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Sundance 2007 was rich with compelling films and amazing casts. It was clear that the “Sundance effect” had successfully seduced some of the world’s best actors into taking intriguing parts in low-budget films for the chance to do something surely unusual- and possibly even great! In the mad scramble for tickets, and lack of time, I was only able to see a few of the many films I had checked off on my list as “must-sees.” Here is a list of films I did get to see and others I didn’t, but surely heard a lot of buzz about. Watch for them and be sure to check them out when they come to a theatre near you……..

OPENING NIGHT: PARK CITY

As most of you probably know, the anti-war demonstrations outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 are now recognized as a seminal turning point in politics. In spite of the dramatic efforts to stop them by then-Mayor Richard Daley and his police, and the arrest and beating of many, the anti-war message was still delivered loud and clear. In re-examining those dramatic days, and the often circus-like trials of underground political leaders Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale (Seale was later severed from the trial, leaving 7 defendants) that followed, CHICAGO 10 filmmaker Brett Morgen has created a film that is so much more than just a look back. Chicago 10 mixes intense animation with archival footage to explore the buildup to and unraveling of the infamous conspiracy trail. Chicago 10 is a parable of hope, courage, and challenge as it portrays the struggle of young Americans attempting to confront an oppressive and armed government…their own. Voices by Hank Azaria, Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo, Roy Scheider, Live Schreiber, Leonard Weinglass, and Jeffrey Wright. FYI: Brett Morgen also recently completed work on a TV series, “Nimrod Nation,” slated for debut on the Sundance channel in the fall. P.S. Morgen was invited to join Robert Redford and Sundance Film Festival director Geoffrey Gilmore on stage at this year’s opening press conference, quite an honor for a young director!

SALT LAKE CITY GALA

AWAY FROM HER is a beautiful and unconventional story about a long-married couple coming to grips with the wife’s developing Alzheimers. Fiona (sensitively played by the still fabulous Julie Christie) is well aware of what awaits her. To release her husband (Gordon Pinsent) from the inevitable fate of becoming her caretaker, she chooses to check herself into a home specializing in Alzheimer’s patients. As Fiona’s memory of her husband begins to slip away, the couple must begin working through the complex transition from lovers to strangers. This heart wrenching movie is really a love story- though in reverse. Through flash-backs to younger and happier times, the history of their love becomes increasingly evident, and the tragedy of their current situation more poignant. Also stars Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Thomson, Michael Murphy, and Wendy Crewson.

CLOSING FILM

At its core, LIFE SUPPORT delivers a personal, yet potent, message. It uses a mix of actors and members of the Brooklyn HIV/AIDS community to tell the story of Ana Wallace, who channels her energy and regret over past drug addiction into her work with an AIDS outreach group. A passionate woman with a stubborn streak, she is thrown into a situation that puts her health at risk and threatens to drive her already-fractured family away. Ana’s undying optimism in the face of diversity is both truthful and inspiring. Starring Queen Latifah, Anna Deavere Smith, Wendell Pierce, Rachel Nicks, Evan Ross, and Tracee Ellis Ross. Directed by Nelson George.

INDEPENDENT FILM COMPETITION: DOCUMENTARY

With startlingly candid interviews with perpetrators, witnesses, and victims, GHOSTS OF ABU GHRAIB provides an inside look at the abuses that occurred at the Iraqi prison in the fall of 2003. Award-winning filmmaker Rory Kennedy traces the path to Abu Ghraib beginning with 9/11. Kennedy explores how, given the right circumstances, typical boys and girls next door can commit atrocious acts of violence. Powerful, restrained, and fiercely compelling, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib demands that we examine our conscience as a nation.

Brazil is known for its beautiful beaches, lush rain forests, and vibrant culture, but that’s in Rio. In the nearby Sao Paulo slums though, the culture is more about corrupt politicians, kidnapping, and plastic surgery to reconnect severed ears used as a ransom-eliciting tool. There are clearly numerous other factors at work as well in Brazil’s lopsided society, including the fact that the country has one of the planet’s worst gaps between rich and poor. Produced by Jared Goldman and Joey Frank, and directed by Jason Kohn, long-time friends from high school, the film is actually a family affair with the money to make it coming from the trio’s families. MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET) artfully connects disparate elements and conducts a dazzling, yet harrowing, examination of the tragic domino effect that has reshaped the face of Brazil and created an entire industry built on corruption. This film is an ingenious, very watchable documentary. Winner of the Sundance 2006 Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary..

