MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Sundance Preview

The independent film world is already descending upon beautiful Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. The shuttles will be crowded, Main Street will be packed with film buffs, talent, people who are there to socialize and score some free swag, and probably Banksy will not show up this year to adorn Park City with street art (damn, I can’t believe I was sick last year and missed seeing that). I hear Lauryn Hill, The Roots and Snoop Dogg are all performing on Main Street during this year’s fest; if history is an indicator, this means that folks attending the fest can expect to be repeatedly accosted by total strangers on shuttles and Main Street asking if they’ve seen Snoop Dogg, talked to Snoop Dogg, or can gain them access to the Snoop Dogg performance or the private Snoop Dogg after party. Because fo rizzle, Robert Redford and John Cooper are all about Sundance being a Snoop Dogg happening, and I can’t think of another rapper/celebrity I associate more with independent film than Snoop Dogg! Can you?

Most of the working press in Park City, though, will be too busy haunting Holiday Village going to screening after screening to worry about waiting in line for Snoop Dogg, or even The Roots. Because to paraphrase John Cooper, Sundance isn’t about the celebs or even the sales, it’s about the films, dammit! And if you’re not coming to Sundance for love of independent film, don’t come at all. With the renewed focus on making Sundance more edgy and less predicatible the last couple years, the slate of films for this year’s Sundance has me very excited to get to Park City and settle in for some serious film watching. In between films, I will be banging out reviews as quickly as possible, writing up a few dispatches (hey, if you’re lucky I may even score a Snoop Dogg sighting and get a few pics of a pack of rich-kid snowboarders eagerly paying homage to His Doggness), and tweet-tweet-tweeting initial impressions of films and fest happenings. I’m also hoping for plenty of snow in Park City (I know a lot of Sundance attendees pretty much hate the snow and the cold, but as a Seattle girl who is regularly deprived of good, snowy winters, I love the snow!), and kind of curious to see what eatery is inhabiting the endlessly rotating restaurant slot at the Holiday Village strip mall this year; it’s been a burrito joint and a sammich joint, and for two years in a row once it was an awesome NY-style pizza slice/pasta joint — who knows what we’ll get this year? I personally am hoping for a healthy smoothie joint, but I’m guessing that is unlikely.

When the Sundance schedule was announced last month, I wrote up a preview of some of the most interesting-looking films that popped out at me. Since then, I’ve been combing through the press and industry schedule, trying to glean from the paragraph or two written about each film which of them I most want to see at this year’s Sundance. Some years I just pick films at random or use a Magic-8 Ball and that’s probably just about as effective as trying to be more serious in your Sundance selections, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. So here, in no particular order, are some of the films I am most excited about catching during the week I’ll be Sundancing.


The Off Hours
Written/Directed by Megan Griffiths
Category: NEXT

What It’s About: Amy Seimetz (Tiny Furniture) is Francine, a waitress working the late-night shift at a diner, meets a banker-turned-big-rig-driver who reminds her it’s not to late to become the person she’s always wanted to be.

Why I want to See It: I’m all about female writer/directors, but I’m also intrigued by this film’s all-star indie cast. Supporting Seimetz are Lynn Shelton (director of Humpday), Scoot McNairy (Monsters), Tony Doupe (Crimes of the Past) and Bret Roberts (The Violent Kind). This one’s worth a shot.


Life in a Day
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Cateogry: Premieres

What It’s About: This hotly anticipated doc by Oscar-winning director Macdonald is the result of a cinematic experiment in which the global community was asked to capture their lives on camera on July 24, 2010 and submit that footage via YouTube. Director Macdonald, exec producer Ridley Scott, and their team culled through all this footage to find the moments that encapsulate what it means to be alive on Earth, right now, as seen through the eyes of people around the globe.

Why I Want to See It: Apart from being fascinated by the sheer breadth of this project, early reports I’ve heard are that the end result is moving and very well done.


Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology
Directed by: Tiffany Shlain
Category: US Documentary Competition

What It’s About: Connected explores, as you might glean from the title, the connections linking the major issues of our time — population growth, technology, human rights, the global economy — using animation and archival footage. Could be fascinating.

Why I Want to See It: Partly because I didn’t see enough docs last year and am kicking off 2011 by adding plenty of docs to my cinematic diet at Sundance, and partly because this one could be both cool and informative. Worth checking out.


