Sunday, January 27, 2008

Day 10 - Festival Awards

Several festival film catagories are judged and the winners are announced on the last day. Most of Sunday's screening times are dedicated to showing the winners. They are also shown on Monday night to locals for free. There are two types of awards, those awarded by a jury and those awarded by the audience. I checked the website and here are this year's big winners:

Grand Jury Prize (USA)
Documentary: Trouble the Water
Dramatic: Frozen River *

Grand Jury Prize (World Cinema)
Documentary: Man on Wire
Dramatic: The King of Ping Pong

Audience Awards (USA)
Documentary: Fields of Fuel
Dramatic: The Wackness *

Audience Awards (World Cinema)
Documentary: Man on Wire
Dramatic: Captain Abu Raed

* Films we saw and therefore are described earlier on my blog.

There are also awards for best directing, editing screenwriting, cinematography, etc. To see the full list of winners, visit www.sundance.org/festival. While you are there check out the videos under "All Video" -- especially 10 Days of Different. In a few minutes, it really captures the flavor and spirit of the event. Also, if you click on the "Live @ Sundance" button, there are lots of Q & A recaps with directors and casts.

Here's a fun photo to leave you with -- "what not to wear at Sundance." If you watch the video, you will see lots of parkas, beanies, turtlenecks, etc. Amazingly, this is the only person I saw wearing a white eyelet bustier with little yellow daisies on it. I realize she looks bored in this picture. My theory is it's a cover for how hard she is trying to suppress those goosebumps.

Coming up, tales of my difficulty transitioning from days filled with make-believe to days filled with volunteer projects, dog walking, grocery shopping, etc. Also, Portland's International Film Festival Starts in less than two weeks, maybe we can take in a few movies there and share the experience.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I'm Pooped

I got in very late last night and spent the whole day catching-up with my kids and working on all the things I put on hold for a week. I did find time to add some pictures to the blog (starting with Day 1). Now that all is said and done, I would rank the films I saw (excluding the Shorts Program) in this order of preference:

  1. Smart People
  2. The Last Word
  3. Diminished Capacity
  4. Sunshine Cleaning
  5. The Wackness
  6. Young@Heart
  7. Pretty Bird
  8. Good Dick
  9. Be Kind Rewind
  10. Frozen River
  11. Sling Shot Hip Hop
  12. Ballast
  13. Choke
  14. Anywhere, U.S.A.
  15. Death in Love
  16. A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy
Other films that we heard good things about were:

Anvil! The True Story of Anvil
STRANDED: I've Come From a Plane That Crashed in the Mountains
The Deal
U2 3D
What Just Happened
The Great Buck Howard
The Guitar

Jois and I have made a pact to try to see at least 6 more of this year's Sundance films before year's end. I'll keep you posted on that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Day 6 - We're Done!

Saw two good movies today and had a lovely lunch in between at Windy Ridge. Jenn is no longer throwing up, but stayed home today to rest. Right now I'm supposed to be packing-up to head to the airport. Since we arrive in Portland really late, I thought I would steal a few minutes to post the movie reviews.

Pretty Bird

This movie starred Billy Crudup as a wanna-be entrepreneur, who convinces his best friend to invest in a personal jet pack start-up business. He finds an out-of-work (and very bitter) aerospace engineer (played by Paul Giamotti) to help them. As with many shady business deals, the holes in this one start to show up and sh_t happens. It boils down to a story about three men coming from very different places and finding themselves working together.

The director was there to answer questions and he was this funny, hyper, articulate guy. (It's not too clear, but that's his photo to the right.) It was definitely the most entertaining Q & A session we have had with only one person at the mic. For example, when describing the process of writing the story and developing the characters, he said: "It really flowed, I just pooped it out onto the Mac." It almost helped me to get over the fact the the amazingly beautiful Billy Crudup wasn't there. Oh well, I got to look at him for 2 hours on the big screen prior to that.

The Wackness

This crazy movie was about the unlikely relationship that develops between an 18-year-old, drug dealer (played by Josh Peck of Nickelodeon fame) and his pot-smoking psychiatrist (played by Ben Kingsley.) It takes place in New York in 1994 and the plot develops around the fact that Josh's character falls in love with the psychiatrist's stepdaughter (played by Olivia Thirlby.) Mary Kate Olsen (who everyone has been buzzing about up here) has about a 7-minute role and Jane Adams (one of my favorite lesser-known actresses) also has a small role.

First of all, casting Ghandi as the psychiatrist and Josh from Drake and Josh as the drug dealer is just crazy, but somehow it works. Kingsley and Peck both give great performances. It was somewhat disheartening to me to see 1994 treated as ancient history, but then I saw the director -- turns out he was graduating high school around that time. If you are not offended by a lot of pot smoking and other drug/alcohol use, this is a tight story, with great actors and a fabulous soundtrack.

Tomorrow I hope to post a bunch of photos and I have some final thoughts about "how to Sundance," movie theater etiquette and what not to wear.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Day 5 - 2008 "The Stinkers"


The day started well. The storm that was predicted never materialized and we woke to a beautiful setting moon right outside our window. Things went downhill from there, Jenn got violently ill (throwing up from 2:30AM-4:30PM) so didn't join us for any movies. It's a good thing too. They stunk! I guess it had to happen eventually, but we don't usually get all the bad movies on the same day.
I do not recommend any of these for various reasons, but here's a brief recap so you can decide for yourself:

Choke

Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk (a part-time Portland Resident who also wrote Fight Club) this is the story of a sex addict who works for a Colonial Theme Park and is caring for his senile mother. Now there's a fun premise for a movie! It stars Sam Rockwell, Angelica Houston and Brad Henke. Angelica Houston, always a great performer, doesn't disappoint. While there are a few plot twists, the story really lacks substance and the sex addict stuff gets old fast. Palahniuk's web site says the movie was bought early this morning by Searchlight Pictures so, if it seems like your cup of tea, it should be in theaters eventually. I'm sure it will come to Portland because the author has a big fan base there.

It was fun having the director, Brad Henke and Chuck Palahniuk there to answer questions. Palahniuk collaborated very heavily on the film, so it is pretty true to the book. I should have taken a picture of him though. He had this great 1950's Stephen Douglas (of My Three Sons) look going that I thought was really cool (all he was missing was the pipe.)

Anywhere, USA

"Anywhere" is actually Asheville, North Carolina and this is a very regional and personal flick. So personal, that I can't imagine it finding a wide audience. Told in three parts, "Penance," "Loss" and" Ignorance"; using a cast of first-time actors from the Asheville-area; and termed autobiographical by the director -- this is a very unconventional movie.

The three parts are more like three short stories. The first is about a redneck (it's OK, they call themselves that) relationship gone awry. The second is about a girl and her uncle trying to cope with life's realities. And the third is about prejudice in the suburbs. There are frequent references to moustaches, pistachios and the tooth fairy (your guess is as good as mine.) It does have some funny moments. Our favorite line was: "Being in love is like having a whole pile of dumb ass dumped on top of you." And the director's daughter who plays the young girl in the second story was terrific!

Death in Love

I don't even know how to write about this graphic, disturbing and tortured film. Jois and I are so bummed that it was our last movie of the day, because it will be hard to clear our heads of some of the images and themes in this movie in order to go to sleep.

