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At Sundance, the film-going possibilities are overwhelming, but due to lack of time, we didn’t make it to every movie. Still, the best of the fest will be coming to a theatre near me (and you) eventually, so there’s still hope! Here are some of the films that were hot, hot, hot this year, some we saw and loved, and some others saw and loved. Watch your local listings, because you do NOT want to miss them!

AMERICAN TEEN (Documentary Competition)

Director: Nanette Burnstein

This documentary was shot everyday for ten months in a small town in Indiana, and closely follows the lives of four high school seniors and their families and friends. Director Nanette Burstein achieves an intimate portrait of the four students, giving the audience a look into their struggles, successes, pressures, first loves, and jealousies. Whether behaving badly, engaging sexually, bullying, failing or triumphing, you’ll find yourself so engaged in these teenagers lives that you might forget that this film is not fictional.


Director: Sacha Gervasi

Don’t confuse this film with a mockumentary, though the saga of the obscure Canadian rock band Anvil may seem absurd enough to appear fictional. The band’s members, Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner, will assure you that Anvil is the real deal. After their 1982 release of the record Metal on Metal, Anvil actually influenced successful rock banks such as Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax. Director Sacha Gervasi joined the band as a roadie to capture this film, and he followed the band as they performed in hockey arenas in a last ditch effort to avoid obscurity. Gervasi succeeds in giving Anvil a voice and, surprisingly, a heart as well. 

ANYWHERE, USA (Dramatic Competition)

Director: Chusy Haney-Jardine

Starring: Perla Haney-Jardine, Mary Griffin, Mike Ellis, Molly Surrett, Shelia Hipps, Brian Fox, Jeremiah Brennan, Susie Greene, Frank Avery, Ralph Brierly, Dianne Chapman, Ellis Robinson

Eight-year-old Pearl finds that she doesn’t believe in the tooth fairy anymore. Is this the mere consequence of a cynical younger generation? Or could it be the plate of pot brownies she consumed by mistake? Don’t worry—these are just the normal antics in Anywhere, USA, which was actually shot in Asheville, North Carolina, director Chusy Haney-Jardine’s hometown. Using a completely non-professional cast, Haney-Jardine made a tongue-in-cheek comedy that actually observes American life in its truest, if not best, form. One scene even takes place in a tanning salon! What’s more American than that?


Director: Brett Simon

Starring: Mischa Barton, Reece Daniel Thompson, Bruce Willis, Michael Rapaport, Kathryn Morris, Josh Pais

This high school drama simultaneously reminds us why we would not want to revisit our own high school years, while making us wonder how high school could have been different had we stood up to the ‘cool kids.’ Though centered around newspaper-geek Bobby Funke, played by Reece Thompson, this film is not your average teen-age angst melodrama; instead, the plot keeps twisting until the very end. And what would you expect, with Bruce Willis as principal? Also starring Mischa Barton, obviously accustomed to playing a high school student who is 16 going on 30, this film shows high school hell as we all remember it, but perhaps there is a chance for redemption.

AUGUST (Spectrum)

Director: Austin Chick

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Adam Scott, Naomie Harris, Robin Tunney, Rip Torn, David Bowie

Dot-com entrepreneur Tom Sterling (Josh Harnett), feels untouchable in his success, even as other dot-com companies are struggling to stay afloat. This all changes, however, in August, 2001 when everyone at the company LandShark except Sterling realizes that the end of their easy success is near. As Sterling embraces his defiance against his own imminent downfall, his co-workers all prepare for the worst. Director Austin Chick’s sophomore effort captures the unique sentiment surrounding the dot-com industry as it tried to deny its own downfall. 

BE KIND REWIND (Premieres)

Director: Michel Gondry

Starring: Jack Black, Mos Def, Mia Farrow, Danny Glover

Director Michel Gondry of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep fame uses his remarkable artistic vision to bring charm and invention to an unlikely spot- a New Jersey video store. A lowly video clerk named Jerry (Jack Black), must find a way to fix the problem in which he finds himself. After erasing all of the movies in the store because he has become magnetized (yes, magnetized) in an attempt to blow up the local utility company, Jerry and his co-worker Mike, played by Mos Def, decide to remake the lost films, including Ghostbusters and King Kong, before their boss returns from a trip and finds out what has happened. These (truly ingenious and very funny) remakes, of course, are not legal by any means, and their newly returned boss is in danger of losing his store unless his workers can come up with a plan.



