By twhalliii | THE BACK ROW MANIFESTO by Tom Hall January 27, 2008 at 5:01AM
If anything, I'll always think of 2008 as a line in the sand; This was the year that independent, personal cinema surpassed celebrity-driven genre films, hands down and no debate about it.
Home now after an exhilarating 10 days in Park City. I saw movies I loved, some I liked and many that didn't move me, but isn't that what a film festival is supposed to be about? The idea that Sundance should be some homogeneous, quality-controlled monolith is more than a little unfair, I think. I wouldn't trade it for the world; It really is a privilege to spend your days in the dark of the movie theater, and even more so to walk out into the cold, sobering air surrounded by conversations, ideas, debates and passionate discussion of the work on display. For all of the superficiality that burdens Sundance's reputation, the reality of the festival is, like anything else in life, precisely what you make of it. It is easy to simply ignore the swag suites and the celebrity worship and instead spend all of your time in thrall to the movies and the living, breathing community of people who are passionate about them. For me, it is the only way to judge the festival; To look to the screen and leave the bullshit to others.
If anything, I'll always think of 2008 as a line in the sand; This was the year that independent, personal cinema surpassed celebrity-driven genre films, hands down and no debate about it. Forget the Little Miss Sunshine effect; The low-budget, regional independent films were actually much more ambitious, thoughtful and entertaining than most of their big-name toting brethren, and once again, the overall range on display in the non-fiction program dwarfed the more conservative, constrained stories found in the quirky, downbeat fiction program. Sundance faces a bit of introspection now; Having given ground on programming low-budget independent films to festivals like SXSW while courting an almost schizophrenic relationship to celebrity (choosing to feature several celebrity-driven films while constantly decrying the impact of celebrity culture on the festival itself), the festival's programming strategy continues to bring in the money while harboring contradictory impulses. After ten days of distribution deal announcements, each marked by dollar signs and self-congratulatory statements of faith in shopping well done, it's no surprise that the arrival of the festival juries feels a bit like a cavalry charging, trumpets blaring, in order to restore credibility to the proceedings. For one night, the films aren't measured in terms of the number of zeros in their deal memos but instead rewarded for their formal ambition and artistry.
Speaking of which, the awards have just been doled out, and I am happy to see Ballast (my thoughts here) and Man On Wire (my thoughts here) win in multiple categories; Very much deserved, although in my opinion Ballast was easily the best film in entire festival. But hey, maybe that's why I never get jury invitations...
As for me, well, no rest for the weary; I arrived home tonight to find a huge stack of screeners on my desk, all of them needing to be viewed in the next few days. But first, other demands; Time to catch up on some sleep, visions of frozen breath dancing in my head.