world inspired by past emotional injuries and only come to reality through the support of compassionate and accepting friends. Magic Magic, Escape from Tomorrow, A Teacher and Houston are about complete breaks from reality by the protagonists. Il Futuro likewise, in the way of Last Tango in Paris, shows how Thanatos’ antithesis Eros create an extreme sexual acting out of grief. In Lasting, winner of the Cinematography Award, reality finally wins out and a wiser love ensues. The doc Who is Dayani Cristal shows a reality we cannot deny as people brave unreal challenges just to aspire to the American Dream. The World According to Dick Cheney shows a man so blind that he cannot think of a single fault in his own character. The havoc he caused to the U.S. as a result was so devastating that I could barely watch the film to its end. No brings the role of media to a happy conclusion, though the media hype itself was based totally in fantasy, as media most often is. I Used to be Darker is the exception as it is deals entirely with reality. Inequality For All was the only dose of realism I received and I was inspired by the film to speak out!
Fifteen films in six days is not too bad, though it doesn’t give me bragging rights to having seen the top winners of awards or acquisitions, except for Fruitvale.
A big change for me was that I attended panels along with attending my traditional Creative Coalition luncheon for inspiring teachers.
The panels also dealt with the thin line between reality and fiction, “true fiction” and documentaries, communication and sharing between science and film.
Science in Film Forum a 10 year collaboration between The Sloan Foundation and the Sundance Film Festival which aims to encourage more realistic and compelling stories about science and technology themes and characters seemed somewhat debilitated by the very issue of how scientists and filmmakers communicate. I will write more on this later, but in terms of reality and unreality, the difference between the delivery of a scientist and an actor (in this case Kate Winslet in Contagion) as they explain the phenomenology of contagion itself is dramatically different. And the questions a filmmaker asks of a scientist will determine how communicative a scientist can be in terms of making a movie more realistic. Frankly speaking, Jon Amiel and screenwriter Scott Burns made more sense to me than the scientists. More on that later as well. In Imitation of Life, the panel with Sarah Polley, Michael Polish, Segio Oksman and others, about how art mirrors life was completely about reality vs. lies, another form of unreality. The best panel was one I caught accidently about the N.Y. Times online Opinion Pages and the shorts on Op-Docs, the best of which is called The Public Square by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, taking place in Times Square where protesters counter an anti-Islamic speech by pastor Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who set fire to the Koran, by singing The Beatles. This is a great new venue for short films. If I were making shorts, I would aim to land here.
In the editors’ own words:
"Since Op-Docs, our forum for short, opinionated documentaries, produced with creative latitude across many subjects, started in November 2011, 46 short films and videos have been published on nytimes.com. Today (December 16), we begin a new Op-Docs feature: Scenes. It will be a platform for very short work — snippets of street life, brief observations and interviews, clips from experimental and artistic nonfiction videos — that follow less traditional documentary narrative conventions. This first Scenes video presents a classic New York moment, recorded last year." — The Editors
The morning of my last at Sundance, I went to the Marriott Headquarters and wrote, saw friends as they passed by...shared the good news of my friend Rigo’s We Are What We Are selling to eOne for six figures for the U.S. and shared his excitement for the future of this film. eOne already had acquired Canada and U.K., South Africa and Australia/ N.Z. too, so this was an affirmation of its sincere approval of the finished product. Since EOne's merger with Alliance, not only is it the largest distributor and international sales agent in Canada, with branches In U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, but it is also the Only Big One. The smaller companies now have the chance to move up to second position since the number one and two companies have merged. I have no doubt that Mr. Victor Loewy, the seller of Alliance, will still hold the position of victor, after all, his wallet is bigger than any and everybody else's. It's funny because eOne, though it seemed to pop up from nowhere (tv), the people running it are the same configuration as always: Patrice Theroux, Patrice Roy, Bryan Gliserman, Patrick Roy, consultant and former Lionsgate founder Jeff Sackman. I love it when I see him, because he has succeeded in this business without ever changing who he is. That in itself merits reward.
This afternoon I met with Gamila Yistra who is in Sundance for the first time, exploring ways to extend and reconfigure The Binger Institute in Amsterdam where we began our professional teaching in its first years. From the idea to the screen, projects and their producers, writers and directors will have extensive workshopping, and the relationships will be lasting ones. As we were leaving the Marriott Headquarters to go to the Planned Parenthood party to meet Caroline Libresco who announced a special women's initiative in Sundance, we ran into Paul Federbush, Director of international for Sundance Institute's Film Program; he told her, to her surprise, that the had a meeting set for the next day.
At the party where Gamila met Caroline, we ran into Mary Jane Skalski who's Two Good Girls is playing here. Others at the Planned Parenthood reception were producer Nermeen Shaikh of Democracynow.org’s whose Daily Independent News Hour with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez is drawing great praise. The event was marked by the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade (January 22, 2013).
“As the nation’s leading women’s health care provider and advocate, Planned Parenthood understands that abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision for a woman to consider, if and when she needs it,” said Cecile Richards, president, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “A woman should have accurate information about all of her options around her pregnancy. To protect her health and the health of her family, a woman must have access to safe, legal abortion without interference from politicians, as protected by the Supreme Court for the last 40 years.”
I took a walk down Main Street and a walk up some stairs and discovered a jewel of a hotel for those with the money to spend. Next time you’re there, check out the Washington School House. It was like stepping into an enchanted history where you could almost imagine living in 1889 when it was built.
As my last act in Sundance, I searched the lost and found for my lost hat (didn’t find it!), and went to the 6:30 press screening of Magic Magic. Stay tuned for my interview with Sebastian Silva about this and his other film, Crystal Fairy, which as my readers know, I liked very much. How did it happen that he got two films into the limited space of Sundance is not a question answered in my interview.
After that I saw the 9:00 screening of Houston, an adult film about a German "headhunter" who is sent from Germany to Houston to recruit the CEO of a large petroleum company for a German based conglomerate. Both films' central concern was the perception of reality, especially across cultural lines.
In conclusion, I would repeat that this year's theme was the nature of reality and its fluid parameters as perceived by various individuals.
The next day I left in the morning to return my car by noon. The road became icy and the planes were unable to take off until 4pm. Lucky for me my plane was scheduled to leave at 9 pm and left on schedule. I had hours to spend at the airport and was lucky in meeting Michele Turnure-Salleo, the Director of Filmmaker 360 of the San Francisco Film Society (http://www.sffs.org/). We have been trying to catch up all year and this was our chance. At the same little table where we set up our computers, we were joined by another Sundance refugee Anecita Agustinez who is a journalist nad producer for www.onnativeground.org a news site dealing with native American issues.
Watch for further blogs on Sundance:
See you in L.A. Or Berlin! Or Guadajara in March!