Director: Christopher Bell

How does our concept of being American influence the choices we make? In the sports arena, the American mentality is to be the best and the strongest. Many believe that they must win-at-all-costs. Director Christopher Bell’s film shows what this mentality can lead to in many cases- the use and/or abuse of performance-enhancing drugs. This documentary takes a more personal turn as Bell decides to examine how his own two brothers began using steroids. Through his own personal stories, Bell leads the audience into an examination of the larger issues surrounding steroid use- the negative effects on one’s health and the negative effects on our image of the ethics of sports.

THE BROKEN (Park City at Midnight)

Director: Sean Ellis

Starring: Lena Headey, Richard Jenkins, Asier Newman, Michelle Duncan, Melvil Poupaud

When Londoner Gina sees herself driving by in her own car, she decides to follow this doppelganger to whatever mysteries she may meet along the way. She is led to an apartment with pictures of herself and her dad and suddenly what had seemed spooky at first becomes all too real. Everything around Gina becomes strange, and her dreams filled with bloody ceilings and broken mirrors are haunting her. Director Sean Ellis cleverly uses the overcast, dreary skies of London to evoke the shadowy unknown of Gina’s life. This is one horror flick not to miss—you will never look at your reflection in the mirror the same again. 


(World Cinema Competition: Documentary)

Director: Chris Waitt

After being dumped one too many times, filmmaker Chris Waitt bravely embarks on an adventure to find the source for his perpetual bad luck in love. Who better to tell him about his fatal faults and flaws than his ex-girlfriends. Waitt is met with indifference, anger, and the bitter truth as his exes confront him with his relationship sins: self-absorption, lateness, and downright delusion. Is watching Waitt receive his just deserts gratifying? Of course—we’ve all been used by clueless men. But, luckily for ex-girlfriends everywhere, we find that people can learn what it takes to have an adult relationship. And who knows, maybe Waitt even learned something too.

CSNY DÉJÀ VU (Premieres, Closing Night Film)

Director: Bernard Shakey

Director Bernard Shakey documents the 2006 Freedom of Speech tour featuring Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young in this film. As our country finds itself in another foreign war, Shakey looks back at the anti-Vietnam War sentiment held by the members of the band. Comprised of both performances and commentaries, CSNY Déjà Vu also calls for action from anti-war activists of today. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young have been dedicated to their music and also to political issues for more than forty years, so it’s no surprise that they want younger generations to learn from the past, and CSNY Déjà Vu helps to make that possible. 

DEATH IN LOVE (Premieres)

Director: Boaz Yakin

Starring: Josh Lucas, Jacqueline Bisset, Lukas Haas, Adam Brody

How do our actions affect the ones who love us most? Death in Love seeks to answer this question. The film begins with the story of a young woman who survives a Nazi concentration camp by seducing a doctor sent to the camp to perform experiments on the prisoners. Years later, the same woman is haunted by her own means of survival, and her grief carries over to her grown sons, who have never been able to cope with their mother’s erratic behavior. The older son, played by Josh Lucas, hides from his relationship with his mother and brother by becoming engrossed in sexual escapades and a fraudulent career. When these activities no longer are enough to make him happy, he decides that he must find another way to survive.

DOWNLOADING NANCY (Dramatic Competition)

Director: Johan Renck

Starring: Mario Bello, Jason Patric, Rufus Sewell, Amy Brenneman

This deeply disturbing film centers on a wife named Nancy (Maria Bello), who leaves her husband Albert (Rufus Sewell) in order to hook-up with Louis (Jason Patric), a man that she met on the Internet and with whom she has found solace. Through an exchange of emails, photos, and a discussion of sexual fantasies, Nancy and Louis seem to find liberation from their own painful lives in riveting sexual encounters that are not for the meek. Finally, in a shocking twist at the end, we find out what this film is really about.

THE ESCAPIST (Premieres)

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Starring: Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham, Seu Jorge, Dominic Cooper, Steven Mackintosh, Damian Lewis

In the prison world, Frank Perry (Brian Cox) is called a lifer. He accepts that he will be in prison for the rest of his life, that is, until he receives a letter informing him that his daughter is in critical condition from a drug overdose. He makes the decision that he must make an escape in order to see her before it is too late, but he knows he will need help. This help comes in the form of a ragtag group of companions who join him in his intricate scheme. When their escape is put in jeopardy, Frank must lead his crew on the journey of their lives. 

FIELDS OF FUEL (Documentary Competition)

Director: Josh Tickell

With gas prices rising daily, it seemed inevitable that someone would make a documentary concerning our country’s dependence on oil. Enter Josh Tickell, a devoted activist who hopes to put an end to that dependence. Tickell tackles many issues relevant to our oil use, including, of course, the United States’ reasons for entering into war after 9/11. Tickell never underestimates the difficulties that the world would encounter trying to live without oil, so he gives credit to those who are trying to make a difference through the use of biofuel and algae-based fuel. This film is riveting and will surely inspire you to make a difference in your community.

