Film Special: Sundance

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Film Special: Sundance

Film Fusion: a festival blend of cultures and genre-bending storytelling, personal and political. With so many movies and so little time, how to decide what to see? Geralyn has done your homework for you and shares her top 40 picks in four of the nine categories. Also, "New Year's Resolution: To support media that moves us and matters." A review of the Salt Lake Film Center's peak experiences from 2006. Documentary “Spellbound” Sundance rejects/now rock stars debut their second film “Rocket Science,” a dramatic narrative film on Castro originates from France, an Asian and European team retell Mongolian mythology, the Brits revisit our walk on the moon, feature films address issues usually left to human rights activists and a Chinese director looks at blind ambition and cut-throat academia, filmed in Salt Lake City with Meryl Streep as his lead. One look at this line-up and you know Sundance has gone global, and the cross-pollination of ideas, filmmaking teams and co-production partners is breathtaking.

Citing what he defines as “a new maturity” in the indie movement, a more complex way of looking at the world and a bracing fusion of the personal and the political in much of the work, Sundance Film Festival director Geoffrey Gilmore says that selecting the 64 entries in four competition categories for the 2007 fest was more difficult than ever. There were close to 4,000 entries for 123 film slots — 850 entries for the 16 documentary slots alone.

“We’ve always been about discovering new filmmakers, the diversity of filmmakers, from racial and ethnic groups that are not traditionally part of the mainstream. But this year, there’s the sense that you’re really looking at new work, ” says Gilmore. Assessing the lineup strictly on the basis of subject matter, quite a few films deal with historical and/or political issues, beginning with Brett Morgen’s multiformat “Chicago 10,” which plays opening night. The lineup includes unapologetic political explorations of Central and South America and Africa. Filmmakers with documentary backgrounds made a number of dramatic features. Others, such as Tamara Jenkins, Tommy O’Haver and Jessica Yu, says Gilmore, “are making a completely different impression of who they are as filmmakers with films you’d never expect from them.”

Programmers found the works complicated, not all on point or predictable. “We’ve got antiwar films not from the left, but from the middle,” advised Gilmore. “We’ve got influences that are global, from Africa and Asia, that to an extent have left Europe behind. Four films deal with the process of writing and the authorial voice. Quite a few second-time filmmakers have come back with work that’s really original. There are films in this festival that have two languages in them, or are in foreign or native languages, that are not foreign films. They don’t worry about it. They just do it.”

As in most other years, some performers will have multiple films at Sundance 2007, but there are no films with Patricia Clarkson. This year, Vera Farmiga, who stunned audiences with her lead in Debra Granik’s 2004 Sundance Award-winning “Down to the Bone,” will appear in two films, “Never Forever” and “Joshua.” Also appearing in “Joshua” is another Sundance alum, Sam Rockwell, who also plays in David Gordon Green’s “Snow Angels.”

Sundance has long been a screening location for actor-director-producer Griffin Dunne. Dunne has appeared in film since the early 80s. At Sundance 2007, Dunne will star in “Snow Angels” and “Broken English,” directed and written by Zoe Cassavetes, daughter of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. The film is a comedy also featuring Rowlands and Parker Posey.

Sundance producing veteran, Ted Hope has “The Savages” premiering and Hal Hartley’s “Fay Grim” in the Spectrum category. Rory Kennedy is back with “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” including a second round of photos and the stories behind them that will shock and shame us as much as the torture they document. Judith Helfand, the Bella Azbug of personal political documentaries, is back with “Everything’s Cool,” a film on global warming that premiered for the US Conference of Mayors at Sundance Resort last fall. A Danish filmmaker documents an Afghani woman’s unlikely election to parliament in “Enemies of Happiness,” and the Bolivian film “Cocalero” follows the campaign of Aymaran Indian Evo Morales to become the first president of Bolivia from an indigenous tribe. Dakota Fanning stars in “Hound Dog,” a film that tackles sexual abuse and includes a controversial child rape scene; the child finds escape and solace in the music and revolution of Elvis.

