Film Festival and Concert Reports

Sundance Film Festival 2012 - Full Report

ARTICLE INDEX

Sundance 2012 coverage continued


Secrets Festival Photographer Ray Keller is not a hipster.

 

I AM NOT A HIPSTER

Another product of the Sundance Institute, director Destin Daniel Cretton won the Jury Prize for his short film Short Term 12 in 2009. In this feature, Brook, a singer-songwriter with an avid following in his adopted town of San Diego is the classic tortured artist. The arrival of his three sisters and his estranged father lifts his mood a bit even though they are there for the purpose of spreading the ashes of his recently deceased mother. Audiences loved this film a bit more than me. I found a little too much focus on this character (seems like he is in every shot). Still, it is well worth seeing. The songs and the script were developed with actor Dominic Bogart in mind and he is very talented. The performances in the film are actual and recorded live. It was a delight to see the actors and crew of this movie, so happy to have their film at Sundance

and enthusiastically performing a song from the film after the Q&A:

The music from the film can be sampled for free or downloaded for a fee from http://iamnotahipster.com/. As usual, I will wait for the vinyl.

Also during the Q&A the Director of Photography was asked what he did to create the look of the film, which was very natural. "Normally you place the artificial lighting in order to make the shot look real, but with no lighting, the shot looks real." Little to no lighting was used and uniquely, no deep blacks, 15% black at most.

 

My Best Day

Director Erin Greenwell said that she starts her films from a single line for a character that she can't get out of her head. In the case of My Best Day it was the phrase 'Meatless Meat'. This phrase is used by a character in the film fruitlessly searching for vegetarian meat alternatives at a small town grocer. This is not the central character in the movie however. The fact that Greenwell was able to grow this film around this idea and a couple of others is a testament to modern script development techniques (Greenwell also teaches film at City College of NY). Indeed the movie primarily follows the single-day journey of Karen, refrigerator repair shop receptionist (the second real-life inspiration that Ms Greenwell cited). The day is the fourth of July, the setting is a small town in Maine. Just as the on-duty repair technician is about to quit his job (for having to work on the holiday) Karen receives a call from her long-lost father. She takes the opportunity to find the family she never knew. The film moves seamlessly between the experiences of a multitude of characters but they all play their part in Karen's journey. The screenwriting polish that the director was able to apply to this low budget movie gives it a compelling focus on the transformation of its primary character which will keep your attention.


Ashlie Atkinson at Q&A for My Best Day

L

In Europe, 'L' is for 'Learners' - people learning to drive that is, a large 'L' is affixed to their car. Also in Europe, Greece is trying to learn how to get along in the European Union. That first fact was about all we could get out of the creators of the film (director Babis Makridis and cowriter Efthimis Filippou (Dogtooth)) during the Q&A. The second one is what we concluded the movie was about. It took about a day of hashing through what happened in the movie to completely convince ourselves of that however. The film is extremely, abusively, deadpan. The kind of thing that would surely enrage the typical US movie goer. The director said he views this as a road movie and wanted to see if he could make a road movie with a completely static camera. The actors are static about 90% of the time as well. And, their delivery is flat. The actors and crew were all cracking up about being so coy with the audience, who were begging for some sort of clue so everything they said had to be taken with a grain of salt. When the lead actor was asked if he would describe what it was like to play this character, he took a long thoughtful walk to the microphone and answered, "No". Here is a link to a book that was offered to the audience as an explanation of the movie and its meaning. You'll see it contains straightforward explanations for such things as U turns and steering wheels. All of this coyness makes it seem that it's more likely that the boring style of the movie is also a message about what the director thinks of the Greek debt crisis - it's boring. I am in no way worried about giving away plot points on this film, for one thing, it's unlikely many people will see it. So, here is what else I remember from the movie with my interpretations of their meanings: A man (Greece) has a delivery job (Greece's roll in EU). He lives in his car. His estranged wife and two children live in another car. He sometimes takes the children and drives around traffic circles with them. For his job he drives to see his boss (the EU) at his home, an opulent mansion on a hill. He inevitably finds his boss asleep on the grass, holding a running hose as it drains on the lawn (doing nothing, wasting resources). His boss sends him to pick up honey. The man has a friend, an ex delivery driver. He had learned to walk like a bear (Russia, Communism) but was shot by a hunter (The US) who mistook him for an actual bear. He has another friend (a neighbor of Greece?) that he occasionally drives to the beach. At some point his boss is no longer happy with him and starts courting another driver. The man (Greece) is eventually put into a contest with this driver, they must both take some honey from their boss, inspect it for quality, deliver it to a man and make small talk about his jacket. Whoever does it faster will win. Greece loses because he fails to inspect the honey for its quality (and his boss does not go out of his way to help him in this matter) . The man/Greece starts to be harassed by a group of motorcycle riders (countries outside the EU?) which tells him that cars and their drivers are evil killers. The man eventually joins the motorcyclists, giving up his car. His wife will no longer let him take the kids, saying it is not safe. Also his friend who used to go to the beach with him does not feel safe on the bike. Eventually however they make the beach trip. This man has been telling the driver/Greece about a man with a boat (the US??). It is an amazing boat, the only danger being sliding off of the deck, but the man has invented some very safe deck shoes (technology?). Anyway, there were one or two people cracking up at times during the screening so perhaps if one is clued into the joke, and to the nuances of Greece and its neighbors, you could enjoy this thoroughly. Otherwise, I wonder is it really ok to bore your audience? Could the same story have been told with a more watchable presentation?


L director Babis Makridis

 

Save The Date

A pretty-good romantic comedy/drama with a few shortcomings. The movie begins with Sarah and Jonathan moving in together but Sarah inexplicably breaking it off soon thereafter. By the looks of things it seems like it's the intimacy she can't handle but she's quickly involved in a rebound relationship that goes deep, in spite of the doubts of Sarah's sister and friends. This is a strong movie with steady acting and direction but it has an odd flaw. Perhaps it won't bother most people. It was revealed in the Q&A, the director said that the film was shot in 20 and one half days, an absolutely amazing number. Twice that would be pretty standard though people must be getting good at this because we didn't hear a number over 30 for any of the indie features this year. Still, 20, the audience gasped. Director Michael Mohan said that one of their secrets was shooting little to no coverage. There were no shots of people's hands reaching for drinks for instance, or background shots of streets with people walking by etc. This also meant there was a laser-like focus on the characters of the film, there was no side story, no back story. No time to breath. I wouldn't have thought it would be an issue had you told me that ahead of time but it turns out that a movie like that sort of hurts my head. In general I would still send people to this film. And it turns out that 'not giving the audience a chance to breath', is something that is taught in screenwriting so maybe it was part of the design. Or perhaps they were staying true to one of the films inspirations, the graphic novels of Jeffery Brown. These are heartfelt little books for adults, depicting, graphically, episodes from the life of the author. The director and his wife had each secretly contacted Mr. Brown to purchase one of his drawings to give to the other as a gift. They have since commissioned another drawing from Jeffery - that of the event of them opening their mutual presents. And, they roped Jeffery Brown into co-writing the screenplay. I could see how the movie would fit in graphic novel form and seem more natural there. Perhaps the film making techniques of coverage and background shots are simply what we're used to but I would say that by and large they are there for a reason. Anyway, the flaw is a subtle one and this film would make a decent rental.


Save the Date Director Michael Mohan

whiteonewhite;algorithmic noir

A very experimental film: A series of clips, shot in remote parts of the former Soviet Union, with only a rough story linking them together, are played in a semi-random order as selected by computer, with the textual output of the computer program displayed along with the film. To cement the arty pedigree the title is from a painting by Russian Artist Kazimir Malevich. This film is likely to play at a museum near you, unlikely to play at a theater. 3000 clips were shot, there is no particular beginning or ending, showings are meant to be continuous. At Sundance showings were limited to one hour to allow ample time for Q&A. When watching the film you do get the rough idea that there is a narrative story in there somewhere though not much of one. The clips were shot in planned cities used for space launches in the former Soviet Union and this is the most interesting part of the film, to get to see this remote part of the earth. The towns are now part of an oil boom so they are not completely abandoned but nearly so it seems. And they just look different than anything you've ever seen.


whiteonewhite;algorithmic noir Director Eve Sussman

Payback

Based on Margaret Atwood’s book by the same title, this film is a meditation on what it means to pay back, in dollars or otherwise. The film visits with migrant tomato pickers in Florida, fighting for ever so slightly better pay and working conditions, feuding clans in Albania, where an ancient system of tribal laws allow one family to place another under house arrest for perceived wrongs as well victims of BP’s oil spill on the US Gulf Coast. These are intermixed with interviews from theologian Karen Armstrong, ecologist William Rees, public critic Raj Patel, and Margeret Atwood. This is of course a very heady idea deserving of whatever examination it can get. The film is unfortunately rather uninspiring mostly due to heavy reliance on footage of Ms. Atwood typing on her computer, with misaligned sound, probably from someone else typing on a computer and from footage of Ms. Atwood reading a speech (presumably this is what we were watching her type) to an academic audience. At least one third of the movie is consumed with these particularly un-cinematic exercises. The rest is standard documentary fair. The struggles of the Florida tomato pickers should be of unique interest at this time of strident anti-union rhetoric in this country. The workers have been struggling to get one additional penny per pound, and to end slavery. That's right, slavery, people held in captivity, forced to work with no pay and no chance for freedom, in the USA, in the 2000's. Maybe a union here and there wouldn't be too bad.

Note: A fictionalized account of Albanian blood feuds called The Forgiveness of Blood was shown at last years’ Telluride Film Festival (http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/component/content/article/1401.html). It was remarkably similar to the true life account shown in Payback.

 

Wrong

How to describe this film? Writer/Diretor Quentin Dupieux' first film was Rubber, a film about a killer tire. That's a start. The film was written at least in part with automatic writing - writing from a half-sleep state without editing or thinking. That explains it. The story begins with Dolph Springer waking up one morning, as his clock rolls from 7:59 to 7:60, and finds that his beloved dog Paul is missing. Except for brief visits to his former workplace, where water pours continuously from above, Dolph's only focus is getting Paul back, even as an inadvertent conversation with a pizza restaurant employee leads inexplicably to a new live-in girlfriend. It's hard to explain. This is a very funny movie though so I hope it gets an audience. The showing we saw was decidedly lo-fi, with some scenes somewhat out of focus and the credits very much so. There was none of the typical post production work to clean things up. The look is deliberate though, at least as deliberate as automatic writing as there was some mention of an experimental camera during the Q&A (only the producer was present at the Q&A). I'm assuming it won't make it to theaters but who knows, Rubber had a very limited distribution.


Wrong Producer Gregory Bernard

For A Good Time Call

Well, the audience loved it. Hmmm. I guess some people didn't get their fill of Sex and the City. This movie seems like a lost episode from the series. Actually there is probably an actual episode that covers it pretty well. Lauren (very similar to Charlotte on SATC) is forced by New York job/rent control circumstances to move in with Katie (Samantha). Lauren can't help but overhear um – unmistakable sounds of pleasure coming from Katie's bedroom, it leads to a confrontation, a revelation and a business venture. The movie is very much in the vein of Bridesmaids with women being more raunchy than typically shown on screen. This film goes for too many obvious jokes and circumstances however. While the movie didn't have much to offer, the Q&A revealed a rather heartwarming story as the movie's cowriter's revealed that they had been college roommates in somewhat similar circumstances and now that one of them is a semi-successful Hollywood actress she was able to help her friend get this movie made. Given the wild, unexpected success of Bridesmaids I suspect we'll be seeing this in theaters.


For A Good Time Call Writer/Actor Lauren Anne Miller