Friday, January 28, 2011

Sundance 2011 (Days 2 & 3)

1/27/2011 and 1/28/2011 - Thursday began with an afternoon screening at the Library Centre of Susanne Bier's masterful In A Better World, which previously won an award for Best Foreign Language Film at this month's Golden Globes and has recently gotten an Academy Award nomination for the same category. Because it's an absorbing cinematic experience on the same level on The Lives of Others, I'd prefer not to give away any plot details, but I will mention some of the more amusing things that happened at the screening. During the Q & A after the show, an audience member asked Bier about why the movie's title is pronounced in Swedish as Haevnen. "Does it literally mean 'Heaven'?" the audience member asked.

"No, no... 'Haevnen' doesn't mean 'Heaven'," Bier replied. "It means revenge."

The audience burst out laughing.

Bier then explained, "The reason we didn't call this movie Revenge in English is because the term "revenge" has a different meaning for Americans--it wouldn't attract the same audience we're hoping for."

And she's right. In A Better World is not a movie that celebrates revenge but is, instead, about how revenge cripples good people. Some are going to find it sanctimonious, but I would beg to differ. Note to the Academy: the Oscar for Best Foreign Film belongs right here.

Surprisingly, I was able to buy one of the last two tickets for The Green Wave later that evening. The film is a fascinating documentary about the outrageous events surrounding the Iranian election of 2009, when Ahmadinejad and his totalitarian cronies fixed the elections, put his democractic opponent Musavi under house arrest, and subjected thousands of protesting voters to horrible raping and torturing during the months that followed. The movie is less successful during the animated sequences that cover certain events that were never captured on camera--while the animation itself has an intriguing comic-book vibrance, it feels like something out of a different movie. During the Q & A, director Ali Samadi Ahadi
gave an impassioned speech about his strong detestment for Ahmadinejad's rule, as well as his hope that someday there will be widespread democracy in the Middle East. He also elaborated on the sacrifices that came with making the film, and how he knew that he would never be able to return to his family in Iran once the film was finished. After the arrests of filmmakers Maziar Bahari and Jafar Panahi, how could he?

The midnight showing of the documentary Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel was a lot of fun. Director Alex Stapleton has made the film look like a gritty Roger Corman film in itself, and certainly has made it just as entertaining. The film includes splendid interviews with Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, Ron Howard, John Sayles, Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson and Peter Bogdonavich, as well as interviews with other Corman protogees who passed away in the previous year (George Hickenlooper, Irvin Kershner, David Carradine) and of course, interviews with Corman himself and how he longed to be taken seriously as a filmmaking artist. During the Q & A afterwards, Stapleton had trouble adjusting her blouse in order to hide the other half of her visible black bra (an observation that this red-blooded American male is not particularly proud of noticing), but otherwise, Stapleton's enthusiasm for her subject and her accomplishment shone through.

One of the Corman interviews she includes in the film involves Corman's disgust for the blockbuster boom that took off after Jaws and Star Wars, and how he believed at the time that it was absurd to make movies on $35 million budgets ("why not use that money to build a city?"). Somewhat unsettled by this quote of Corman's, and finding it to be rather anti-artistic, I asked Stapleton during the Q & A about whether she agreed with Corman or not. She told me that she agrees with Corman to the extent that big budgets are often wasted on bad films, and pointed out that several of Corman's protogees (including James Cameron) have gone on to make movies with big budgets anyway, somewhat differing significantly with Corman's own worldview of cinema budgets in general.

Friday morning began with a screening of Miranda July's The Future at the Eccles, and it was a screening I will never forget. When I rented her 2005 debut feature Me and You and Everyone We Know a couple years ago, I knew that July was an interesting filmmaker who would be going places. Now that I have seen The Future, I realize that she is something more: one of the wisest filmmaking voices of our generation.

Though it has dozens of side-splitting moments that had the audience laughing for minutes, The Future is not a full-blown quirky comedy like Me and You and Everyone We Know; and, as a result, I actually think it's a much better film. Miranda July has confirmed her incomparability as a poet of desperation--her films are about aging, wandering souls whose only longing is for love and security. In The Future, she and Hamish Linklater play Sophie and Jason, a couple that decides to adopt a stray cat from the pound and, then, make the most of their lives in the next 30 days waiting before they're allowed to take the cat home.

But that doesn't even begin the incredible scope of July's 91-minute film, which eventually becomes the most surreal and intoxicating independent movie of its kind since Charlie Kaufmann's Synecdoche, New York. As pleasant of a film as Me and You and Everyone We Know was, it followed a typical linear narrative that all first-time independent filmmakers generally adopt for their debut projects. Five years later, July is a much more experienced filmmaker and has chosen this time to play around with narrative structure and, what's more, blend the line between reality and imagination. This seemingly small movie packs a wallop: a talking moon, a litle girl buried in dirt from the neck down, a yellow shirt that literally crawls a across neighborhood street, and characters who have the ability to freeze time.

All of this anchored by a most ingenious plot device: a track of narration by the lonely stray cat, named "Paw Paw", that waits patiently in its cage for the day when Sophie and Jason will finally come to bring it home. We never get to see what Paw Paw actually looks like; we only see her giant paws, which gesture like regular human hands (one of the film's funnier moments). And her voice (by July herself) sounds like the dialect of Norman Bates' crotchety old mother: it's creepy, it's hilarious, and it's even sad. I will not spoil the events that ultimately unfold from Sophie and Jason's anxious wait to adopt Paw Paw, but I can't rave enough about how much of a must-see experience The Future is. When it opens worldwide later in the year, I hope to see it again, maybe even to review it. I have a very good feeling it's the kind of film that improves with repeated viewings. It's also the most haunting film I've seen at the festival--and I say that as someone who has also seen Vampire.

The day ended early after I chatted with some of my fellow Film School Pass cardholders during a brunch at the Sundance House and, later, joined them in the Miner's Tour afterwards, which, with its fascinating pieces of digital art (including a piece by James Franco that puts a sexually-charged twist on the first season of Three's Company), is highly recommended. I had wanted to Wait List to buy a ticket for Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter at the Redstone later in the evening, but the movie was unfortunately so crowded that only about 12 Wait Listers (out of 70) were able to get tickets (my uncle and I were numbers #45 and #46). To add insult to injury, this was my last chance to see the film at Sundance. But I'm looking forward to its wide release.

Only one disappointment about the screening this morning of The Future: Miranda July was not there. The excuse was that she's "needed all around the world." It's a shame, too, because I wanted desperately to have a picture taken with her. And then to give her a great big hug.


  1. Terrific update, Adam. Sounds like you're having a great time.

  2. Magnificent and ultra-passionate round-up there Adam! I can see you are having the time of you life!!!

    Can't wait to see Ms. Blier's film and that Roger Corman doc in particular!

  3. Craig and Sam, thanks to both of you. In A Better World is one of the best films at the festival for sure, as is Corman's World. Pretty soon I'm going to create a post that includes all the photos from this incredible trip.


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