“The Last Mimzy,” “The Year of the Dog,” “Resurrecting the Champ” and Salt Lake opener “Away From Her” look endearing and sentimental, words not often used when describing Sundance programming. All four have PG or PG-13 ratings.

Here are the films I will be standing in line for. If you live in Salt Lake City, make sure you visit the Rose to experience the razzle-dazzle of Eccles style premieres without the fuss and muss of Park City. This beautiful venue programs two films a night. Last year, despite the sold-out signs in the ticket office the theatre averaged 70% occupancy; all but two screenings seated everyone standing in the waitlist line. I’ll review films in four of the nine Sundance categories: Premieres, Spectrum, American dramatic and documentary, and world dramatic and documentary. These are my top 40 — Happy Sundancing!

OPENING NIGHT PARK CITY

“Chicago 10” explores the build-up to and aftermath of the antiwar demonstrations staged during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, during which protesters clashed with the Chicago Police Department and the National Guard. Following the protest, eight of the most vocal activists were held accountable for the violence and brought to trial in 1969. The defendants represented a broad cross-section of the anti-war movement, from counter-culture icons Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin to renowned pacifist David Dellinger. Seven of the defendants were represented by Leonard Wineglass and famed liberal attorney William Kunstler, while the eighth defendant, Bobby Seale, co-chair of the Black Panther Party, attempted to defend himself. Judge Julius Hoffman presided over the trial. The film presents this moment in American history through a mix of bold and original animation and extraordinary archival footage that allows the film to move back and forth between the protests on the streets of Chicago and the resulting courtroom chaos. Set to the music of revolution, then and now, “Chicago 10” tells a story of young Americans speaking out and taking a stand in the face of an oppressive, armed government. “Chicago 10,” produced by Graydon  Carter (“Vanity Fair”), is director Brett Morgen’s third Sundance film; the critically acclaimed “The Kid Stays in the Picture” premiered in 2002 and his Academy Award-nominated “On the Ropes” premiered in 1999.

OPENING NIGHT

SALT LAKE CITY

Canadian actress Sarah Polley makes her feature directing debut with “Away From Her,” an adaptation of Alice Munro’s short story “A Bear Came Over the Mountain.” Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona (Julie Christie) have been married for decades. They have been through rough patches, but their lives are inextricably connected and their relationship seems idyllic: they share a private language and obvious affection for one another. Now retired, they live comfortably in a house in the country, but their contentment is permanently disrupted when Fiona’s memory starts to deteriorate. Determined not to saddle Grant with her declining health, she insists upon going to a rest home, which only tears Grant apart. He feels guilty about decades-old behavior, and his state is worsened by the rules of Fiona’s new residence, which demand that he not communicate or visit with her for a lengthy time. The rest of the cast — including Wendy Crewson, Kristen Thompson, Michael Murphy and Olympia Dukakis — is stellar. Dealing with the slippery divisions between memory and forgetting, guilt and freedom, “Away from Her” has even more to do with compassion, empathy and enduring love — a heartbreakingly lovely and memorable cinematic experience. Rated PG

PREMIERES

“Year of the Dog”

Mike White (“School of Rock”) directs this comedy about the changes in a secretary’s life when her dog dies, starring Molly Shannon and Laura Dern. PG-13

“Resurrecting the Champ”

Samuel Jackson , Alan Alda and Josh Hartnett star in this Rod Lurie (“The Last Castle”) film about a sports writer’s rescue of a homeless man who turns out to be a boxing legend. Based on a true story. PG-13

“Waitress”

Adrienne Shelly wrote and directed this film just before she was allegedly murdered. Keri Russell stars as a pregnant, unhappily married waitress in the South.

“Trade”

Marco Kreuzpaintner directs this film about Adriana, a13-year-old girl kidnapped by sex traffickers in Mexico. The film features Kevin Kline as Ray,  a Texas cop who befriends her grieving 17-year-old brother Jorge. From the barrios of Mexico City and the treacherous Rio Grande border to a secret Internet sex slave auction and the final climactic confrontation at a stash house in suburban New Jersey, Ray and Jorge forge a close bond as they give desperate chase to Adriana’s kidnappers before she is sold and disappears forever into this brutal global underworld, a place from which few victims ever return.

