With only little over a week to go until Sundance kicks off and makes its annual case for the state of American cinema, I have been looking high and low for a comprehensive preview of the festival, and I’m having a hard time finding buzz, news, and overall build-up for this year’s event. I don’t think this has very much to do with the films in selection, but more to do with that deep, long breath everyone seems to need after all the Top 10 lists and summarizing of the previous year and just before award and festival season kicks in, full steam ahead. Well, I for one am excited to get to Park City. I haven’t been in two years; I miss dinners at The Grub Steak, cocktails up and down Main Street, but mostly, the five-film-a-day routine that always occupies my ten day trip to Park City. This year, I signed up for an Adrenaline pass (which includes all screenings before 10:00am and after 10:00pm) and am sharing tickets with my colleagues from the Sarasota Film Festival. Despite some technical hiccups on the website, I got tickets for pretty much everything I wanted to see (which is a lot). I also plan on hitting up Slamdance for some films, and with my screening and event schedule, a LOT of naps.
So, as I sleep and take lots of Emergen-C and Airborne in preparation for my return to the snow (oh, how quickly we forget), The Back Row Manifesto presents our Park City Preview, a small (and by no means comprehensive) list of movies to which I am really looking forward.
This is the music I love. As a tween/teen from 1982-1989, I avoided my mom's neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand records, and raised myself on American Hardcore. Most of the bands showcased in this film are the ones whose records drove me to spend most of 1984-1987 digging through piles of vinyl at Wyatt Earp records in Flint. These are the artists who had me hanging upside down from my the edge of my bed, reading liner notes and rocking out, full blast in my bedroom. These are the bands I headed down to the local union hall to see perform. One of the more problematic issues surrounding films of this type are the omissions (I am pretty sure Minneapolis will once again get the gloss over, and any hardcore story that omits Hüsker Dü can never be complete), but this almost always comes down to who will participate in the film. Still, 98 minutes of Bad Brains, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, D.O.A. (ha!) and the like can only bring a smile to my face. How low can a punk get?
A Skinny Little Henry Rollins gets some air as frontman for Black Flag (circa 1981): Photo from Paul Rachman and Steven Blush's American Hardcore
Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon
Peter Richardson’s documentary about the tenuous relationship between a school system and the logging community it serves is an open-minded report from the front lines of the culture wars. The drama surrounds a scholarship, originally created to be given in perpetuity, and how changes in the local community (and personal hard feelings masquerading as ideology) might possibly bring an end to the philanthropy. The film is a tragedy, and very well made. I hope it finds an audience in Park City.
Director Ryan Fleck and his producer Anna Boden, my (former?) neighbors in Park Slope, have made a few really great films already (Young Rebels was a terrific documentary about hip hop in Cuba, and the Sundance winning short Gowanus, Brooklyn was also outstanding) and Half Nelson looks to be another. The film appears to be based on Gowanus, Brooklyn, but that is no surprise; that film seemed ripe for a feature length treatment from the get-go. Interested to see where they take it.
This film looks like a lot of fun, and also signals the first post-Weinstein Miramax film that I will get to see. I am excited to see it and frankly, I just like watching Chiwetel Ejiofor because I think he is a great actor and he always has my empathy (plus, I think he sings in this one). What can I say, there are some actors to whom you just relate. Looking forward to it.
A Lion In The House
I programmed Steve Bognar’s fictional short Gravel at Nantucket a couple of years ago, and I have really admired his work since getting acquainted with it. Plus he's from J's hometown of Dayton, OH, so I am interested in supporting a midwestern filmmaker as well. Compared with what I have seen of Bognar's work, A Lion In The House looks to be another beast altogether; a documentary about children undergoing cancer treatment that, at almost four hours, promises to put my gut and heart through the ringer. Whenever I see documentaries of epic length, from the excellent Love and Diane to the awesome Into Great Silence (which is also at Sundance), I always walk in wondering how the filmmaker will approach their subjects; will it be ‘direct cinema’ or ‘verité’? By the time I leave, it usually never matters. I am very interested to see how Steve and his co-director Julia Reichert tell this seemingly harrowing story.
Off The Black
Another rising filmmaker whose short film (Junebug and Hurricane) we had the pleasure to program at Nantucket, I really like James Ponsoldt’s filmmaking style. This story, featuring Nick Nolte in the lead role, seems to be a solid, interesting story about masculinity with which I think James can do a nice job. This year’s program seems full of first time feature film directors, so I am really excited to see how this year’s class delivers on their own unique visions, but I know this film will be quality.
Another film that, without having seen it already, interests me because of my youth. Having been raised in Flint, MI, I am always on the lookout for interesting films about the Midwest and about manufacturing. One of my favorite films of the past however many years is Laurent Cantet’s Human Resources, which I think was the perfect distillation of the generational crisis at play in the troubling shift away from manufacturing in first world societies. Something about Steel City’s description grabs me the same way; I hope it delivers the same feeling I had when I discovered Laurent Cantet. Too much to ask? We’ll see.
‘Tis Autumn—The Search For Jackie Paris
This one is interesting to me; I have heard Jackie Paris sing on a couple of records, and that in and of itself is enough to make me want to find out more about him. The story of a supremely talented person who never quite makes it is one I think a lot of people can relate to, if only because we have our own unrealized dreams. Plus, I love standards and old vocal jazz, so I think this could be a compelling and entertaining story.
I remember seeing Steven Cantor’s Blood Ties and being stunned by Sally Mann’s gorgeous photographs of her own (sometimes nude) children. I have never understood the puritanical denial of the human body’s normalcy, but the controversy surrounding Mann’s photographs could do nothing to undermine their absolute power as photographed images. What Remains looks like it catches up with Mann and shows us more of her fascinating creative process. I am very interested to see how she works and what her pictures look like now.
Naptime, 1989 by Sally Mann
Wild Tigers I Have Known
Of all the movies on this list, Cam Archer’s Wild Tigers I Have Known is probably the one film I expect to blow people away at this year’s festival. Another filmmaker whose short film Bobby Crush knocked me out, I am going to go on a limb and say that Cam Archer is this year’s surprise hit, ala Jonathan Caouette and Tarnation in 2004. Archer's films are all about tone, texture, and emotion, and this story of an affair between a cross dressing teen full of unrequited desire and the object of his affection seems to be a twist on Bobby Crush… just check out that website, and be sure to watch the music video in the Multimedia section (someone’s been listening to old Cat Power records)… It already has a soundtrack album!!! Any bets on this one? Gonna be good.
Wrestling With Angels
I don’t care what you think of his plays (and I love them) or his script for Munich (I enjoyed that, too), but Tony Kushner is one of the most ferociously intelligent people alive. I could listen to him read the phone book and never get bored. Once, my sister drove from her college dorm in Kalamazoo, MI to Ann Arbor to hear Tony speak; she was a theater student and knew she could absorb whatever he had to say into her own creative work. What she got was a two-hour lecture on socialism, art, and political responsibility. That alone made me fall in love with him as a writer; but having seen and read Angels In America and seeing Linda Emond in Homebody, Kabul was enough to cement his greatness in my mind. Years from now, people will look back on his work (and, I believe, Stephen Sondheim’s work as well) and wonder how he wasn’t the most important man in America. I am really looking forward to seeing more of his life in this film, and to seeing some of the dramatic recreations of his work, especially Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall be Unhappy, which I tragically missed when it was performed in NYC, but which remains pretty much the last word on the moral responsibility of American complacency in the age of terror.
Park City, here I come...