The director wanted to explore how the baggage of parents (even from things that happened before their kids were born) trickles down into their childrens' lives. That's all fine and well, but he used the Holocaust as the past event that is still affecting the family. I don't know about you, but I feel the Holocaust is a little bigger than the typical "baggage". The flashback holocaust images were gruesome, the contemporary characters were so messed up it was hard to root for any of them, there were numerous sex and masturbation scenes, and not one moment of levity. As one guy we talked to on the way out sarcastically put it: "The perfect date movie."

It starred Jacqueline Bisset, Josh Lucas, Lukas Haas and Adam Brody. They were all there, but most of the questions were for the director, so they didn't get much chance to speak. There were also three female actors who had been nude and/or in compromising positions throughout the movie. How they get up there and talk to an audience who just saw them having sex on an enormous screen is beyond me!

Tomorrow is our last day. If Jenn's out of commission again tomorrow, she will have to work on Thursday. So, we sold our Thursday tickets and I'm flying home with Jois late tomorrow night. We are seeing two movies tomorrow -- let's hope we end on a better note than we did today.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Day 4 - 2008

Eccles Theater this morning in the snow.

Whew! That's more like it. Back to three movies, with a break from 2:00-6:00 where we went to our favorite sit-down restaurant, Windy Ridge. You know you are on vacation when you have a glass of wine with lunch -- even if it is a chintzy Utah pour. Plus, to make matters worse, we haven't been able to buy any wine to take home for two days because yesterday was Sunday and today was a holiday. And people wonder why I go through the hassle of packing wine when I go to Utah! OK, I'm not here for the booze and enough Utah bashing ... Here's my movie recap:

The Last Word
If you get a chance, see this movie! It stars Wes Bentley, Winona Rider and Ray Romano. It's the story of a man who lives a very solitary life and earns his living writing people's suicide notes. The story evolves when he lets some people get close to him. While suicide is an unlikely topic for a comedy, this film is loaded with laughs and never crosses the line between comedy and good taste.

Ray Romano and a twelve-year-old girl who has a small part were the only cast members there, but the Q & A was great. Romano and the Director, Geoff Haley, (of American Beauty and Six Feet Under fame) practically had a stand-up comedy routine going.

Ballast
Ballast is an independent film in every sense of the word: new director, a cast of first-time film actors, shot on location, simple story line, etc. This director wanted to capture the sorrowful, bleak feel of the Mississippi Delta in winter. In casting it, he scoured community centers and churches in the area to find local actors. It has no soundtrack and long lonely shots of the area. The story follows several characters who are trying to find themselves after the suicide of a family-member. (Have you noticed there are a lot of films with a suicide theme in this year's festival?)

The story is as sorrowful as the setting, making it a difficult movie to watch. I also had trouble with the fact that it was all shot with a hand-held camera. The jumpy footage was very distracting for me, especially since we were sitting in the third row. In general, the rawness of the film probably will preclude it from any extensive release, so I think it will be tough to find after this ... and that's OK.

Diminished Capacity
I loved this movie, but I felt a little guilty seeing it without my husband because it takes place in Missouri (his old stomping ground) and is full of baseball references. (I called him after it and promised to see it again with him.) It's about a young man (Matthew Broderick) who suffers a head injury and is experiencing short term memory loss. He is asked to look in on his aging uncle (Alan Alda) who is starting to show signs of senility. During the visit, his uncle shows him a rare baseball card that they decide to sell at a card show in Chicago.

If you are a baseball fan from the Midwest, you will love the references to Cardinal fans vs. Cubs fans. If you know of someone who is getting senile, you will appreciate Alan Alda's performance. If you enjoy a heartwarming story, world class acting and smart comedy, this is the movie for you. It now holds the position for best film I have seen so far.

Many of the cast (Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Louis C.K. and Virginia Madsen were there), so the Q & A was terrific. I have great photos, but I'm still having trouble loading them. Stay tuned.

These two sat next to us during the screening of Diminished Capacity. He is one of the writers and he and his wife both have small parts in the film. The woman next to him (not his wife) plays the neurosurgeon in the film. It was fun chatting with them before the show.

My big accomplishment today was to approach Geoffrey Gilmore (the Director of the Sundance Film Festival) and, rather than ask him for a job like I wanted to, I thanked him for all his hard work, told him we were thrilled with the films we were seeing and commended him for not looking completely exhausted. He was nice about it as he inched slowly away from me -- I think he's more tired than he looks.

Tomorrow we have to be up by 6:30 AM to make an 8:30 movie, so it's bed time for me!






Sunday, January 20, 2008

Day 3 - 2008: Four Movies, No Breaks



Here we are waiting in line to go into the theater for our second movie of the day. We weren't nearly this happy or energetic by the end of the day. Sitting for a large percentage of the day and subsisting on granola bars and coffee is not exactly a healthy lifestyle. We saw some excellent movies, but (Jenn and I in particular) decided three movies in one day is our limit. Here's what we saw:

Shorts Program 1

There were eight films in this program, ranging from 3 - 19 minutes. There was quite an assortment, we are a little baffled about how they decide which ones to group together. Some we all liked, some we disagreed on and some we all disliked. Here they are in a nutshell: The Second Line: a story set in post-Katrina New Orleans - it was great. Dennis: A terribly sad story of a bodybuilder who still lives with his mother and is socially and emotionally still a little boy. The Adventures of Baxter and Maguire: The Boss - Animated male genitalia (hilarious). If you are intrigued by the thought of talking testicles, you can check out further Adventures of Baxter and

Maguire on Comedy Central's website. Harvest Time: A woman who is tired of tending her farm without any help from her husband decides to get rid of him in a most final way - really good and even funny. Teat Beat of Sex: Another animated film about sex - Jois liked it, but I think I'm getting prudish in my old age. Smile: A charming film about a Chinese-Canadian family having a portrait taken for the relatives back home. Bend It: Skip it, nuf said! Aquarium: a nerdy boy is misunderstood in his own family, but manages to connect with the cute girl next door -- a really sweet story, with a terrific cast of characters.

Sunshine Cleaning

This was an excellent flick about two sisters who start a crime-scene, bio-hazard removal business. Amy Adams, Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin are all terrific in it. Unfortunately, none of them were there, but the director did answer questions afterward. We are wondering if Alan Arkin has found a new niche and only stars in movies with the word "Sunshine" in the title where his role is that of eccentric grandpas. I hope this film makes it into theaters because it is a very real story about life not turning out as you expected and making the best of it.

Be Kind Rewind

This film was packed and people had camped out in the waitlist line for hours trying to get in. Why? Because it starred Jack Black and was a comedy. It was a thoughtful story that takes place in Passaic, New Jersey. What's interesting is it was written and directed by a French man, who live in Paris. It tells the story of a young black man (played by Mos Def) who is entrusted with the care of his mentor's (Danny Glover) video store for a few days. His best friend (Jack Black) messes everything up and in the process of making things right they become filmmakers. I won't tell you any more, except to say it will be in theaters soon and, while it has some teenage comedy elements, it's worth seeing.

Here's a photo of the director (on the left, Mos Def, Jack Black and Danny Glover (hanging back in the shadows) before the screening.