“Hound Dog”

This film, starring Dakota Fanning, takes place in the deep South. A precocious young girl finds safe haven in the music of Elvis Presley. Fanning takes on the loaded subject of sexual abuse with controversial scenes that caused an Internet ethics debate over child actress standards. Directed by Deborah Kampmeier.

“The Savages”

(USA; Tamara Jenkins, director and screenwriter) A sister and brother face the realities of familial responsibility as they begin to care for their ailing father and in doing so discover certain truths about themselves and each other. Produced by Ted Hope.

“The Last Mimzy”

(USA; Bob Shaye, director; screenplay by Joel Rubin and Toby Emmerich; screen story by James V. Hart and Carol Skilken) Based on the acclaimed sci-fi short story by Lewis Padgett, “The Last Mimzy” centers on two children who discover a mysterious box containing some strange devices they think are toys.

“The Ten”

(USA; Michael Wain, director and screenwriter) Ten stories, each inspired by one of the 10 commandments. An irreverent comedy starring Winona Ryder.

SPECTRUM

“Dark Matter”

(USA;  Chen Shi-Zheng, director; Billy Shebar, screenwriter) Inspired by real events, “Dark Matter” delves into the world of a brilliant Chinese astronomy student whose dreams are challenged when he arrives in America to pursue his PhD. World Premiere; filmed in Salt Lake City.

“Dedication”

(USA; Justin Theroux, director; David Bromberg, screenwriter) A socially dysfunctional children’s book author is forced to work closely with a female illustrator when he loses his long-time collaborator and only friend. World Premiere.

“Delirious”

(USA;  Tom DiCillo, director and screenwriter) A small time paparazzo befriends and hires a homeless young man who flirts with fame and fortune when he becomes entangled with a famous pop star. North American Premiere.

“The Devil Came on Horseback”

(USA; Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, directors)—”The Devil Came on Horseback” exposes the genocide raging in Darfur, Sudan, as seen through the eyes of a former U.S. marine who returns home to make the story public. World Premiere.

“Expired”

(USA; Cecilia Miniucchi, director and screenwriter) When a lonely, gentle meter maid meets a troubled fellow parking officer, their love affair becomes an awkward dance of attraction and antagonism. World Premiere.

“Fay Grim”

(USA; Hal Hartley, director adn screenwriter) A single mother whose husband has been missing for seven years is used as bait by the CIA in this international espionage caper. U.S. Premiere.

“Interview”

(USA; Steve Buscemi, director; Steve Buscemi and David Schechter, screenwriters) A fading political journalist has a falling out with his editor and is given an assignment to interview a top television actress, which derails into a battle of wits and deep, dark secrets. World Premiere.

“Low and Behold”

(USA; Zack Godshall, director;  Zack Godshall and Barlow Jacobs, screenwriters) When an unmotivated young man signs on as an insurance adjuster in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, he is profoundly changed by the destruction and loss he encounters. World Premiere.

“La Misma Luna

(The Same Moon)”

(USA; Patricia Riggen, director; Ligiah Villalobos, screenwriter) When his grandmother dies, a young Mexican boy struggles to cross the border to reunite with his beloved mother, who is working hard in Los Angeles to create a better life for the family. World Premiere.

DRAMATIC

COMPETITION

“Broken English”

(Zoe Cassavetes, director and writer) In this romantic yarn, a 30-something woman (Parker Posey) embarks upon a relationship with an offbeat Frenchman while her friends are preoccupied with family life. Also with Melvil Poupaud, Drea de Matteo, Gena Rowlands, Justin Theroux, Peter Bogdanovich, Tim Guinee, James McCaffrey, Josh Hamilton and Bernadette Lafont.

