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It was a big birthday for Sundance this year- its 25th in fact- and like any twenty-something these days- it is definitely in its prime. As founder Robert Redford said, “We want this to be a place for new artists and a chance for discovery. That was the main point, and that’s how it started. I was hoping we would succeed, but I wasn’t sure if we would survive because it’s not focused on the commercial. So looking back 25 years, the irony is that it’s become successful because it’s diverse.”

And as always, it is truly diverse, in every way imaginable. Whether you’re referring to the people in attendance, the ideas circulating in the wind, the official or the unofficial events or the films themselves, any point of view imaginable will surely be represented- whether you like it or not! But that, in essence, is what makes Sundance so special in this world.

Also, Sundance’s legendary commitment to quality. Imagine this- about 9000 films are submitted for 200 slots. That certainly gives the festival directors a lot of great material to choose from, so obviously only the very best make it in. In fact, Sundance is so prestigious, that here at Dish we’ve decided to enter the 2010 competition, just so we can hang a Sundance rejection letter on our wall.

So I’m sure you can imagine my excitement on my own very personal 4th Sundance anniversary, as once again the shuttle bus slowly made the climb from the Salt Lake City airport to chilly Park City.  After checking in to my too-expensive condo, I happily made the requisite first stop at Albertson’s Market, where the party really starts on the night before Sundance begins, as old friends meet in the aisles, and large groups of house-mates fill multiple carts with vittles enough to last a month.

The first day dawned with 3 exciting events in store. Robert Redford’s (along with festival programmer Geoffrey Gilmore) annual state-of-the-festival press conference during which he ruminates publicly on all matters film and festival; the debut of this year’s New Frontier offerings; and the prestigious Opening Night Park City, which this year featured a sensational claymation animation called Mary and Max, written and directed by Adam Elliot. This extraordinary film about a 20 year long pen-pal relationship between Mary Dinkle, a chubby, lonely 8-year-old girl in Melbourne, Austalia and Max Horowitz, an obese 44-year-old Jewish man in New York City, delights with its sensitive portrayal of their compassion and love. Voiced by Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman, this film is not to be missed!

In addition, there was also a Salt Lake City Gala that night, which featured an up-close-and-personal look at the life of Vogue’s notoriously powerful and polarizing force in fashion, editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, as she readies the magazines biggest issue ever, The September Issue. Director R.J. Cutler follows her from the hallowed halls of Vogue, lined with racks of couture, to the best seats at Fashion Week,  to her two-decade long tempestuous relationship with genius creative director and stylist Grace Coddington, to her home in New York’s playground for the rich and famous, the Hamptons. If you ever thought you might want to work in the fashion business, be sure to see this first!

Sundance’s first big day began on Friday, with amazing films including Dare, Peter and Vandy, The Maid, Humpday, Once More with Feeling, Nollywood Babylon and so many more making their debut. I decided to see Moon at a Yarrow Hotel’s press screening, and Brooklyn’s Finest that day, and definitely have no regrets.

Written by Nathan Parker and directed by Duncan Jones, Moon stars Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, the lone occupant of a Lunar Industries mining base. His only company are occasional transmissions from his wife and daughter on earth, and his robot companion Gerty (ably voiced by Kevin Spacey). With his three-year work contract almost over, he impatiently waits for the days to pass- until he realizes that there is someone else, someone frightening, on the moon with him. Featuring evocative visual design, and a story that terrifies without clichéd gimmicks, Moon is an exploration not of outer space, but man’s inner workings. As Duncan Jones told Dish, “It is a thoughtful, romantic science fiction thriller, I know its kind of sprawling, but it’s a very human story. I’m telling a very human story in a very science fiction world.”

Director Antoine Fuqua attracted an amazing cast, including Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes and Ellen Barkin to his dramatic slice-of-life police drama Brooklyn’s Finest. Fuqua does an amazing job cross-cutting through multiple sub-plots that reveal the tortured souls of Tango, Sal and Eddie, three police officers on their way to disaster. With a denouement not to be believed, Fuqua creates a visceral and emotional punch in the gut that cannot be easily forgotten. After the screening, we got a chance to speak with Fuqua about the film, “You live in light and shadow like Rembrandt,” he said. “You’re living your life that way. Everybody’s got secrets in the dark; we are half-way in the light. The choices that you make decide what side you fall on.”

The beat went on Saturday, with the premiere of more amazing docs and dramas including The Carter, a doc about music’s Lil’ Wayne, Why We Laugh, Rudi y Cursi (picked up for distribution the very first day), Prom Night in Mississippi, Tyson, and The Clone Returns Home, a sci-fi flick that created quite a buzz at the festival. Also debuting was the Stella Schnabel starrer You Won’t Miss Me, about an emotionally crippled character whose self-sabotage and armor against intimacy causes her true loneliness.