FROZEN RIVER (Dramatic Competition)

Director: Courtney Hunt

Starring: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott, Michael O’Keefe, Mark Boone Jr.

When Ray Eddy’s (Melissa Leo) husband leaves her two days before Christmas, she discovers he has gambled away the family’s savings. She feeds her two boys popcorn and Tang, and she can’t even afford to pay the house payment. Ray meets a Mohawk woman named Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham) who makes her money by smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States, and Ray decides to work with her. This film portrays the unlikely bond forged between these two single and impoverished mothers who have no where else to turn but to each other. 


Director: George A. Romero

Starring: Michelle Morgan, Joshua Close, Shawn Roberts, Amy Lalonde, Joe Dinicol, Scott Wentworth

George A. Romero is famously known for his all-things-zombie movies, but he puts a new spin on his normal plot as his film student characters who are creating a low-budget horror film are themselves confronted with real-life horror as zombies begin to terrorize them. Instead of giving up their movie-making, the students decided to document the zombie invasion and stream their video on the internet. Romero shows his masterful grasp of the genre he helped to create, and this is one horror flick you won’t want to miss.


Director: Alex Gibney

Narrator: Johnny Depp

Director Alex Gibney seeks to preserve the legacy of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, who was unabashedly unapologetic for his unorthodox antics and convictions. With the help of never-before-seen home movies made by Thompson, Gibney delves into the life of a man who single-handedly created his own style of journalism, called Gonzo. Thompson is  now revered even more than ever as one of the America’s greatest writers and rebels. Gibney skillfully taps into Thompson’s mindset as he strives to do justice to this American original. 


Director: Sean McGinly

Starring: Colin Hanks, John Malkovich, Emily Blunt,

Tom Hanks, Steve Zahn

When Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) realizes he can’t cut it in law school anymore, he drops out and answers an ad for a personal assistant to a celebrity. He is surprised when the ‘celebrity’ actually turns out to be a has-been “mentalist,” otherwise known as a magician, named Buck Howard, who is looking for one more great trick to regain his former success. John Malkovich artfully plays this character whose delusions of grandeur often give way to arrogance and the occasional tantrum. This film also stars other big name celebrities including Tom Hanks as (believe it or not) the father of Troy and Emily Blunt as Buck’s determined publicist. Surprisingly tender and humorous at once, this was the opening film at the Salt Lake City Gala.

THE GUITAR (Premieres)

Director: Amy Redford

Starring: Saffron Burrows, Isaach De Bankole, Paz De La Huerta

What would you do if you learned that you only have two months to live? Young Mel (Saffron Burrows), must face this question when she learns that she has a cancerous tumor in her throat. Mel, who was unhappy with her job and her thankless boyfriend, decides against wallowing in self-pity. Instead, she seeks to fulfill all her dreams in a kind of self-indulgent spree, learning to play guitar, maxing out her credit cards, living lavishly, and flirting with both a man and a woman, and her life takes on an almost fairy tale-like quality. This film brims with energy and the vigor of life in spite of its underlying theme of mortality.

KING OF PING PONG (World Cinema Competition;


Director: Jens Jonsson

Starring: Jerry Johansson, Hampus Johannson, Georgi Staykov, Ann-Sophie Nurmi, Frederik Nilsson

A teen with a love and talent for ping-pong has the central role in this film, which is set in Sweden. Rille, who faces ridicule from others boys at school and indifference from the girls, finds refuge in the community ping-pong league for children that he supervises. Though survival in the quickly approaching adult world seems unlikely for Rille, he makes progress toward understanding  himself, his mother, and his mother’s new boyfriend. 

PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND (Dramatic Competition)

Director: Daniel Barnz

Starring: Elle Fanning, Felicity Huffman, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Pullman, Campbell Scott, Peter Gerety

The issues of parenting and growing up are commonplace topics in many films, but director Daniel Barnz takes the story of a mother and her daughter to a deeper psychological level. The mother (Felicity Huffman), strives for success in her career and as a mother, while she feels that she only achieves adequacy in both. Her daughter Phoebe (the charming Elle Fanning), distances herself from the other children at school by retreating into the fantasies in her own head. When her school puts on a production of Alice in Wonderland, Phoebe longs to be a part of it, but she cannot help bu distance herself. This movie delves into the issues surrounding parents as they try to make sense of their child’s world. 