“Four Sheets to the Wind”

(Sterlin Harjo, director and writer) This debut feature from the Sundance Lab is a comedy/drama about a Native American brother and sister who, after their father dies, embark upon a new life in Tulsa. With Cody Lightning and Jeri Arre-dondo.

“Grace Is Gone”

(James C. Strouse, director and writer) Strouse’s first dramatic feature is a topical story about the three days it takes for a father (John Cusack) to summon the courage to tell his young daughters that their mother has been killed in Iraq. Alessandro Nivola, Shelan O’Keefe and Gracie Bednarczyk fill out the cast.

“The Pool”

(Chris Smith, director; Chris Smith and Randy Russell, writers) This class study acted in Hindi and filmed in Goa, India, is about a young hotel worker’s fixation on a swimming pool and the family that comes to occupy the house it adjoins. Nana Patekar, Venkatesh Chavan, Jhangir Badshah and Ayahs Mohan star.

“Rocket Science”

(Jeffrey Blitz (“Spellbound”), director) An HBO-produced story, this film is about a 15-year-old stutterer from New Jersey who is drawn into the intense world of competitive debate when he falls for the star of the debate team.

“Snow Angels”

David Gordon Green (“George Washington”), director; Stewart O’Nan, writer) A dark tale about a teenager, his former babysitter, her estranged husband and their daughter. Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale, Griffin Dunne and Amy Sedaris star.

“Starting Out in the Evening

(Andrew Wagner (“The Talent Given Us”), director; AndrewWagner and Fred Parnes, writers) A grad student convinces an aging, solitary writer (Frank Langella) that her thesis will put him back in the literary spotlight. Lili Taylor, Lauren Ambrose and Adrian Lester co-star.

DOCUMENTARY

COMPETITION

“Crazy Love”

(Dan Klores,director) The troubling true story of an obsessive relationship between a married man and a beautiful, single 20-year-old woman that started in 1957 and continues. This year’s “Capturing the Friedmans,” it has to be seen to be believed and even then you are not sure what to believe.

“Everything’s Cool”

(Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold, directors) This film follows the struggles of global warming activists to find the right ways to move from advocacy to public action on behalf of alternative energy.

“For the Bible Tells Me So”

(Daniel Karslake, director) A look at five conservative Christian families as a way of analyzing how the religious right has tried to use the Bible to stigmatize gays.

“Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”

(Rory Kennedy,director) Firsthand testimony and shocking photography examine the abuses at the Iraq prison and provide psychological profiles of some of the perputrators and military interrogation protocol.

“My Kid Could Paint That”

(Amir Bar-Lev,director) A 4-year-old girl’s paintings have been compared to the work of Kandinsky, Pollock and Picasso and have already netted her parents $300,000. Is it art or hype, a child genius or greedy parents?

“Nanking”

(Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, directors) This film examines the “Rape of Nanking” by the Japanese in the 1930s, with attention to the special efforts of a small group of westerners who saved more than 250,000 people in the midst of the violence.

“No End in Sight”

(Chris Ferguson, director) Directed by a former Brookings Institute advisor, this film examines how forces from the United States and a handful of allied nations invaded Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and  includes interviews with a number of figures involved in the conflict’s decision-making process, some speaking on camera about the war for the first time.

“War Dance”

(Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, directors) Three young Ugandan girls and their refugee camp school travel to compete in a national music and dance festival. During this civil war in Uganda, over 30,000 children have been abducted by a rebel army and two million Acholis have been displaced into IDP camps, and most people have no idea that this is going on.

“White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”

(Steven Okazaki, director) This film looks at the human cost of atomic warfare through the memories of survivors.

WORLD CINEMA

DRAMATIC COMPETITION

“Blame It on Fidel”

(France;  Julie Gavras, writer and director) The parents of a nine-year-old girl become political radicals in early ‘70s Paris. From the child’s point of view, the film explores where our political conscious and personal ideologies come from with great humor.

“Erza”

(France; Newton I. Aduaka, director; Aduaka and Alain-Michel Blanc, writers) A former child soldier attempts to carve out a normal life after the civil war in Sierra Leone. World Premiere.