In spite of these temptations, I decided to see Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire. Precious Jones (played by the truly amazing Gabourey Sidibe and a supporting cast including Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey as a social worker, and Lenny Kravitz as a nurse) is a high school girl with little hope. She cannot read or write, is pregnant for the second time with her father’s child, is teased at school for being fat, and tormented at home by her alcoholic mother. In case you think this film allows Precious to wallow in self-pity, this is definitely not the case in Director Lee Daniels more that capable hands. Instead, it inspires a viewer to realize that with determination and imagination, and a little luck, anyone can rise up from their circumstances and make something good of their life, At a press conference after the screening, Director Lee told us, “My life was difficult. Making movies is therapy. I learn about myself. I learn how to heal. I learn from the characters I create on screen. It’s not difficult. It’s therapeutic. Whenever I see a Precious or a character from Woodsman or Hallie Berry, there’s a part of me in it. It’s healing. It’s like going to therapy once a week.” Sapphire, who was also present, added, “I’m weeping and marveling and clapping and identifying.”

Although Lulu and Jimi, The Cove, The Only Good Indian, Arlen Farber, and Spring Breakdown were all beckoning, I couldn’t resist Sundays screening of Cold Souls, written and directed by first-time auteur Sophie Barthes. In this spoof, Paul Giamatti plays an actor who is suffering anxiety over his portrayal of Uncle Vanya in a forthcoming play. To alleviate his fears, he decides to have his soul temporarily removed, and kept in a deep freeze until after the play’s debut. But when a beautiful soul-trafficking “mule” removes his soul and takes it to Russia, he has no choice but to follow. Though this film has serious ramifications mixed in with its silliness, it’s also funny, especially delivered in typical Giamatti style.

As a lifelong Doors fan, it was impossible to miss When You’re Strange directed by Tom DiCillo, and using only documentary footage shot between 1966 and 1971. “When I was originally approached with this film I was sent literally boxes and boxes of dvd’s from the Doors vault. They were just random and most without sound. Interesting enough, mixed in with all this stuff was images of Morrison wandering through the desert,” DiCillo told me. These poignant shots of a youthful Morrison are enough to make one yearn for those good old days, when the Doors and everyone else was “strange”. A fabulous sound track, and interviews with the rest of the band, Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore (who was present at the screening) made for a wonderful trip down memory lane for some of us, and revealed what all the Doors fuss was about for others.

As a Staten Island native it was impossible for me to miss Big Fan. Shot on Stapleton’s seediest streets, it evoked childhood memories of a time when those same streets bustled with life, and my father had his business there. But now it was the perfect location for Paul Aufiero (ably played by the well cast Patton Oswalt), the self-proclaimed “world’s biggest New York Giants fan”, to witness his football hero Quantrell Bishop there, possibly up to no good? Paul and his buddy Sal impulsively decide to follow Bishop to a strip club in Manhattan, where Paul tries to meet his hero. Things do not go well, and Paul must decide just how much he really, really loves the Giants. Oswalt explained, “It’s basically about a guy who is obsessed with his favorite player. He is the biggest fan and things go as bad as they could possibly go. I don’t get in a fist fight, a fist fight is normally two guys throwing punches. Here it’s just him pummeling me and I have to, it really tears my world up. I guess he is having a crisis of faith in regards as to what he should do, ‘cause he loves this team so much!”

It was hard to believe it was Monday already, and once again I had choices to make, too many choices. Should I see Crude, Tibet in Song or Everything Strange and New? Or The Yes Men Fix the World, Rough Aunties or Adam. Hmmmmm, hard to decide. I decided to go for the true story I Love You, Phillip Morris, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, which reputedly was too far out there to ever get a theatrical release. The film stars Jim Carrey as Steve Russell, a former cop-turned-con man who winds up in jail. There he meets the love of his life, a sweet inmate named Philip Morris, surprisingly played by Ewan McGregor of all things. The two actors pull it off in more ways than one though, creating a magic, romantic farce that leaves one pondering the meaning of true love. A real treat, not to be missed! Jim Carrey described his experience, “I love the fact that I couldn’t figure out if I loved Steve or hated him from one page to the next. It wasn’t a hate thing. It was just kind of a polarization thing. From one page to the next, I was attracted to this character and then I was disturbed by how he was behaving. So I was thinking, what a great challenge to make this character acceptable to the audience. When asked if this was a gay movie, Carrey added, “It’s a movie about humanity. Especially with my character, it really is about the lengths we go to for acceptance and love. If you feel you haven’t been accepted in life, in fact rejected, you tend to be more a little more extreme. He’s relentless about love.”