Smart People

This quickly bumped Sunshine Cleaning out of its position as my favorite film so far. Quality acting, original writing and very human characters all added up to an excellent film. It stars Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Hayden Church, Ellen Paige (of Juno Fame) and Ashton Holmes. It's the story of a widowed English Professor, his mixed-up family and his unlikely romance with a former graduate student. Thomas Hayden Church plays the screw-up adopted brother of the professor and he is the only one brave enough to call things as they are. He also has the funniest lines. Ellen Paige is brilliant as the super-achieving, Young Republican daughter. And, of course, you can't go wrong with Sarah Jessica Parker and Dennis Quaid in the leading roles.

The entire cast (excluding Ellen Paige -- it seems she's pretty these days), the director and the screenwriter were there to answer questions, but Thomas Hayden Church stole the show. He claimed to have a letter from Ellen, which he went on to read (see photo on right) and it was hysterical! We were, however, a little annoyed by all the star-seekers in the audience, who proceeded to gush over all the stars as they entered the theater, stood up to take photos, applauded after every word they said, etc. It's the World Premier people! Those with a role in the film are there! Get over it!

I also started collecting pictures of Sundance fashion "do's" and "don'ts." I will post those photos when I get back to Oregon.

Tomorrow it's back to three movies starting at 9:15 AM. We are planning an even earlier start, however, because a huge storm is headed our way and they are predicting 12-16 inches of new snow. It may be tricky getting out of Jenn's driveway, let alone into town.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Day 2 - 2008

Started out early this morning to see Frozen River. This was not a very uplifting way to start the day, but let's face it, that's not why we are here. Frozen River tells a story of desperation in a small New York border town. It's based on the real-life illegal immigrant smuggling operation that exists on the Mohawk Reservation in the area. There were no big stars in it, but it was a powerful, well-told story. Unfortunately, I can't imagine it having a broad appeal and may never show anywhere except festivals.

Right after that we saw Good Dick, which incidentally, does not have any characters in it named Dick. They are using the word in "that other way." It is the story of a young man who works at a video store and develops a crush on a young woman who comes in every day to rent erotic videos. She is a recluse, very much an emotional mess and makes it clear she is not interested in him. Undaunted, the young man proceeds to "woo" her (in an almost stalker-like manner.)

This film was impressive for two reasons. First, Marianna Palka not only wrote and directed it, but she also stars in it as Anna (the love interest). Apparently she went through the line a few times when they were dishing out talent. And, second, Jason Ritter (John Ritter's son) gives an outstanding performance as the video store clerk. His nuanced expressions, comedic timing and energy are just what the story needs to catapult it from a story about two messed up people to a romantic comedy (albeit with a seedier side.)

We then had a break, so Jois and I headed over to our favorite Mexican restaurant, El Chubasca -- or, as Jenn calls it, El Chubbies. It is fast, fresh, inexpensive and authentic, plus it has the most amazing salsa bar. It's also in walking distance of both Eccles and Prospector Square Theaters.

We ran into The Oregonian Film Critic, Shawn Levy, there and I actually stopped and introduced myself. I didn't mention that I too am a film critic (hah!) or that each year I have a completely different take on Sundance then he does. I did let him know that I read his column and check out his top five picks each week, and asked what he liked at Sundance so far. (The press have separate screenings and he said he typically goes to 4-5 movies each day.) He saw The Wackness which he said was "a little long" and several others, but he didn't really comment on those. He did seem fairly impressed that we are going to see 20 movies, but here's the kicker. I sort of love to hate him, because he is always so unimpressed with Sundance each year (or at least his reporting makes it seem that way), but he was really nice. Now my whole perspective has to change.

At 5:30 we hooked up with Jenn again to see It's a Good Day to be Black and Sexy. Even during the opening credits, it became clear that a white, 40-something, stay-at-home mom is probably not the right demographic to screen this film. But beyond that, it also became clear that it just wasn't a well-made film. In a nutshell it consisted of six "vignettes" or short stories about various black couples in a variety of types of relationships. Supposedly they all tied together, but that link was weak for us. It was explicit, choppy and very random both stylistically and in its story-telling.

Some viewers walked out in the middle. I'm glad we stuck around though, because the last vignette, involving a Chinese girl trying to keep her black boyfriend a secret from her traditional parents, was my favorite. We also got to see and hear from many of the cast, who are all not only talented, but beautiful (see photo below.) The director, cinematographer and producer (who are all frightfully young) were also there.

Tomorrow we have four movies, starting at 9:15 AM. We have no breaks, which means we will either pack food or pay for overpriced bagels and pizza at Eccles. We have some terrific films, however, and should see some stars (Sarah Jessica Parker, Dennis Quaid and Thomas Hayden Church are all in one of the films we are seeing.) Stayed tuned ...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Day 1 - Round 2



We just got back from Salt Lake where we saw Young@Heart another documentary about performers. This time, they were a group from Massachusetts who have an average member age of 80 and sing contemporary music (Talking Heads, Cold Play and Sonic Youth, to name a few.) The film followed the group for six weeks as they prepared for an upcoming concert. During that time it manages to touch on many issues related to aging. It's no downer, however, as the members of this choir are so full of life and optimism. The best part in my mind are the clever music videos they produced with the chorus and interjected throughout the film.

Young@Heart has been "picked-up" (that's movie lingo) by Fox Searchlight Productions, so look for it in the theaters some time this year. Here's a photo of the husband and wife filmmaking team (on the left), the director of the young@heart chorus (the guy with the mic) and the cinematographer. Members of the chorus were going to be at the Park City Screenings, but most of those happened after we were gone, so we missed out.

Day 1 - 2008






Had a great flight out. Spent the whole time chatting with Jonathon from Philadelphia. He is a Chemist who was headed to the Festival and then a big outdoor recreation trade show in Salt Lake next weekend (apparently he's not required to work much.) He had just spent a week in Portland and seems much more Oregonian than East Coast. I lobbied hard for a move.

Jenn and I raced to the box office this morning to pick up all 54 of our movie tickets. We sold the tickets for a 10:00am Shorts Program and headed to Starbucks, where we had our first celebrity siting: Kevin Sorbo of Hercules fame. I've never seen it or heard of him (although he did look familiar) and had to trust Jenn on this one.

The Sundance folks are pushing a text messaging information line called "Cha Cha", so we texted them and asked if they knew if he was here. They replied that no Sorbo-sitings had been reported, but Mary Kate Olsen was seen leaving the high school performing arts center smoking a cigarette. Apparently celebrities don't have to follow the rules.

After a few quick errands, we headed to Prospector Theater for a documentary called Slingshot Hip Hop. The film is about the emerging hip hip culture of occupied Palestine. It was story about some kids needing a voice and finding it through hip hop and how that voice is giving new hope to future generations. The best part, and why I truly love Sundance, was that the rappers were there. They gave a brief live performance after the show and answered questions.

It was no small feat to get them to the United States. In fact of the three-member group from Gaza only one was able to get a VISA and it sounds like that involved a bunch of red tape and almost didn't happen. Four of the rappers sat behind us during the film, so before it started I asked if I could take their picture ("yes" -- see right.) I also asked them if they had seen the film yet ("no") and if they were nervous ("mostly excited.") Can you imagine, not being allowed to leave Gaza (a 26 x 4-mile area) and then suddenly finding yourself in Park City, Utah?

