Design By Humans
Published On: Thu, Jan 31st, 2013

Sundance 2013 – Feasting on Film

Sundance 2013The Sundance Film Festival is where Los Angeles film industry pros go to acquire films, negotiate deals, party, and present projects they love. It’s also where film lovers of all stripes get to devour a feast of independent films, take photos of snow capped mountains, and get in a little skiing between flicks.

Each year certain thematic, visual, and forward thinking cinematic elements show up, hot ticket films are buzzed about, out-of-nowhere entries take audiences by surprise, one or two films create mass walkouts from screenings, hundreds of hopeful viewers throng wait-list lines, the weary and persistent hit the box office at 6 a.m., the late night parties throb down Main Street, and the free shuttle busses run as packed as commuter busses in Mumbai.

Health conscious attendees start out carrying take-out from Park City’s Whole Foods deli or local favorite Fairweather Natural Foods, and end up devouring a slice of pizza and a brownie at the festival’s largest venue, Eccles Theater. Celebrities mingle on Southwest Airlines flights and waiting for one of those crowded shuttles; Los Angeleno’s coo at snow flurries and complain about driving in slush.

But what Sundance is really about is seeing movies. Movies you might never get to see, even in an art house theater in LA or NYC. Quirky films made on a shoe string. Close to the heart projects directed by major celebs. World cinema you’d have to travel half-way around the planet to see on a big screen.

You see movies with friends, family, industry insiders, solo, with strangers, with people who love to just watch. You watch in an enormous high school auditorium, small cineplexes, a beautiful, modern synagogue, a classic old-fashioned movie theater, a tennis club, and a community center. Volunteers in puffy coats – orange this year – valiantly direct you to your bus stop, funnel you into the right line, stamp your hand, tear your ticket, scan your passes. You study the film guide, pick out the films you want to see, mourn the unavailable tickets, scrounge to pick up a few, trade your tickets for more talked-about films, chat up the director, shout out questions during the post-film Q and A’s, and watch documentaries, shorts, world cinema, homegrown cinema, low budget, bigger budget, actor driven, visual stunners, oddities, travesties, and fantastic films that break your heart and sear your memory.

This year I saw twenty-five different films, including a smart series of three minute shorts about innovations and inventions. I watched press and industry screenings, massive public screenings,  rowdy midnight screenings, and packed screenings with the yawning crowds at 8:30 A.M.

In upcoming issues, I’ll offer up some full film reviews, interviews with talent, and ruminations on this year’s festival slate, but for now, here’s an overview of another Park City high, 2013’s Sundance Film Festival.

Thematically speaking, this year was about sex as character. From comedies to dramas to horror, visceral sex has stepped in and pulled us away from violence – looks like a coming trend in mainstream media. Another strong through-line this year was nature – the solace it brings, the counterpoint to human emotions, the intensity of a natural setting’s beauty or fearsomeness. And though it’s nothing new on screen or at this festival, coming of age stories and restless relationships both ran strong.

While I loved several of the official award winners from the festival, my top picks varied. My first place goes to an entry that did not premiere at Sundance, unlike director Jeff  Nicols’ previous film at the festival, Take Shelter.  Nicols’ Mud is very different from the unsettling end of the world tale of Take Shelter. In fact, on paper, Mud sounds somewhat conventional – a story about a sympathetic fugitive (Matthew McConaughey), hiding out on a southern river island. He bonds with two teenage boys from broken or breaking homes, who set out to help him escape with his true love. But perfectly crafted as both a coming-of-age story and an adventure with a noir heart, emotions run as high and fast as the river these boys live on. Absolutely compelling.

I also loved The Spectacular Now, directed by James Ponsoldt (director of Smashed, last year’s finely tuned treatise on relationships, alcoholism, and 12 Step Programs) and written by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber (scriptwriters of the brilliant and darkly comic romance 500 Days of Summer), this film depicts the life of eighteen year old, burgeoning alcoholic Sutter at the close of his senior year in high school. Played by the intensely wonderful Miles Teller, this dark, sensitive character study has great performances all around, wry humor, and a couple of truly gasp-worthy moments.

I may be in the minority on this one. C.O.G. – or child of God – is a poignant depiction of a pretentious, lonely Yale grad student coming to terms with himself and the darkly quirky characters in a small Oregon town during a summer spent working at an apple orchard and factory. Based on David Sedaris’ essay from his collection, Naked, and starring Jonathan Groff as the writer’s doppelganger, I found the film fresh, sad, hilarious, and open to the mysteries of faith, self, and self-identity.

A few other top picks: the mysterious, evocative magical realism infused into the action adventure/love story of The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman gives Shia LaBeouf a great role and a fascinatingly shifting plot line; Lovelace is a bio pic with heart, soul, and terrifying glimpses of the darkness of the porn world that plucky Linda Marciano survived. Amanda Seyfried is fantastic. Honorable mentions: the wonderful quirky hilarity of the as-yet-unfinished Wrong Cops. Director Quentin Dupieux’s post- screening discussion was almost as manic and hilarious as his episodic bored and bad cops-in LA project, the first 45 minutes of which screened as part of Sundance’s avant garde New Frontier program. I’m looking forward to the finished product – maybe next year.

At the bottom of my film-going experiences was Calvin Lee Reeder’s surrealist, violent, nonsensical – yet oddly memorable – debacle, The Rambler, in which Dermot Mulroney’s ex-con may be beset by aliens, an incubus, or madness, who can tell for sure. The puking and bloodletting were not my cup of tea, and the uneasy fusion of road trip and misogynistic horror drove dozens from the screening I sat through – yes, all the way.

Stay tuned: there’s many more Sundance reviews, interviews, and stories ahead.

About the Author

- Genie Davis is a multi-published novelist and produced screen and television writer. New books include the romantic suspense of Executive Impulse (Crimson); more romance and mystery with Between the Sheets (Entangled), co-written with Linda Marr; and the mystery thriller Marathon (Five Star/Cenage). Her previous titles include the award winning romantic suspense of The Model Man and Five O’Clock Shadow (Kensington); the literary fiction of Dreamtown (FictionWorks), and the erotic novella Rodeo Man (as Nikki Alton) in The Cowboy anthology (Aphrodisia). In film, her work spans a variety of genres from supernatural thriller to romantic drama, family, teen, and comedy with an emphasis on independent film. A member of the Writer’s Guild of America, she’s written on staff for ABC-TV’s Port Charles; written, produced, and directed reality programming and documentaries for TLC, Lifetime, PBS, and HGTV, as well as numerous television commercials and corporate videos. She’s also written hundreds of articles on travel, love, the arts, writing, tech, food, parenting, and more.

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Sundance 2013 – Feasting on Film