“How She Move?”

(Canada; Ian Iqbal Rashid, director; Annmarie Morais, writer) The tale of a private school student forced to return to her former crime-ridden neighborhood, where she takes up competitive step dancing. World Premiere.

“Once”

(Ireland; John Carney, director and screenwriter) “Once” is a modern-day musical set on the streets of Dublin. Featuring Glen Hansard and his Irish band The Frames, “Once” tells the story of a busker and an immigrant during an eventful week as they write, rehearse and record songs that reveal their unique love story. North American Premiere.

“Eagle vs. Shark”

(New Zealand; Sundance Directors and Screenwriters Lab) A wry and comic tale of two awkward misfits, Lily and Jarrod, searching for acceptance, the film stars New Zealanders Loren Horsley as Lily and Jemaine Clement as Jarrod. Horsley also developed the character while collaborating with Waititi on the script. Ainsley Gardiner and Cliff Curtis of Whenua Films are producers.

“Noise”

(Australia; Matthew Saville, director adn writer) “Noise” follows the struggles of a young cop who suffers from tinnitus, or ear-ringing, to clear his head of the screaming he hears in the wake of a mass murder on a train. World Premiere.

“Sweet Mud”

(Israel; Dror Shaul, writer and director) An account of a man who must deal with his mother’s mental illness within the constraints of 70s kibbutz life. This year’s Academy nomination for best foreign film.

WORLD CINEMA

DOCUMENTARY

COMPETITION

“Khadak—The Color of Water”

(Belgium/Germany; Peter Brosens, Jessica Hope Woodworth, directors) An ancient fable played out in contemporary time in the frozen steppes of Mongolia, Khadak tells the epic story of Bagi, a young nomad confronted with his destiny to become a shaman. A plague strikes the animals and the nomads are forcibly relocated to desolate mining towns. Bagi saves the life of a beautiful coal thief, Zolzaya, and together they reveal the plague was a lie fabricated to eradicate nomadism. A sublime revolution ensues.

“Bajo Juarez, the City

Devouring Its Daughters”

(Mexico; Alejandra Sanchez, director) This film examines the societal corruption behind the many cases of sexual abuse and murders of women in a Mexican industrial border town.

“Cocalero”

(Bolivia;Alejandro Landes,director) “Cocalero” follows the campaign of Ay-maran Indian Evo Morales to become the first president of Bolivia from an indigenous tribe. World Premiere.”

“Enemies of Happiness”

(Denmark; Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem, directors) An account of the victory of a 28-year-old Afghan woman in the 2005 parliamentary election.

“Hot House”

(Israel;  Shimon Dotan, director) An Isreali version of “Road to Guantanamo” examines how Israeli prisons have become a breeding ground for future Palestinian leaders and terrorists and asks us to examine how the United States and Israel, arguably two of the most important democracies in the world, have become the most controversial in military interrogation and detention.

“In The Shadow of the Moon”

(UK: David Sington, director) One of the defining passages of American history, the Apollo Space Program literally brought the aspirations of a nation to another world. Awe-inspiring footage and candid interviews with the astronauts who visited the moon provide an unparalleled perspective on the precious state of our planet.

“Manufactured Landscapes”

(Canada;Jennifer Baichwal, director) An examination of the work of photographer Edward Burtynsky and his portraits of the landscape transformation due to industry and manufacturing. Not since Sebastiao Salgado’s “Workers” have we had the chance to examine industry and growth with such visual scale. Winner of Best Canadian Film Toronto Film Festival.

“On a Tightrope”

(Norway/Canada; Petr Lom, director) Four orphans learning tightrope walking express the struggle of the Uighur Chinese Muslim minority to reconcile religion and communism.

“Welcome Europa”

(France; Bruno Ulmer, director) The struggles of Kurdish, Moroccan and Romanian immigrants and the racism they face in Europe. This film can help Americans see our own border issues as we build fences that have become walls.

 
 
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