You can check out one of the groups on their website: www.dampalestine.com. They don't have any radio or TV where they live, so they use the Internet to promote themselves and sell albums.

We're picking up Jois at the airport late this afternoon and seeing another documentary in Salt Lake tonight. We'll get home late, so I will write about it tomorrow.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

It's Finally Time to Go

This is a typical view of Park City. We can see the Mountain range and often see hot air balloons from my sister's living room windows. I checked the weather in Park City and it's a balmy 4-degrees.

If you ever get the chance to got to Sundance, here are some of the essentials to pack:
  • Warm clothes, especially socks (Save the sequined ball gown for the Academy Awards, at Sundance it's all about the turtleneck and parka.

  • Warm and comfortable boots or shoes with traction

  • Hat, scarf, gloves

  • Camera, Cell phone and Chargers for both

  • A refillable water bottle

  • Chapstick , Hand lotion, Eye drops (Have I mentioned yet how dry it is in Park City?)

  • Sunglasses (there's nothing like coming out of a dark movie theater into the sunlight and snow glare outside -- especially for us Oregonians who have mole eyes.)

  • Kleenex

  • Power Bars or some type of portable food (We often don't have time to eat, but you just need enough calories to get you to the next theater.)

That's it for now. Better finish packing. Checked my flight and it's on time, so it looks like it's all systems go.



Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Brief Recap of 2007

Sundance 2007 will forever go down in my mind as the “year of the tear-jerker.” I cried at more movies this year, then ever before. Of course, you have to understand, I cry at the slightest sentimentality – children singing, professions of love and even (I can’t believe I’m confessing this) A Very Brady Christmas. Hillary Clinton’s got nothin’ on me.

I bet you can figure out which of the 12 films we saw made me cry. Those films are:

Away from Her

Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent and Olympia Dukakis in a film adapted from a short story that illustrates the struggles of Alzheimers. Yup, it’s another uplifting Sundance film. Actually, in the hands of three such seasoned and respected actors, and a young, risk-taking director (Sarah Polley), the film becomes a love story, rather than a film about dementia. (You guessed it –I cried.)

Hear and Now

This was another love story – within a documentary. Irene Taylor Brodsky (A Portland filmmaker – yay!) turns the camera on her childhood, her family, and most importantly her deaf parents. Not only did they raise three hearing children, but they decide in their 60’s that they want to get cochlear implants and join the hearing world. The result is a deeply moving and personal account of these two remarkable people. The only nod to Portland is a brief sound clip of Pink Martini (totally fun Portland band) when Brodsky brings her now-hearing parents the CD to listen too. After the film, her whole family came to the stage and her parents received a standing ovation. Ok, got to go, I’m starting to tear-up all over again.

War Dance

See this movie if you have the chance! This documentary tells the story of three children in Northern Uganda who have experienced unimaginable atrocities at the hands of the rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. They live and go to school in a refugee camp and their school is the first in the war zone to qualify to compete in a national music and dance competition. The documentary weaves their horrific stories in with joyful singing and dancing, and follows their preparation for and performance in this contest.

Children witnessing the violent deaths of their parents, children recruited as child soldiers and children singing – I was a mess. Then, to make matters worse, the filmmakers came out and took a picture of us to send back to the children, as we were the first audience to see the finished film. We gave those kids a standing ovation and the waterworks started all over again. I still get “misty” just thinking about it.

Four Sheets to the Wind

Although this movie starts with a suicide and an unceremonious dumping of the body into a pond, it was actually a warm story about family, tradition and the struggle to find oneself in a small, rural community. The mostly Native-American cast, an unseen ancestor who interjects words of wisdom throughout, and the rural Oklahoma scenery gave this film a simple charm, while telling a contemporary story.

Rocket Science

Jeffrey Blitz was at Sundance several years ago (before my time) with his film, Spellbound, a documentary about children competing in the National Spelling Bee. If I remember right, Rocket Science is his first fictional work and he also wrote the screenplay. Drawing somewhat on his experience as a stutterer, he casts Reece Daniel Thompson as a high school boy who stutters, yet somehow gets talked into joining the debate team. As painful as it is to watch him struggle to get his words out and be teased mercilessly, the film is chock full of humor and heart.

Snow Angels

I probably put this on my ticket-buying list because Amy Sedaris is in it (along with Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale). I typically think of Sedaris as a comedic actress, but it seeems she can be a serious, dramatic actress as well. This was no comedy. It’s about a divorced couple who, while still trying to cope with that change, experience a tragedy that rocks their world even further. Let’s just say children in peril (not my favorite) and a tragic ending (also not a fan.)

Starting Out in the Evening

Frank Langella plays an out-of-print novelist who has sheltered himself away from the world while he tries to complete a book he’s been working on for 10 years. His sheltered life is disrupted when an overly ambitious graduate student shows up on his doorstep and decides to make him the subject of her thesis. At the same time, his daughter (played by Lili Taylor) is having a mid-life crisis of her own. This is a quiet movie – there’s not much action when the main characters are writers and researchers – but it touched on the real-world issues of aging, family and living an examined life.

On a Tightrope

Like War Dance, this film followed the story of four orphaned children. In this documentary, the children are Uigher, which is China’s largest Muslim minority. They live in Northern China under the strict control of the Chinese government. The children featured in the film are training to be tightrope walkers, a Uigher tradition. During production, the Director was under ongoing scrutiny by the Chinese government. I believe they also reviewed and edited all his film footage. It’s a fascinating story about a population I know little about. Unfortunately, we saw War Dance, with its stunning cinematography and gripping story, first, so this film paled in comparison.

Driving with My Wife’s Lover

This Korean film (with English subtitles) just didn’t translate for us. We had a hard time following the story and keeping the characters straight. At 9:00 at night, after a day of great movies, it definitely wasn’t worth the effort.

Clubland

This very fun Australian flick was released in the U.S. under the title: “Introducing the Dwight Family.” What a watered down name! It sounds way too much like other recent American movies (i.e. Meet the Fockers.) It stars Brenda Blethlyn (I had never heard of her, turns out she is an extremely well-respected British actress) as an aging performer who is trying to keep her career afloat while juggling a day job, resenting her contentious ex-husband, and caring for a disabled son. She really relies of the help of her other son, so when he falls in love, it throws their life into turmoil. Full of wacky characters, energy and life – we thoroughly enjoyed this film.

Dedication

Billy Crudup is absolutely gorgeous in this movie, even though he plays a fairly unlikable character – a psychologically unstable author of children’s books. (He and his illustrator/friend are inspired to write "Marty the Beaver" after seeing a porn movie -- how warped is that?) I think this was my favorite movie of this trip. (Although the fact that I haven’t seen any sign of it since, indicates that I may not be the best judge of movies.) Oh well, it had a great cast (Mandy Moore as the love interest, Dianne Weist as her mom, and Bob Balaban as his agent); a quirky, root-for-the-underdog story, and just enough comedy.

The cast was there for the Q & A. My palpitations for Billy cooled off a bit when I saw him in person – I’m hoping the facial hair was for a role. And, in a bid for stupidest Sundance question of all time, a guy in the audience asked Mandy Moore if she would marry him.

Delirious

This film did make it into theaters and I didn't like it nearly as much as Dedication. It may be because the story revolves around a Brittany-, Paris-, Lindsey-type and they seem to be the newsmakers these days. It tells the story of a homeless kid who befriends a slimy freelance photographer and together they get tangled up with the “pop-starlet-of-the-month.” Steve Buscemi (who looks like he hasn’t been outside in the past 10 years), Michael Pitt and Alison Lohman star in it. It has some funny moments, but much of the premise is too unbelievable for my taste.

Shorts Program III
(Just an aside, there are usually 5 Shorts programs, plus a documentary shorts collection to choose from -- thus the numerical titles.)

Cubs: a 10-minute, intense film about kids chasing and abusing a fox. The Tube with a Hat: 23 minutes of a boy and his father struggling to carry their broken TV (also their most prized possession) through the bogs of Romania to the repair shop. BITCH, it barely takes any time at all to realize the main character is one -- truly wicked. The Grass Grows Green: A look at the military through the eyes of a Marine recruiter. Bomb: I don’t remember this flick at all. The Substitute: this was a charming 15-minute Italian film about a business man who ducks out of his day job and pretends to be a substitute teacher for awhile.

Movies we could have seen in 2007, but didn't: Black Snake Moan, Once (excellent soundtrack), and Waitress (a breath of fresh air with a tragic real life backstory.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Brief Recap of 2006

It dawned on me this morning that I should probably preface these little film reviews with a disclaimer. First, I am no expert and don’t profess to be one (I just get a little full of myself during Sundance.) I tend to prefer Independent Films in general, plus we tend to experience what we call the “Sundance Factor.” You’re in Park City, freezing your buns off, but unlike Oregon, the sun is shining; the City is packed: buzzing with adrenaline and excitement; you’re hearing from the directors and actors after each film; when you are not watching a movie, you are talking about movies; etc. It all adds up to a unique experience that puts a positive spin on just about everything.

Also, many Sundance movies are very heavy, so when you do happen to see one of the few comedies – they are way more funny and appreciated than they would be at home. Case in point, this first movie from 2006:

Kinky Boots

This is a British film in a similar vein as The Full Monty. Only this time it is a son trying to save his family’s shoe factory and teaming with a cross-dressing, cabaret singer to do it. It’s the stodgy and the flamboyant thrown into a work environment together. It’s got the usual understated British humor and a lot of heart.

Thin

This documentary followed four girls with eating disorders through 6 months at a residential treatment center. Full of alarming facts and difficult to watch, it puts faces to this illness and really illustrates what a struggle it is for these girls. A few of the girls were there to answer questions and talk about their continuing struggles.

Sherrybaby

Maggie Gyllenhaal (a Sundance regular) stars as a drug addict just released from prison. She is trying to get her life back on track, but really doesn’t know how. She tries to reunite with her 5-year old daughter, only to discover her sister and her husband want to continue raising the child. Gyllenhaal gives an amazing performance in this painful and emotional movie.

Somebodies

Not a movie we discussed much after the fact. It is a quirky tale of a couple of college-age guys who are pretty typical: totally nonchalant bout life and its responsibilities, just looking for the next good time. It takes place in Athens Georgia and the best part is the off-the-wall church the lead character attends. I’m thinking a couple of 40-something white Moms are just the wrong demographic for this movie, either that or it really wasn’t that good.

Steel City

This was a movie about a dysfunctional family (a Dad, his brother and his two adult sons) trying to survive in a depressed steel town. Dad is incarcerated, the youngest son is drifting aimlessly, the oldest son is married and having an affair and the uncle wants everyone to be more responsible for their actions. There aren’t many movies that focus on male relationships and maybe it’s because they are difficult to watch. This one was that, but was also suspenseful in a way that kept you engaged.

Eve and the Fire Horse

This delightful film, directed and written by first-timer Julia Kwan (A Chinese-Canadian) was about a Chinese immigrant family and centered on their two young daughters. This is what I love about Sundance … this was the first feature film for the director, the two young girls had never acted before, the story was completely unique and it all came together in this quiet gem of a film.

Little Miss Sunshine

This film made it to the box office and so probably most of you have seen or heard of it. We absolutely loved it, partly due to the “Sundance Factor” and partly due to the fact that the cast was there afterward and they were clearly having a good time. Whether you liked it or not, you have to admit that starting with a Dad who is motivational speaker (and a bad one at that) is a hysterical premise. Have I mentioned yet how much I like Greg Kinnear?!

Adam’s Apples

This Danish flick was way out there, a dark comedy that takes place almost entirely at a small country church. A wacky cast of characters is thrown together, and what results is an exploration of the struggle between good and evil. This is definitely not a mainstream movie, but it had its funny moments.

Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon

Peter Richardson, A Philomath High School graduate, turns the camera on a controversy that took over his home town. For more than 40 years, a local timber family has given college scholarships (no strings attached) to every Philomath student who graduates from high school. Unfortunately, the foundation is now up in arms about the liberal bias (read: “anti-logging”) being taught at the high school and further perpetuated in college. What resulted was an intense fight (that even caught the attention of the national media) involving the school board, the foundation and the students. For those of us who live in Oregon it clearly illustrated the dichotomy between our urban and rural areas, and underscores the challenge of having an economy based on an out-moded industry.

Factotum

This film was a huge undertaking. The director and screenwriters attempted to translate Charles Bukowski’s second novel and several short stories into a movie. I read some of Bukowski’s work after the fact, and it turns out his writing is as dark and anguished as the movie was, so I guess they did a pretty good job. Matt Dillon starred and I have a whole new perspective on him after seeing him in the Q & A – A) he’s beautiful (already knew that) and B) he’s smart and articulate (apparently he reads heavy duty stuff like Bukowski regularly.) Lili Taylor (I’ve loved her since Mystic Pizza) and Marisa Tomei were also in it. I’m always amazed that those actors can watch themselves frolicking naked on the screen and then come out and answer questions from the 200 people who just saw them naked.

Off the Black

Nick Nolte plays Ray, an alcoholic high school umpire who has failed in almost every aspect of his life. When a troubled teen vandalizes his house, Ray gets even by forcing him to pose as his son at his high school reunion. Nick Nolte gives a stunning performance and Trevor Morgan is excellent as the teen.

Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner

As the title states, this is a documentary about playwright Tony Kushner who wrote Angels in America. The film covers three years from 9/11 to 2004 and shows his work as a political activist and outspoken voice for tolerance (he is Jewish and gay) and social justice. After the film, you are left with a deep respect for Mr. Kushner and his passion. You are also appreciative to the director for doing her subject justice and letting us in on his life.

Shorts Program 1

Six films ranging from 3 to 30 minutes that include a metaphorical tale about drug use using bugs (way creepy), a story of a 14-year-old’s wedding to a polygamist (creepy for different reasons), and a hysterical film about a guy who takes a girl to the Holocaust Museum for a first date (turns out this is not such a good idea.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Brief Recap of 2005

In 2005 Jois and I decided to share the fun and invited friends to join us. So, Jois; her friend, Mara; Mara’s brother, Josh; and my friend, Eileen all headed to Park City. While there is plenty of room at Jenn’s house, the fact that we are limited to four tickets to any one movie, made ticket buying a challenge.

