Running for 10 days every January (long enough for elbow rubbers to sufficiently rub, plus a day or two for degreasing), the Sundance Film Festival unleashes more than 100 new films to the ambitious filmgoers in attendance, including dozens of national and world premieres.
There are a bunch of filmmaking seminars. Even more parties. But most of all, Sundance is a glad-handing networking event for filmmakers, filmgoers, executives, press and fledgling artists.
As is the case with any truly cool indie thing, the corporations have long since co-opted Sundance As a result, money now runs neck in neck with “art” as the driving force. Good for Sundance-no filmmaker nor film festival should be denied its capitalistic right to sell out. Yet because it's held in the beginning of the year and because it's the most important film festival in the U.S., Sundance continues to reign as the gatekeeper of Indie Flickdom. If it's not on one of the screens here, it's not likely to be on the dilapidated little art-flick-house screen near you.
I was able to see 21 screenings this year at Park City. There were duds. I'd advise, for instance, to wait for Kevin Bacon's Loverboy, Jenny McCarthy's Dirty Love and David Ocanas' between to come out on DVD. Shouldn't take long.
But there were also standouts, and here are three standers that stood out the standingest-all of which have already secured distribution:
Kekexili: Mountain Patrol
Picked up by Sony Classics, Lu Chuan's film is based on the real-life events in Western China during the 1990s. It follows a group of men living and dying under the beautiful sky in order to protect Tibetan antelope against poachers. Rather than using a good-versus-bad scenario to uplift the audience, Kekexili sticks to the truth and creates a moving, impressive narrative on the contradictions that arise when humans go toe-to-toe with nature-including one of the most frightening deaths ever captured on film.
It's not enough that Oh Dae-Sue (Korean superstar Choi Min-sik) was locked in a room for 15 years, drugged and abused. His captors also framed him for his wife's murder during that stretch, freeing him just in time to take the fall. Understandably, Dae-Sue wants answers. Scheduled for release by Tartan Films in March, Park Chanwook's (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) wild tale of fanatical revenge is a jaw-dropping journey into the basement of the human animal. Dae-Sue gets answers all right, though not quite the sort of redemptive facts he was looking for.
Scheduled for release by Tartan Films in May, this entry by Gregg Araki (The Living End, Totally F***ed Up) centers on Brian Lacky (Brady Corbet) who experienced episodic amnesia when he was eight years old. Unable to find an explanation for five hours he can't recall, he settles for alien abduction. Meanwhile, another local boy, Neil (Joseph Gordon Levitt), begins to prostitute himself to local and visiting men. As the years, blood, sweat, tears and anguish transpire, the two are eventually drawn together. The viewer knows from the onset what happened to Brian during those lost hours, but how the story moves is the prize. The soundtrack by ambient master Harold Budd and Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie haunts like the story itself. Also features Elizabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas) as Neil's caring and promiscuous mother and Bill Sage (High Art) as a villain so creepy you'd call the cops if he asked you for the time.