Director: Kenny Leon

Starring: Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad, Audra

McDonald, Sean Patrick Thomas

An award-winning play by Lorraine Hansberry comes alive in this film adaptation that takes this beloved work to a whole new level, by bringing this classic story to the new generation. The film’s central focus is on the Younger family, who are living in Chicago’s south side and struggling to get by, when a surprise insurance check comes their way. This money is bound to change their lives forever. The sizzling cast includes Sean Combs, Susan Batson, Neil Meron and many more, making it one essential movie to see.


(Documentary Competition)

Director: Marina Zenovich

In this fascinating film, director Marina Zenovich reopens the complex court case of Roman Polanski, a hugely successful film director in the 60’s and 70’s who achieved unwanted notoriety when his wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by several of Charlie Manson’s followers. Later, Polanski was publicly accused and  convicted of having sexual intercourse with a minor. After the conviction, Polanski fled the country to avoid serving jail time, but Zenovich maintains that this is not the end of the story. Her film questions the fairness of the judicial system in this case, and with the help of footage and interviews, including with the purported victim, she tries to find the truth about this case that has been clouded by assumptions and myths for decades. 

SAVAGE GRACE (Premieres)

Director: Tom Kalin

Starring: Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, Eddie Redmayne

Based upon the best-selling book Savage Grace by Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson, director Tom Kalin has skillfully adapted the story of Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore), who artfully climbs the social ladder when she marries Brooks Baekeland, (Stephen Dillane), the heir to a plastics fortune. As Barbara shows her lack of social graces, her husband becomes embarrassed by her and of their homosexual teenage son Tony, played by Eddie Redmayne. When the husband leaves his family for another woman, Barbara discovers just how unhappy her only son is, leading to a terrifying climax that will change all their lives forever. 


Director: William Maher

Starring: Nick Stahl, AnnaSophia Robb, Charlize Theron, Dennis Hopper, Woody Harrelson, Deborrah-Lee Furness

When Jolene (Charlize Theron) runs out on her twelve year old daughter Tara  (AnnaSophia Robb), Tara is placed in foster care. Jolene’s brother James (Nick Stahl) feels that Tara is owed a better life, and he decides to break her out of her foster home. They head to the house of James and Jolene’s father (Dennis Hopper), where Tara learns about her mother’s bitter childhood that led to her scarred life. James, too, must acknowledge his past in order to stand up to his abusive father. In such a gloomy setting, director William Maher still finds a way to give hope to a broken family.

SLINGSHOT HIP HOP (Documentary Competition)

Director: Jackie Reem Salloum

Narrator: Suhell Nafar

Linking numerous stories of young Palestinians in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, filmmaker Jackie Reem Salloun gives attention to the middle East’s lively hip hop scene, and the new artists discovering rap. This film employs music to overcome long-time divisions made worse by occupations and poverty. 

SMART PEOPLE (Premieres)

Director: Noam Muro

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Page, Ashton Holmes

When a man realizes that he has become disconnected from his own family, where can he turn? In Smart People, Dennis Quaid plays a literature professor and a not-so-family-oriented family man whose own self-absorption has alienated his son and his daughter (Ellen Page). When he falls in love with a student, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, and his down-and-out brother comes to stay, he realizes that his well-managed life is falling apart. This dark comedy features a seasoned director, Noam Murro, and the camaraderie between the members of cast is readily apparent and appealing.

THE WACKNESS (Dramatic Competition)

Director: Jonathan Levine

Starring: Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Famke Janssen, Olivia Thirlby, Mary Kate Olsen, Method Man

In the summer of 1994, Manhattanite and marijuana dealing teen Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) is searching for more than the depression he finds himself in. His therapist, Dr. Squires, excellently played by Ben Kingsley, makes him a deal- free therapy sessions for pot. As Squires finds that his own life and marriage are crumbling, he and Luke embark together to find new stages in their lives. Luke finds love in a surprising place, and learns to control the pain in his life instead of it controlling him.



Director: Morgan Spurlock

If you have seen the documentary Super Size Me, then you might be surprised at the topic director Morgan Spurlock chose for his second endeavor; the search for Osama bin Laden. Spurlock’s search sends him directly to the Middle East, where he realizes, of course, that bin Laden is not the easiest person to find. In the midst of his search, Spurlock comments favorably on the moderate Arabs you don’t often see portrayed on the nightly news, a view that should be shared more widely in our culture. After all, every person in the Middle East is not a terrorist! Spurlock strives for cultural understanding, and he never once has to answer the question, “Would you like fries with that?” / Issue 80 - September 2018
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