Everyone was very flexible and some people actually wanted to go skiing instead of see movies (what’s up with that?), so it all worked out. We decided if we were to have a big group again, I would resign as the event planner and everyone would be on their own to buy tickets and arrange transportation.

I won’t go into the cancelled flight, and constant buying and selling of tickets. Instead, here’s a recap of the movies we did see:

The Matador

This comedy pairs Pierce Brosnan, a hit man, and Greg Kinnear, a traveling salesman, as “buddies” (although Kinnear’s character is a very unwilling buddy.) It was smart, funny and original, plus Greg Kinnear is the actor I most want to invite to dinner sometime. As if seeing Pierce Brosnan onscreen wearing only a Speedo and cowboy boots wasn’t enough, the entire cast was there to answer questions afterward. They were somewhat hung over as the film had premiered the night before, a party had followed (we weren’t invited) and this was all happening at an 8:30 AM screening the next day.

Inside Deep Throat

This documentary about the cultural impact of the 1972 film, Deep Throat was titillating and fascinating at the same time -- think documentary interjected with porn. Despite the clips from the movie and erotic graphics, the filmmakers used archival footage that captured the controversy around the film 30 years ago, interviewed just about everyone from the film who is still alive, and weren’t afraid to tackle the societal implications of the time.

From an interview with the cheesy director, now living in a trailer park, to the mob-affiliated and very shady distribution system, the back story on this movie was fascinating. Harry Reams (it's spelled differently!), who starred in Deep Throat is now a Realtor in Park City, so he came to the screening and answered questions. It was one of those “only at Sundance” experiences!

Upside of Anger

Kevin Costner (not a fan – his new wife came to the screening with big glasses and fur – yuck!) and Joan Allen (love her!) both play very angry people, who don’t really like each other, but somehow need each other. Allen also plays the mom of four teenage daughters, who were all brilliantly portrayed. This flick made it into distribution, so I’m sure you can rent it. Romance, drama (there are teenage girls in it after all), fine acting and a surprise ending all add up to a worthwhile rental.

Brick

One of the many films we saw this year which revolved around high schoolers, this definitely showed the dark side of the high school years. It starts with a murder and quickly becomes all about an underground world involving drugs, gangs and acceptance. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the lead so solemnly that it takes a while to realize he is the same kid who played Tommy in Third Rock from the Sun. It was a well-crafted film, but a little too violent for my taste. (I may be naïve, but I still like to think of high school kids as somewhat innocent.)

Forty Shades of Blue

I don’t even know how to describe this film. It was a moody, story about a young Russian woman living with a legendary (but washed-up) old music producer (Rip Torn).The music producer’s son enters the picture and the story becomes downright brooding. It’s a difficult film, but engaging nonetheless and Rip Torn’s (Jois didn’t believe that was his real name) performance is remarkable. I also loved the set, which was a mid-century modern home that was obviously stuck in 1962. In the flashback scenes, it looked exactly the same. We attended a noon screening and got the strong impression that Rip Torn was drunk for the Q & A. He didn’t make any sense at all!

Loggerheads

This was a quiet film, similar to Evergreen from last year. It was very regional in focus (taking part in the Southeast), it had very believable characters and it was beautifully filmed. It tells three stories (one about adoption rights, one about saving Loggerhead Turtles and one about racism), each in a different year on Mother’s Day. I suppose the three stories related to each other somehow, but three years later, I don’t remember how.

Pretty Persuasion

Back to high school for a wicked romp of a flick -- think Legally Blond meets Fatal Attraction. Evan Rachel Wood (who we also saw in Upside of Anger) plays a rich, conniving sophomore at a private Beverly Hills high school. This satire is full of talent (James Woods, Jane Krakowski and Selma Blair are also in it), but it is the writing that really takes you for a ride. Our last screening in 2005, it was a great movie to end with.

The Emperor’s Journey

The start of the penguin craze. This was the original, French version of March of the Penguins. The script and music were completely different from the American version. If the original is on the DVD, be sure to check it out. It was told from the penguin’s perspective and was very poetic. The music can only be described as icy and, if I remember right, was provided by a Canadian singer.

Unfortunately, this was the first movie we saw after a terrible night trying to get to Utah after our flight was cancelled, so I kept doing the head-bob. Fortunately, after the lights came up, the charming French director and cinematographer were there to answer all our questions and talk about the 13 months they spent in Antarctica.

Saving Face

This is a terrific movie about familial clashes. Specifically, a well-educated, successful, closeted- lesbian, Chinese-American woman is an anomaly to her traditional Chinese relatives. Her life is completely disrupted when her 48-year-old mom shows up on her doorstep … pregnant. One of the few female directors we have seen, Alice Wu, creates a film that is funny, smart, warm and honest.

Steal Me

Another film directed by a woman, this was a simple tale of a decent family taking in a loner/thief who befriends their son. While you wait for something to go horribly wrong, you start to realize this story isn’t going that way at all. It’s a movie about decency, acceptance and family love. It’s not at all gushy though. I think this is due to the strength of the cast, who are all unknowns (at least to me) and the realism of the characters.

The Joy of Life

A lesbian reading from her sex journals, still shots of deserted street corners in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge as the number-one suicide landmark in the world … hated it.

Shorts Program IV

Seven films ranging from 4 to 25 minutes each: America’s Biggest Dick (I’ll give you a hint, his last name is Cheney), Berocca (stars a disabled man and all 13 minutes are very hard to watch), Eating (don’t remember it), Everything’s Gone Green (directed by Aaron Ruell who played Kip in Napoleon Dynamite), Goodnight Irene (directed by a Native American and takes place in a medical clinic on a reservation), Stronger (a nasty girl fight in a beauty salon) and Wasp. Wasp won the 2005 Academy Award for the best live action short. It was only 25 minutes long, but it brilliantly told a heartbreaking story of poverty, desperation and parenting.

Jois and I are the only ones who care about the shorts category during the Academy Awards (we also care about the documentaries), as we are the only ones who have seen any of them. They range from baffling (think robots having sex) to brilliant (see Wasp above), but we always try to get at least one shorts program in our line-up.

They also sometimes show shorts before the feature-length films. Last year our favorite short was Water, a startling 15 minute flick from New Zealand that played before Evergreen. The entire film is a metaphor for “band-aid” solutions rather than getting to the source of the problem. It was a simple concept, but must have been insanely difficult to film. I don’t know where you can see this short film, and it’s a shame.

A sampling of this year’s shorts will be available for free on the Sundance Website: sundance.org/festival/. It is definitely worth checking out.

Films we missed out on in 2005 (we did see many of them later) include: Layer Cake, Kung Fu Hustle, Thumbsucker (filmed in Portland), The Aristocrats (nasty, nasty, nasty), Murderball (must see), Me and You and Everyone We Know (written by and starring Miranda July who lived in Portland for awhile), The Puffy Chair (blech), and The Squid and the Whale.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Brief Recap of 2004

In 2004, we had 200 movies to chose from, including a few that are now household names: Napoleon Dynamite, Supersize Me, Garden State and SAW. We didn't see any of those. The closest we came was when we boarded a shuttle full of members of the press who had just seen Supersize Me. They were very quiet and noticeably queasy.

