Back at Sundance – Day #1
After two years away due to the initial AFI DALLAS launch and scheduling issues the second year, I’m back in Park City to get a head start working on the films we’ll be picking up, get some face time with the journalists in town and possibly help Artistic Director Michael Cain and the programming dynamic Dallas duo of James Faust and Sarah Harris maybe find a couple more must haves that they somehow didn’t catch in their exhaustive non-stop movie search. Oh – and I’m also doing a Sundance story for Envy Magazine as they continue to stretch the boundaries of the “local social/ entertainment” magazine.
First impression – the reminder that you can’t park a car in Park City. Unless of course, you have a roll of bills like a mobster at hand to pay or you won the parking lottery. Point is – they don’t want you to park here. They don’t want you to have even owned a car. Ever. It’s understandable why. I mean, of course, I get it. And the public transpo is great. But there’s kind of an angry aggressiveness about the parking moratorium. And the tow trucks? Like sharks. Trolling for cars left behind by the weak-willed and desperate to make a movie or a meeting.
Scary. If you happen to have a car here – like me.
Anyway, if you’ve been here before then you know the drill and if you haven’t, you’ll learn fast. And ultimately, you won’t care because it’s all about the movies. Because if you’re here, even if it is for work, you likely view movies a little differently than the general public. At my first press screening, I asked a guy what he had seen that he had loved. He said, “I haven’t fallen in love yet, but I would sleep with PAPER HEART.” He also said he would have a one-night stand with LYMELIFE. Which leads me to think he would also buy PAPER HEART dinner a couple times as well.
The first film I saw was BIG FAN. The film follows a sad sack parking lot attendant who loves his New York Football Giants like no other. Until a disastrous incident occurs during a flukish meeting with his all-time favorite player, that is. I’m interviewing Patton Oswalt, the star of the film, tomorrow – AND I had insider info that it was gonna be a good one so I was looking forward to it. And it didn’t disappoint. It’s funny in a “real” way and it’s not afraid to go to some serious places you wouldn’t expect of Mr. Oswalt. But not earnest Oscar grab kind of going to those places. Probably because that sort of play would never enter Patton’s head in the first place. Written and directed by Robert Siegel with the same unflinching look at both the humor and you have to say it – pathos, that he brought to the script for THE WRESTLER. There’s also a nice understated turn by Kevin Corrigan as Oswalt’s character’s partner in fandom. The film draws conclusions that may not be the best on paper for all concerned, but (and I’m going to hate myself as I write this) that’s why they play the game. Finally, BIG FAN has, hands down, one of the best payoffs I have seen in a very long time.
Nice start, huh?
Film number two was THE COVE. Again, I was looking forward to this one from the moment I heard about it. The film is an expose’ on the dolphin industry and in particular the wholesale slaughter of dolphins that takes place in a little cove in Taiji, Japan. And it is as riveting as it gets as we follow a group of activists who hatch and execute an elaborate OCEAN’S 11-type operation for the express purpose of filming and documenting what goes on there. Led by Ric O’Barry who has been on a crusade for some 35 years to thwart an industry he feels greatly responsible for inspiring due to his work as a dolphin trainer on the original FLIPPER TV series, the group and the film work toward unmasking the many wrongs – animal cruelty to the nth degree and the willful spread of mercury poisoning to the entire country (with an emphasis on their children) among them. THE COVE invites immediate comparisons to SHARKWATER, which we had at AFI DALLAS in 2007 and which won the prize for Best HD Feature. And that comparison weighs very heavily in THE COVE’s favor. While SHARKWATER’s campaign against the illegal shark finning industry was easily just as genuine, it was burdened by the weighty ego of its filmmaker and “star.” O’Barry and the principals involved with THE COVE never waver on where their focus and concern lies –with a species with an intelligence and self awareness that could possibly exceed our own. And our kind’s typical bent to destroy that. Don’t miss this film when you get the chance to see it.
Number three? Chris Rock’s documentary, GOOD HAIR. This was an eye opener. Black women’s (and some men’s) love affair with relaxer (or “creamy crack”) and weaves is equal parts hilarious and frightening. Not surprising, mind you. Not when, as Nia Long describes the desire for “white hair” – there has long been a steady drumbeat for generations of black women to seek “the lighter, the brighter, the better,” as she says. To see what the principal chemical component in relaxer can do to a coke can in 3 or 4 hours is bad enough. Realizing that same stuff is being put on the heads of children after hearing the horror stories of the scalp burn from people like Ice T (yes, that Ice T), places it in a whole other arena. And then there are the secret societies of women with weaves, descriptions of how they pay thousands upon thousands of dollars for those weaves and how women in India literally have their hair “stolen” – cut off while they’re asleep or watching a movie in a theater – to fulfill that demand/obsession. It’s a lot to take in. And while I laughed throughout, I actually have gained much empathy for the men who must negotiate their way around their woman’s weave. Because, Rock makes it very clear – she may be worth it, but that’s some heavy lifting.
Finally, it was off to Slamdance to see a film we are romancing to bring to AFI DALLAS – ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD. First off, there was a gift bag on the seat for everyone attending the premiere with a poster, fangs, t-shirt, etc. Thoughtful. Vampire thoughtful. And the film was proceeded by a short film – bonus, right? Entitled HORSEFINGERS 3: STARFUCKER, it was everything you would hope from a twisted bizzaro little short about romance and tough it is already to date without also having to work around having two giant hooves (or “horsefingers”) on your hands.
While describing the film, the director (Kirsten Kearse) had the second best quote of the day, “People are boring. But put them in animal outfit…”
As far as the feature presentation is concerned, what can you say about a film that follows a theater director’s struggles as he finds himself caught in the middle of a two thousand year out conspiracy involving Shakespeare, the Holy Grail and vampires? It was funny, it was silly, it was inventive. That’s what you can say. You can also say it starred Jake Hoffman (displaying some natural dead pan talent), Devon Aoki, Ralph Macchio and Jeremy Sisto among an eclectic cast. And music by Sean Lennon. Mind you, I saw the film during its world premiere which might have doubled as a cast and crew screening so it was a mad house and a very happy, giddy mad house. But Jordan Galland’s dead little valentine would have held its own regardless and brought the funny. This will be a fun movie to have in Dallas and a great cast to have on a red carpet.