SUNDANCE 2015: A Tale of Two Films (plus one!)

Hi all, Doug Blush again, still recovering from last week’s film screenings and reconnections with dozens of longtime filmmaker friends and heroes. The best part of Sundance, as I said in my blog last year, is actually not just the films…seeing premieres here is an incredible experience, to be sure…but the bonds that the independent film community makes at the events, on the streets, and even at the legendary Davanza’s Pizza place on Park Avenue (see photo!)

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Some of our HUNTING GROUND crew hanging out at the mighty Davanza’s Pizza in Park City

On Friday January 23rd, we premiered the two films I worked on in the festival this year, THE HUNTING GROUND from Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, the team behind THE INVISIBLE WAR, and at the same exact time (gee, thanks schedulers!), SEMBENE, from directors Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman, about the life and work of the “father” of African cinema, Ousmane Sembene (if you haven’t seen his films, do yourself a favor and find them!).

The HUNTING GROUND premiere was full of intense emotions, with a number of our campus assault survivor-activists in attendance, along with two US Senators and a completely packed house. We had a long standing ovation at the end as our survivors took the stage and spoke about their work to bring campus sexual assault out of the shadows and up for legislation and new rules. Like THE INVISIBLE WAR, this film was difficult to tackle, but so satisfying to see in the response it received…our second screening on Saturday morning got three standing ovations as the film ended and our survivors took the stage (and standing ovations are not the norm at Sundance, I can say from many years of experience). The film will be released theatrically soon, and will be broadcast on CNN later this year. Many campus screenings will be happening soon as well…one will likely be planned for USC, and you can pass the word on to others at www.thehuntinggroundfilm.com.

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Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering and a group of survivor activists at our HUNTING GROUND Q&A

SEMBENE has taken almost seven years to come to Sundance, and I was proud to be a consulting editor on the project. The film weaves the parallel stories of Sembene himself and his longtime biographer and friend, co-director Samba Gadjigo. The interplay of these two Senegalese intellectuals is set against the incredible images and ideas of Sembene’s films, which I barely knew about before i first saw the project. With his films and writing, Sembene fought against French colonialism, Islamic extremism, government corruption, racial and gender inequalities and many other issues, all with a uniquely African sense of image, pace and idealism. The Q&A for the film’s Saturday screening also featured Sembene’s adult son Adain, who broke down crying while remembering his late father. These kinds of emotional moments are what make Sundance screenings so special…you truly don’t know what will happen during the first looks at these new independent films.

Directors Jason Silverman and Samba Gadjigo at the Q&A for SEMBENE!

Directors Jason Silverman and Samba Gadjigo at the Q&A for SEMBENE!

The big social event of the weekend for us doc filmmakers was the Saturday night IDA/ro*co party in the center of Park City, where nearly all the documentary crew members converge to trade ideas and enjoy a bit of sponsored libation. I probably talked to 40 filmmakers and artists during this event, and traded war stories with lots of personal heroes. This is the Sundance that really resonates for me…much more than a party, this was a meeting of the grand documentary “tribe”, a chance to come out of our various cave-like edit rooms and spend a few hours in the warm glow that Sundance brings us (and yes, the drinks are free!).

The title of this entry includes the “(plus one!)”, not due to a party RSVP, but because I found out literally with a day left at the festival that ANOTHER film I had edited last year, called BENDING THE LIGHT, was showing at the New Frontiers Microcinema on Main Street. I had worked on this project with legendary director Michael Apted, who has crafted everything from THE UP SERIES to a James Bond film and episodes of the series MASTERS OF SEX. The film tells the parallel stories of five master photographers and the craftsmen who make Canon optical lenses for still photography and cinematic use. I was pretty blown away to stumble into the finished film at Sundance (I hadn’t seen the final color corrected version) and we had a full house for the screening and Q&A. Here’s the trailer: https://vimeo.com/101762811

Everyone getting virtual with Google Cardboard at the New Frontiers exhibits

Everyone getting virtual with Google Cardboard at the New Frontiers exhibits

Finishing that event, I literally had long enough to run over to the USC Alumni and Filmmaker event on Main Street, say hello to some SCA folks, and get in the van for the airport! A great finish to a whirlwind Sundance, but I could have used another week to see the ridiculously great slate of films packed into Park City. Next time…

Preparing to take the fast ride home to LA, courtesy of BEING EVEL

Preparing to take the fast ride home to LA, courtesy of BEING EVEL

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