Here's what I remember about the 13 movies we did see:

The Saddest Music in the World

A nice midwestern couple we met at one of the shuttle stops had warned us not to see this movie -- they thought it was terrible. Too late, we already had tickets. This movie will forever go down in Sundance history as the only movie we have seen where the Director came out before the movie and gave a brief explanation. Apparently the audience just didn't get it at the first showing, so he explained that it is meant to be a comedy that makes fun of the melodrama genre. Ohhhhh.

So, this movie is shot entirely in black and white and stars Isabella Rosselini as a legless (don't worry, her love makes her glass prosthetic legs filled with beer), Canadian beer baron who sponsors a contest for the saddest music in the world. This opens the film to a whole cast of deviant characters and the plot to lots of manipulative backstage dealings. There is also a deep family secret and and a huge vat of beer. I didn't love it, but we did get to see and hear from the charming Isabella Rosselini after the show. My sister still claims it as one of her all-time favorites.

Marie and Bruce

Wallace Shawn wrote this as a play in the 1960s. Fast forward 40 years when he co-wrote the screenplay to bring the story to film. It starred Mathew Broderick and Juliane Moore and, in our opinion, stunk. The characters were unlovable and their relationship was toxic. The best part was hearing Wallace Shawn during the Q & A. He was very real, didn't have tedious "I'm trying to impress you" answers, and put the know-it-alls in the audience in their place. I was somewhat disappointed, however, that he never once said "Inconceivable." We did bump into him later that day at another screening and he is the only celebrity that I have had the nerve to talk to --I lied and told him I enjoyed his film.

Touch of Pink

One of the few comedies we have seen at Sundance, it's basically a gay Monsoon Wedding, but it takes place in London and Canada. The main character is a gay Indian man living in London, who is forced to confront his family and his sexuality when his mother sets out to find him a Muslim wife. It has a host of outlandish and sympathetic characters who are played with great comedic timing. As an added bonus, Kyle McLachlan has a small role as Cary Grant's ghost (he advises on how to live a "closeted life".) What's not to like?

Citizen King

This is an awesome and very thorough documentary on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For us, it was huge slice of history as we saw it on MLK Day and Al and Tipper Gore sat right behind us. I enjoyed all the archival footage, interviews with those close to him and the fact that it didn't brush his shortcomings under a rug. I was somewhat distracted throughout the film -- trying to think of something positive to say to Mr. Gore. Jois came up with: "I'm still not over the election, how 'bout you?", but we decided against that.

Book of Love

This is one case where the catalog description and what we saw really don't match-up. This was a rather disturbing story about a relationship and how it changes when a 15-year-old boy enters the couple's life. I don't remember much about the movie other than one particularly violent scene and the false calm that takes over the characters right after it. If you see it on your Netflix list, I would skip it.

Brother to Brother

I think this was the very first Sundance movie we saw. It tells the story of a young gay, African-American artist in New York. He befriends a poet and painter who was part of the Harlem Renaissance and after that, the movie switches back and forth between the 1930's and today. The Harlem Renaissance scenes were excellent and really seemed to capture the mood and flavor of that time. In the end, a better understanding of history helps the young artist to come to terms with his place in the world. Entertaining and a social message -- bonus!

Evergreen

This was an exciting movie to see at Sundance for two reasons. First, it was directed by a young woman from the Pacific Northwest and filmed entirely in Washington. Second, Robert Redford was there. We haven't seen him since, but I thought it must have made that young director so nervous to have him in the audience. The movie dealt with very real issues (poverty, envy, fear)in a real way and was beautifully filmed. I hope it was eventually shown outside the festival. I always root for the underdog.

November

This was the absolutely terrible movie that Courtney Cox starred in that I referred to earlier. Although, her acting was fine, it was just a jumbled up mess of a plot. It told three different versions of the same story, but not in a linear way and not so we could ever figure out why. In the Q and A an audience member asked the question we all wanted to ask: "This is what I thought was happening, am I right?" No, she wasn't and neither were any of the rest of us. If the movie has to be explained to an audience (and a pretty sophisticated one at that) it's no good. It turns out the film's big claim to fame is it was shot entirely on a Sony HD Cam (the techno-geeks in the audience had lots of questions about that). It was also made in 8 weeks time and had a teeny tiny budget. No big surprise there. Even an amusing and somewhat pregnant Courtney Cox there to answer questions couldn't make up for all that the film lacked.

Open Water

This film did make it into distribution, so many people know about it. It is based on a true story of a couple who disappeared while scuba diving. I don't typically like suspenseful movies like this, but it was done in a very quiet, realistic way. No thumping Jaws music to get your heart beating. Our only disappointment was we saw it in Salt Lake and there wasn't any Q & A.

Second Best

This is a story about three men from New Jersey who have been friends forever and are now approaching middle age. One wildly successful friend returns home for a visit and throws them all into fits of jealousy and feelings of inadequacy. It had a terrific cast, including Joe Pantoliano, Boyd Gaines, Jennifer Tilly and Polly Draper; and was very well written. The director/ screenwriter was there to answer questions (yes, he pulled a great deal from his own life and experiences) and his teenage son gave us all a free t-shirt.

Indigenous Shorts

Short films are grouped somewhat thematically into a feature length screening. This particular group of short films were all done by Native filmmakers from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. These films ranged in length from 6-14 minutes, and from very dark and violent to utterly charming. In the charming category was our favorite of the six: Two Cars, One Night from New Zealand. It featured a young boy and a young girl who strike up a brief friendship in a pub parking lot, where they are waiting for their partying parents.

We saw the Native American director of the violent film, Shush, at Starbucks after the screening. When we recognized him and told him we had just seen his film he beamed like he had won an Academy Award.

Our Neighborhood

This was Native documentary about a battle for logging rights between the Listuguj Mi'gmaq people and the Quebec government. The filmmaker had done another documentary in 1981 about this same tribe and their conflict with the government over fishing rights. It felt a little like a sequel, but having the cameras turned on the tribe's internal conversations was interesting nonetheless.

Raspberry Reich

This is when we learned: "if it says 'porn' in the catalog, it is porn." In fact, the exact words in the catalog were: "porno-political-palooza." It was porn in every sense of the word. It had a weak plot that existed only to put the characters into sexual situations, bad dialog and terrible acting. To make matters worse, it was mostly gay sex and written in German, so the English dialog was dubbed. Our favorite quote from the movie: "The Revolution is my boyfriend!" said in gestapo-like manner.

People were falling down the steps of the theater as they tried to discretely exit during the movie. Us, oh no, we stayed. Jois cackled loudly and I decided it would make good Sundance folklore. (Jenn brilliantly decided to skip it and left her ticket as a tip for our dinner waiter -- I prayed not to run into him after the movie.) I was also very uncomfortable when the director and lead actress came out to answer questions afterwards -- I had no questions and I couldn't look the actress in the eye.

Afterward, we went to another theater to try to wait list in for a movie and while in line we met a woman who was scouting movies for the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. She had seen Raspberry Reich and when we asked her if that was a movie they would show there, she gave us our all-time favorite Sundance quote: " Oh yes, it's totally programmable."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Film Categories Defined

Before I recap previous years, it is helpful to understand how Sundance movies are defined. Thousands of movies are submitted each year and a jury picks those that are actually screened at the festival. The films are placed in one of nine categories. The films in the competition categories are judged again during the festival and a Grand Prize Winner is awarded in each category. These are fun to attend because there is also an audience award, so we get to vote for our favorite.