INDEPENDENT FILM COMPETITION: DRAMATIC

ADRIFT IN MANHATTAN is the layered story of three people who find the courage to move to the next stage of life- through strangers. Rose, an optometrist paralyzed by grief after the death of her infant, has built a wall around herself, unable to relate to her husband or anyone else. When an obviously lonesome elderly man begins to visit her office, Rose urges him to ask for help – something they both may need. Meanwhile Simon, a late-blooming teenager, photographs people at a distance with a borrowed lens. One day, Rose comes into focus, and the pictures he shoots provides a channel for each of them to touch something deep within. Starring Heather Graham, Victor Rasuk, Dominic Chianese, William Baldwin, Elizabeth Peña, and Marlene Forte. Directed by Alfredo de Villa.

BROKEN ENGLISH tells the story of Nora, a sexy, funny, and creative woman, with her only fault the curse of wanting more out of life. She must suffer quietly through her best friend’s “perfect marriage” and a mother who constantly reminds her of it. After yet another disastrous date, Nora meets Julian, a quirky Frenchman who won’t take no for an answer, and they embark on a romance that could either be exactly what she needs…or send her over the edge for good. Nora and Julian’s flaws are revealed in a big way, ensuring they will always remain human and vulnerable. Starring Parker Posey, Drea de Mateo, Melvil Poupaud, Gena Rowlands, Peter Bogdanovich, and Justin Theroux. Directed by Zoe Cassavetes.

In FOUR SHEETS TO THE WIND, Cufe Smallhill’s father never has much to say, but one day, when he says nothing at all, Cufe finds him dead beside a bottle of pills. He does as he once promised, and sinks the body to the bottom of the family pond. But since everyone in the community expects a funeral, his family decides to fake one. In the midst of mourning, Cufe realizes he needs a more fulfilling life. So when his sister Miri comes for the funeral and invites him to visit her in the big city, she opens the door to a new world for him. Starring Cody Lightning, Jeri Arredondo, Tamara Podemski, Laura Bailey, Richard Ray Whitman, Christian Kane, and Mike Randleman. Directed by Sterlin Harjo.

GRACE IS GONE deals with love lost as Stanley Phillips, a patriot and father of two, is overwhelmed when he gets news that his wife, Grace, has been killed in the Iraq war. Though distraught, he tries to rally the strength to tell his young daughters the sad news. Instead, he bundles them in the car and heads to their favorite amusement park. Inside, he knows what he needs to do, but realizes he must first learn who his daughters are before he can begin helping them overcome this tragedy. Starring John Cusack, Alessandro Nivola, Shélan O’Keefe, and Gracie Bdenarczyk. Directed by James C. Strouse. Winner of The Audience Award – Dramatic.

The biggest buzz at Sundance! Dakota Fanning gives a stellar performance in HOUNDOG as Lewellen, a pre-teen southern girl who radiates splendor amidst the steamy summer murk that surrounds her. Raised by her abusive father and strict grandmother, she finds comfort, joy, and strength in music, especially Elvis Presley, and playing with her friend, Buddy. However, as their playing drifts toward innocent sexual games, Lewellen’s painful history unfolds. No spoilers here, folks, but when another shocking event befalls her, it’s hard to know if her spirit will finally break, or if her inspiring resiliency will carry her on. Starring Robin Wright Penn, David Morse, Piper Laurie, Afemo Omilami, and Jill Scott. Directed by Deborah Kempmeier.