My favorite films that I missed were similar in nature, No Impact Man and We Live in Public, both of which I’ve seen since Sundance. The former profiles New York City based author Colin Beavan, who decides to become No Impact Man, testing whether making zero environmental impact adversely affects happiness. The latter film, directed by Ondi Timoner, now a two-time Sundance Grand Jury U.S. Documentary Award winner, features Josh Harris, the brain behind the formation of Jupiter Research, a self-made multi-millionaire at 24, party animal and tech visionary whose Quiet: We Live in Public project is notorious. Featuring a decade of footage, this film acquaints us with every aspect of Harris’ life, whether we want to know about it (we do!)  or not.

Later that day, I decided to see Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, The Office’s John Krasinski’s debut directorial turn. Best known for playing the charming everyman, Jim Halpert, Krasinski might seem an unlikely candidate to adapt and direct the late David Foster Wallace's caustic exploration of the hideous nature of men. However, he proves himself up to the challenge and delivers a provocative and darkly comedic film. Krasinski explained, “I talked to David on the phone one day, and he gave his whole idea of what he thought his book was about. He said, ‘its about some girl who’s probably doing her dissertation on men or something and she’s looking into the male psyche.’ The thing about it was, talking to him gave me such encouragement that what we where going was on the right path.”

Another film I couldn’t miss was the provocative Spread, directed by David Mackenzie and starring Ashton Kutcher as Nikki and Anne Heche. Surely inspired by the classic tradition of American Gigolo and Shampoo, Spread is such a perfectly tuned, contemporary depiction of the trials and tribulations of sleeping your way to wealth and success that, guilty pleasure or not, it’s irresistible. The world of money, sex, and privilege is an ephemeral one, and the fall can be as sudden as the ascent. Spread is a finely crafted vision of ambition, indulgence, vanity, and self-realization that epitomizes the lifestyle of Tinsel Town After the screening, Kutcher talked about his relationship with his wife, Demi Moore, also an older women. He said, “The thing is my wife and I talked about the issues and our integrity, and that dialogue has been there since we got together. Its all about maintaining open communication and sharing our feelings, and its something that you should talk about, and it is uncomfortable, and its something like you don’t want to compromise your art, but you don’t want to compromise your relationship, so keep the communication open.”

In case you think that Sundance Film Festival is all about seeing films, well, it is and it isn’t, since both the official and unofficial alternative events that take place every day and night could keep you busy enough without them. For example, one of the most exciting places at Sundance each year is tucked away in a basement on Main Street. When you enter there, you discover a whole new world of film, technology and art convergence called New Frontier, where “The next has begun.” New Frontier screens films that challenge conventional form, and cultivates an immersive atmosphere for media installations and performances.

You may recall my adventure last year, when I bought a pair of pants that were created for me in a virtual factory. This year I met the amazing Lynette Wallworth. whose Evolution of Fearlessness installation allowed me to virtually meet several of the world’s most challenged women, including Eva from Austria, Fatemah from Iraq, and Ihsan, born in East Eritrea. In this provocative environment, viewers enter a dark room to hear the stories of women who have survived war zones. I could swear that each of these women were actually there, looking back at me.

The New Frontier films are also notable, including Stay the Same Never Change, a weird and delightful first film directed by Laurel Nakadate, as well as Where is Where, directed by Finnish director Eija-Liisa Ahtila who presents a one hour long multi-channel depiction of an incident that happened during the Algerian War of Independence from France.

New Frontier was also the place where Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewer debuted his latest cool project, by teaming up with MTV New Media  to bring viewers an online music drama series dedicated to the Memphis music scene. The series, $5 Cover, offters a glimpse into the lives of young modern-day artists working to put their twist on Memphis’ legendary musical landscape — all the while creating legendary drama of their own over 15 digital episodes as they fight for love, inspiration and rent money.  Set in the clubs, all-nite cafes, no-tell motels and woolly neighborhoods of present-day Memphis, the series is about music discovery and raw content. The characters play themselves and perform their own music. You won’t be able to miss it even if you try, because $5 Cover  will be available on multiple screens, including online at, on-air, mobile and gaming devices, and MP3 players.

As if this is not enough, how about the Shorts Program, the Animation Spotlight, a series of panels and talks at the Filmmaker Lodge, and Film Music events at the Sundance House. And what about the music, especially BMI’s Snowball Music Showcase, and the ASCAP Music Café on Main, which this year featured artists including Rachael Yamagata, John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, Landon Pigg and Nashville’s own Phil Vassar to name a few. And what about parties galore, including Kodak’s wildly popular party at the Riverhorse, and the Filmmaker receptions where I met Jay DiPietro, director of Peter and Vandy, and shorts director Alicia Conway of Rite and Ben Rock director of the upcoming Alien Raiders, soon to be released by Warner Home Video.

Sleep? Fugetaboutit! With so much fun to be had, films to see, people to meet, things to learn, and parties to attend, you can sleep later. Come on up to Sundance next year, and you’ll see what I mean!

For more on Robert Redford’s opening remarks CLICK HERE

For DO NOT MISS Sundance Films Coming to a Theatre Near You CLICK HERE
 / Issue 99 - September 9393
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