The competition categories are pretty self-explanatory. They are:
· Independent Film Competition: Documentary
· Independent Film Competition: Dramatic
· World Cinema Competition: Documentary
· World Cinema Competition: Dramatic
· Shorts Programs

The other categories require a little clarification. They are:

Premieres
These films offer a selection of the latest work from established directors and world premieres of highly anticipated films. (These films are usually already slated for distribution and many of them make it to Portland.) This category has featured movies like Motorcycle Diaries, Little Miss Sunshine, Thank you for Smoking and Riding Giants. Truth be told, we have seen some stinkers in this category.

Spectrum
The Spectrum program presents dramatic and documentary films from both established and new filmmakers from the U.S. and around the world. (These are not judged.) We have seen some excellent films in this category.

Park City at Midnight
Park City at Midnight films typically push the envelope and can even be thought of a irreverent. This category may include horror films, over-the-top comedies, surreal tales, explicit material, and bizarre stories that defy categorization. This is where we stumbled into (and many people stumbled out of) a porn movie. Lesson learned: if it says "porn" in the catalog, it is porn.

New Frontier
New Frontier celebrates experimentation and cinematic innovation. In this category, we saw one such experimental work. The name of the film was The joy of Life. The first half of the movie was deserted shots of very non-picturesque parts of San Francisco (why these perfectly still images were recorded on a movie camera alluded us). While viewing what basically amounted to a very uninteresting slide show, the voice over was a Lesbian reading from her sex diary. Then, halfway through it, the movie became a documentary about the Golden Gate bridge being the number one suicide landmark in the country. Let's just say, we didn't get it and, therefore now avoid this category.

Despite the fact that at first we didn't really know what we were doing, we did manage to see some excellent movies. A recap of 2004 is coming up next.

Ticket Buying Fall-Out

I went to purchase something at a clothing store (Paloma Clothing in the Hillsdale shopping center -- it rocks!) and my card wouldn't go through and was flagged with a "call the bank" message. My husband called the bank to see what was going on and they had noticed some unusual activity on the card -- $700 worth of movie tickets in two days! He explained the situation and all is working as it should. Sometimes that "Big Brother" thing is not so bad.

I was struggling with what to write between now and my departure. My husband (he also rocks!) suggested I write recaps of the our past trips. So, look for those entries soon -- "The Good, Bad and Ugly of the 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Festivals. And just to pique your interest, past years include Courtney Cox in a movie no one understood, a melodrama spoof starring Isabella Rosselini as an amputee, Al Gore before an Inconvenient Truth, and Gay German Porn.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ticket Buying

Buying tickets to Sundance movies is no easy feat. Unless you have oodles of money and/or connections, you have to jump through a series of hoops.

First you must register your intent to buy tickets with the festival box office. This enters you into a lottery for a time slot in which you can try to buy tickets. If you do get a time slot, you may log-on at any time after your appointed time and date (remembering that everything is based on Mountain Time) and you have 30 minutes to buy your quota of tickets. Each purchaser is allowed no more than 20 tickets and no more than 4 tickets for each movie.

We had five people register to buy on-line tickets and got four time slots. I do all the ticket buying because I have the time and it's easier if one person manages the schedule. Our first time slot was yesterday at 10:30AM. Yesterday was also the first day of on-line ticket sales. Woo Hoo!

Because all Sundance movies are being shown for the first time ever, we rely on the on-line film guide (sundance.org/festival) to figure out what movies we are interested in seeing. We also need to take into account when and where they are playing. We are not there for the entire 10-day festival and we really hate 8:30AM movies after an 11:30PM movie the night before (that's right, they show movies from 8:30 in the morning until after midnight.) The theater location is also an issue. Park City gets extremely congested during the festival and while the shuttle system is always running, it can still only go as fast as traffic allows.

So, yesterday I sat down at my computer right at my appointed time of 10:30AM with a seven- page typed document outlining the movie/scheduling possibilities during our stay. There are a total of 205 films playing in multiple time slots and theaters in this year's festival. Thank God some are not playing while we are there, as I need some system for narrowing the field.

Unlike in years past, the computer system worked quickly and as it was supposed to, so I was able to get 20 tickets to 7 different movies in about 6 minutes. And, because it was early in the on-line ticket buying week, I got what I think will be some excellent movies.

Today we had three different times to buy tickets, beginning at 9:30 AM. From yesterday to today, however, lots of showings sold out. Even with my revised document outlining the time slots where we could add movies, I had to do a lot more searching for available films. I filled in the holes and bought another allotment of 20 tickets. During my 1:00PM time slot availability was not the problem, fitting anything more into our schedule was. For this reason, I only bought 14 more tickets for a total of 54 tickets to 21 movies. I don't think I will even bother with our 4:00PM time slot.

I'm not even sure if I can handle 21 movies in six days. We have learned, however, that it is easy to sell tickets once you are there, so I would rather overbuy than purchase too few. Last year, we talked to people who came to the festival with no tickets in hand. We have also met people who had a small role in a film and were not able to get tickets to their own movie. It's a bummer that you have to book your flight before you know if you will get tickets or not.

So, the research, experience and planning paid off and we are going to Sundance to see movies, not stand in line!

Here's our schedule:

You can read a brief description of each movie on the on-line film guide on the Sundance web site (sundance.org/festival.)

Friday, 1/18
Shorts Program I
Slingshot Hip Hop
Young@Heart

Saturday, 1/19
Frozen River
Good Dick
It’s a Good Day to be Black and Sexy

Sunday, 1/20
Shorts Program I
Sunshine Cleaning
Be Kind Rewind
Smart People

Monday, 1/21
The Last Word
Ballast
Diminished Capacity

Tuesday, 1/22
Choke
Anywhere, USA
Death in Love

Wednesday 1/23
Pretty Bird
Alone in Four Walls

The Wackness
Thursday, 1/24
Phoebe in Wonderland
North Starr

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Sundance Blog: Who, What and Why

It's a little over a week until I leave for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and things are already buzzing. My friend Jois, a fanatical film lover, my sister Jenn and I have gone to the festival for the past four years and as we prepare for our fifth, the e-mails are flying!

Over the years we have learned a great deal about ticket buying (ask everyone you know to enter the lottery for on-line ticket-buying time slots), interpreting the film guide's movie descriptions (if there's no cast listed, there are no people in the movie), which theatres are the best and in walking distance of each other (Ogden theatres are, in fact, in Ogden which is a long way from Park City) and which film categories to avoid ("Park City at Midnight" movies are not shown during daylight hours for a reason.)

We don't go to the parties. We don't go to see celebrities. We go because we love independent film and because it is the best damn Mom's week away you will ever have. Never once do I think "I wish the kids were here" and we barely have time to eat, let alone miss our families.

So, as we embark on yet another Sundance journey, I decided to share some of our insight (notice I didn't say wisdom); experiences; film reviews; celebrity sightings (not that we care); Ug Boot, fur coat and other winter fashion atrocities along the way. I will also include the funny things we see and hear in wait list lines, on the streets and in jam-packed shuttle buses.

I hope you find the experience as exciting, thought-provoking and, at times, ridiculous as we do.