Though I really did not enjoy PADRE NUESTRO, it won this year’s prestigious Grand Jury Prize – Dramatic, no easy feat. It’s a tale of stolen identity and fate. Fleeing a pack of Mexican henchman, Juan unwittingly jumps on a truck transporting illegals from Mexico to New York City. En route, he befriends Pedro, who is in search of his rich restaurateur father, Diego. Pedro shows Juan a sealed letter that his mother, now dead, has given him – from a father he never knew. When they arrive in New York City, Pedro awakes to find his bag, the letter, and new friend gone without a trace. Meanwhile, Juan shows up at Diego’s door with the letter, claiming to be his long-lost son, Pedro. Starring Jesús Ochoa, Armando Hernández, Jorge Adrián Espíndola, and Paola Mendoza. Directed by Christopher Zalla.

ROCKET SCIENCE tells the tale of Hal Hefner, a young man of few words. A high school student in New Jersey, he has a persistent stutter, because of which he must endure disparaging remarks from his classmates. His directionless brother, Earl, tells him he needs a plan, but with none in sight, Hal takes to hiding in the custodial closet. Enter Virginia Reyerson, star of the debate team. Dismissing Hal’s public speaking problems, she recruits him for the team. For Virginia, debate is life; for Hal, life is Virginia. So it seems a good match…until it isn’t. Starring Reece Daniel Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Nicholas D’Agosto, and Vincent Piazza. Directed by Jeffrey Blitz.

STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING is about Leonard Schiller, a 70-year-old out-of-print novelist who carefully shelters himself to complete the book he’s been writing for a decade. When Heather, a graduate student, enters the scene, she prods him to uncover deeper meanings in his work for her thesis, and Leonard is both shaken and emboldened. Meanwhile, his daughter Ariel is nearing 40, and is intent on having a child. While father and daughter attempt to shield each other from pain, it is only in the freedom to take risks that their lives move forward. Starring Frank Lengella, Lili Taylor, Lauren Ambrose, and Adrian Lester. Directed by Andrew Wagner.

TEETH is jaw-droppingly undefinable. Dawn is a beautiful, blonde Christian high school student, caught up in her school’s fanatical purity campaign, saving herself for marriage. The innocent teenager discovers by accident that she is anatomically unique – she has TEETH in her VAGINA – a state of being that is both victimizing and empowering. This unique film which defies characterization is part horror, part comedy, part abstinence debate, and part outrageous assault on male vulnerability and fear. Judging by the groans, I think the ladies in the audience enjoyed this film a lot more than the guys! Starring Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Josh Bais, Hale Appleman, Lenny Von Dohlen, and Vivienne Benesch.

WORLD CINEMA COMPETITION: DOCUMENTARY

Lots of buzz on this one! Between 1968 and 1972, nine American spacecraft voyaged to the Moon, and 12 men walked upon its surface. They remain the only human beings to have ever stood on another planet. For the first time ever, the documentary IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON has all surviving crew members from the Apollo missions tell their story in their own words. Space shots capture the Earth in all its glory and reveal the Apollo program with a visual clarity and impact it has never had before. Directed by David Sington.

Very buzzworthy! JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN, by filmmaker Julien Temple, chronicles the transformation of a self described “mouthy little git,” born John Mellor, into an anti-establishment icon known to the world as Joe Strummer. Through previously unaired interviews with Strummer himself and recollections of those who knew him best, Temple uncovers the myth behind the front man of the seminal punk band the Clash.

Lots of buzz on this one! MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES is the portrait of one man’s voyage as he follows celebrated photographer Edward Burtynsky on a tour of Asia. He photographs stills of industrial landscapes: factory workers lined up, giant ships eviscerated, massive recycling dumps, etc. Burtynsky’s goal is to portray humanity’s relationship to nature as we pursue progress. Directed by Jennifer Baichwal

A VERY BRITISH GANGSTER is a potently charged documentary about one of Britian’s most dangerous crime families and introduces us to its leader, Dominic Noonan (aka Lattlay Fottfoy) as he lurches from criminal trial to trial while serving as patriarch of the community, protecting his own with his own brand of justice. The world the film reveals is disturbing, full of lost innocence and lives, but the people who inhabit it are full of loyalty and love. This is the directorial debut of British television journalist Donal Mac Intyre, who has spent years working undercover while tackling a huge range of social issues, particularly football hooliganism. Having met him, it comes as no real surprise that the charming Mr. Mac Intyre was granted such open access to one of Britain’s most colorful criminals!

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 71 - September 2018
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