THE SUNDANCE KID’S ALL GROWN UP: Impressions after the first few days of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival

Thursday night officially opened the Sundance film festival, but Park City has been slowly transforming over the past week (longer if one considers the immense planning that goes into executing said transformation).

There’s an infectious air of excitement in Park City unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Seeing a film at Sundance is like getting to see a band play its music live: the atmosphere can make even mediocre material feel fresh and exciting.

That’s not to say that there appears to be a glut of mediocrity with this year’s lineup. Though I’m familiarizing myself with the schedule as I go along, I did enter the festival this year with a few films I knew I wanted to try to see.

*Calvin Reeder’s The Rambler is an expansion of a short that played the festival a few years ago.  It plays in the midnight section of the festival and promises the eponymous hero a series of bizarre encounters across Reeder’s idiosyncratic portrayal of America.

*Computer Chess is the first film from Andrew Bujalski since 2009’s Beeswax.  Bujalski is one of the most thoughtful and talented of the so-called “mumblecore” directors, and his Mutual Appreciation remains one of my favorite films of the last ten years.

*Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is the third film in the inquisitive and romantic series with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy that also includes Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

Though I may be anticipating these films, there’s no time like the present for enjoying all that Sundance has to offer.  I am a volunteer in the Creative Services Department, and I have spent my first few days at work as a PA to different crews as they go out and shoot segments about the festival and what’s happening in Park City.  On Thursday night, I was responsible for staking out a spot for our crew to record audio during Robert Redford’s and festival director John Cooper’s opening remarks.  I was about fifteen feet from their podium.  Even with a ticket, I couldn’t have had more of a “front-row” experience.  Redford explained the importance of the work that the Sundance Institute does year-round through its labs, and Cooper introduced director Cherien Dabis (director of Amreeka) who came out and introduced her new film May in the Summer.

After my shift that night, I attended the two special volunteer screenings (both of which were world premieres).  The first was Lucy Walker’s documentary about snowboarder (and Utah-native) Kevin Pearce’s recovery from a traumatic brain injury, The Crash Reel.  This is an incredibly affecting and effective documentary that paints an interesting portrait of Pearce, his family, the snowboarding community, the dangers of extreme sports, and the heartbreak of traumatic brain injury.

The second film was Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Toy’s House, a quirky coming-of-age story about a trio of teenage friends who abandon their parents to build a house in the woods and live what promises to be a comparatively better life.  Though filled with moments of wonderful humor and poetic imagery, I found the experience to be lacking emotional grounding and somewhat underwhelming.  Still, it was wonderful to see a filmmaker create a unique vision and premiere it in a screening to the volunteers.

On Friday, I was a PA on an interesting interview with actor Isaach De Bankolé, who has worked with a litany of great directors (Jim Jarmusch, Claire Denis, Lars von Trier) in a series of unique performances. Isaach was at the festival to promote the new film in which he stars, Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George.  He stressed the value and importance of silence in cinema.

That night, I took my first look at the New Frontier space of the festival.  New Frontier houses installation or experimental new media and film projects.  I was blown away by the pieces I saw.  I hope to get back and take a second look later in the festival.  I was impressed by artists like Yung Jake, whose augmented reality piece changes the way a spectator relates to the interaction of traditional “art” pieces and smart-phone or tablet technology.

Afterwards, I saw another documentary, Robert Stone’s Pandora’s Promise, which is about the history and future of nuclear power.  The documentary makes a clear-eyed compelling case for nuclear power as the most viable (and surprisingly safest) form of mass-energy for Earth’s ever-growing population in the century to come.

I am writing this post on Saturday morning.  I am not sure what today holds, but I am unbelievably excited to continue my festival experience.  Not knowing is great when the surprises are varied and beautiful things.

2 thoughts on “THE SUNDANCE KID’S ALL GROWN UP: Impressions after the first few days of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival

  1. Of the films your described Pandora’s Promise sounds like the one that would resonate with me most. Where were you on nuclear before before the film? Did it change your views?

    • Unfortunately, I suppose I was fairly ambivalent with a tendency to be anti-nuclear (I was working on a writing project that openly vilified the San Onofre nuclear power plant). While I would want to corroborate the information in the documentary with other sources, I found the core argument of the film to be compelling, which is that most cultural biases against nuclear power are based on urban myths. Since the film has got me thinking about nuclear energy, it has changed my views, but before I become a pro-nuclear disciple, I would want to do a little more research.

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