Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sundance: Day 2

Friday and Saturday ended up being 14 hour marathons of movie indulgence with several highs and lows along the way.

We kicked off Friday morning with Joe and Leslie at an early morning showing of "A Family Portrait in Black and White" which is the story of a Ukrainian woman named Olga that raises orphans, especially colored and mulatto children that society has completely rejected. The first half practically builds a case for Olga to receive sainthood with the life and love she provides to these unloved and unwanted children (27 of them in all in a house with no toilet or hot water).

However, as the story continues along, you see moments where Olga is actually sort of suffocating these children and thwarting their progress. She won't allow most of them to attend schools that are away and would help them get a good education. The kids all have foster families they visit in the summer, many of whom would like to adopt them, but she won't allow it until the kids are 18, even though these families could provide a much better home for them. So, it's all a big dichotomy - what she offers is certainly better than what an orphanage would provide, but she stubbornly stunts their growth in the process. In her words "birds may fly away, but a bird only has one nest".

The film was fascinating and heartfelt, if slightly formless. Many scenes could have been cut easily. Also, all the filming took place during the summers, which is fine except that it would have been interesting to see how everyone endures a Russian winter in a house with no hot water. Still, well worth seeing. Score: 8

Next up was the movie I was most looking forward to of the whole festival- "Black Power Mixtape". It's a Swedish documentary on the Black Power movement covering the years 1967 - 1975. This is a topic I've found fascinating for years and have always watched anything I could get my hands on. Well, this was a slight disappointment.

First of all, I should have been tipped off more that the film is Swedish. Not that it matters too much, after all Swedes can tell the Black Panther story too, but it felt more like some footage that had been laying around and turning it into a film gave it a reason to exist. It's basically a composite of news reports filed by Swedish journalists reporting back on the American equal rights situation. That's fine, it just amounted to an ultimately serviceable, but not crucial, telling of the Black America story. A unique trick they used that I wasn't a big fan of, was having modern day commentators like Angela Davis, Talib Kweli, and Melvin Van Peeples talk over parts as if it was a DVD commentary. Nice idea, but I'd probably rather see these people's faces as they told the story. Maybe that's nitpicking. Overall, it was fine, but not essential. Score: 5.5

From here we went to another drama called "Benevidas Born". It's the story of a high school female power lifter in a largely Hispanic Texas town who is trying to find a way out, not just out of town, but out of her culture and the life she knows.

A film about a female power lifter sounded fascinating to me and it was, despite the very amateurish acting and film making, for the first 30 minutes or so when that was the focus. All of a sudden the film begins taking turns and the lead begins down a path of self-destruction that seems so foreign to the premise and character we were investing in. She goes from pursuing her goal to taking steroids, quitting the sport, starting a fire and going to jail, transporting illegal aliens, and pushing her boyfriend and family away. It just didn't ring true. It was like the filmmakers wanted to throw in any obstacle a poor Hispanic family would come up against and throw them all at this girl. I didn't buy it. Score: 4

We saw this with Joe and Leslie too and afterwards we went to Flippin' Burgers for some dinner and to meet up with Jon and Natalia Anderson, our good friends from our ward that moved to Park City last year so Jon could go to work for Skull Candy. It was so good to catch up with them again. It doesn't hurt that Jon has a cool job and brought some schwag for us, including some sweet headphones at a discount, some cds, stickers, and hats. Love those guys.

The last movie of the day was another I had high hopes for called "Knuckle". It's an Irish documentary about some interrelated Traveler families (think Gypsies) that have been in a heated battled since a fight broke out at a wedding in '92 and someone died. Since then, every few months a member of one clan will challenge someone from another clan to a bare knuckle fight for a purse of money. The winner basically claims bragging rights, but since these fights just keep going and going and younger generations have begun to adopt them, there isn't an end in sight. In fact, they've become a tradition and part of their new heritage.

All very cool, right? You'd think. As cool as the fight scenes were, there was almost no sense of narrative. The director had been following them for 12 years, but never really tells a story. It just goes from one fight to another. The Q&A afterwards was way more informative than the film itself. For instance, he starts out by saying "I assumed when I made this that everyone would know what Travelers are, but I'm learning no one does. So, let me explain..." No kidding! It didn't occur to him to explain that? Another example - two guys fight and the younger, fitter guy breaks the rules and bites the other guy several times so the fight is called. They do a rematch nine years later and in the Q&A, the director explains that the one guy had been embarrassed for the biting and been living in regret ever since. Don't you think that's exactly what an audience would like to know so they can add some context to these fights? Overall, a real missed opportunity. The fights are cool to watch, but there's nothing else there. Score: 4

We finally get home Friday night around midnight and have to be up by 6:30 Saturday morning to get to our first movie, "The Son of No One". I mention this because it's what these trips are really like. A few hours of sleep and then a movie marathon, eating when/if there's time, and then back to bed for a bit to do it all over again the next day. Can't be beat!

Also, notice I've yet to mention any star sightings. That's because there haven't been any. Kinda disappointing.

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