The Redemption of General Butt Naked
Directed by: Eric Strauss & Daniele Anastasion
Category: US Documentary Competition

What It’s About: Joshua Milton Blahyi was a brutal Liberian warlord known as General Butt Naked who murdered thousands of people during Liberia’s civil war. Today he is an evangelist preaching peace and facing the very people he once terrorized.

Why I Want to See It: What could be more fascinating than a tale of a man attempting to redeem his bloody past? I’ve seen docs of a similar theme before, and I’m always intrigued by what these kinds of stories can reveal about human nature and the possibility of the redemptive power of forgiveness. On the other hand, I once got kicked out of a Bible study class for arguing against the idea that either “confession” or being “born again” should allow for even the most reprehensible of murderers, abusers and the like to get a free pass for their sins, so I’m thinking I’m not likely to be a total sucker for an emotion-tugging sob story, so curious to see what I think of this one.


The Lie
Written/Directed by Josh Leonard
Category: NEXT

What It’s About: Based on a New Yorker short story by T.C. Boyle, The Lie stars Leonard and Teeth’s Jess Weixler as Lonnie and Clover, a young, idealistic couple who find themselves trapped in the kind of mundane existence they sought to avoid by an unplanned pregnancy. When Clover is offered a job that would offer stability in exchange for giving up their values, Lonnie, needing a break from his soul-sucking job to figure things out, calls in sick — creating a shocking lie to justify his absence. As you might expect, things snowball from there.

Why I Want to See It: The short story’s great (you can read it here),and when I interviewed Leonard a couple years ago for Humpday he struck me as a singularly intelligent, passionate sort of guy, so I am quite interested to see what he’s done with this material as a writer, director and actor. Plus, it has Jess Weixler, one of my favorite indie actresses. This one has “must-see” written all over it.


Red State
Written/Directed by Kevin Smith
Category: Premieres

What It’s About: Kevin Smith does horror. For some reason the crazy people from the Westboro Baptist Church are coming to Park City to protest it. I think they really just want an excuse to snowboard, but whatever. Apparently there’s a counter-protest planned, so maybe I’ll swing by and get pics of pithy signage.

Why I Want to See it: Well, I do actually want to see it, because I am a fan of Smith. But unfortunately Smith is not screening the film for press, so I guess I won’t be seeing it. Too bad.


Project Nim
Directed by James Marsh
Category: World Documentary Competition

What It’s About: Director James Marsh, who previously made the fascinating Man on Wire, is back with a doc about Nim, a chimpanzee who became the focus of a study to prove that an ape could be taught to communicate its thoughts with sign language.

Why I Want to See It: As aforesaid, I’m on a docs quest this year, and Marsh impressed greatly with Man on Wire, which could have been mundane but ended up being extraordinary. Plus, anything that gets all philosophical about human nature gets my intellectual side all pumped up. Cannot wait to see this one.


Written and Directed by Azazeal Jacobs
category: US Dramatic Competition

What It’s About: A drama about a gentle giant misfit of a teen and the compassionate vice-principal who reaches out to him.

Why I Want to See It: Jacobs’ previous film, Momma’s Man, has, much like Daddy Longlegs, stuck with me much longer than I expected. I saw it at Sundance a couple years ago and there are moments from that film that still creep out of nowhere and pop into my head, in spite of my general annoyance with the main character for much of that film. Any film that I’m still thinking about years later, means for me that director’s next work is work checking out.


The Future
Written and Directed by Miranda July
Category: Premieres

What It’s About: I’ll let this excerpt from the description say it all:

But as the month slips away, the two find themselves living in two starkly different realities. Sophie and Jason must reunite with time, space and their own souls in order to reconnect. Using elements of magical realism—a talking cat who narrates his own sad tale, a living t-shirt, and a strangely familiar Moon—the film bravely creates its own universe. With pathos and humor, it invites us to recognize the bittersweetness of this very moment.

Why I Want to See It: Miranda July is awesome. Enough said.

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3 Responses to “Sundance Preview”

  1. Robert Hamer says:

    Is Smith *still* acting like a big baby with critics?

  2. Direwolf says:

    Thanks, Kim. As fan who comes to Sundance to see as many films as I can in 72 hours, these sort of quick and dirty overviews/reviews are really great. Enjoy your week!

  3. Valuable info. Lucky me I discovered your website by chance, and I’m shocked why this coincidence didn’t took place in advance! I bookmarked it.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon