Sundance: A Wild First Two Days

I had never been to a film festival before, and certainly not one as large or prestigious as Sundance. It began as a whirlwind, which has not stopped for two days. At this point, I’ve seen some incredible movies, heard from some inspiring filmmakers, and chatted with some great people in the various lines that are a Sundance staple.

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Mom and I standing in a Sundance tent, waiting in line

I came to Sundance with my mom, because above all else we love movies. We seem to exemplify the Sundance crowd in that there is incredible diversity here in terms of age, gender, and background, across both the audience and the filmmakers, yet everyone is bonded by a mutual adoration for the cinematic art form. People have been incredibly friendly and willing to engage with total strangers in order to dissect and reflect what they are seeing on screen. This has turned standing in line from an exercise in boredom into an exciting opportunity to exchange impressions about past films and buzz excitedly about whichever film we are about to see. As much as USC tends to be a place where people appreciate movies, Sundance is at a whole new level.

I’ll give a quick cliff-notes version of the movies I’ve seen in the first two days I’ve been here and the impressions I have of them:

Agnus Dei – A powerful, beautifully shot story about a Polish convent and a Red Cross doctor in the years following WWII. French director Anne Fontaine does a beautiful job of expositional storytelling and growing relationships as the story advances.

Goat – An attempt at showing the strains of brotherhood by examining two brothers as they deal with violence and the flawed fraternity system. The characters fell a little flat and the director’s message seemed to get lost among the various food substances used in the on-screen hazing.

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Director and Lead Actor in Ali and Nino

Jacquline (Argentine) – In the mockumentary style, first-time feature director Bernardo Britto explores existentialist themes as he constructs a documentary about nothing. It was a great experiment and dryly witty; I’m excited to see what he does next.

Ali and Nino – A love story between a Christian woman and a Muslim man in Azerbaijan during WWI. Director Asif Kapadia exhibits a confidence with his gorgeous wide-sweeping landscape shots that help set the stage for the beautiful love story that unwinds between two captivating characters.

As You Are – An ambitious, suspenseful, intense, and beautifully shot first-time feature by 23-year old director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte. This is an excellent investigation into the teenage psyche and Joris-Peyrafitte engages with a new form of constructing a story that left me on the edge of my seat. After learning at the Q&A that the film wrapped in October and the first cut was done in just 15 days, I was immensely impressed.

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Lena Dunham and John Cooper (Director of Sundance Festival)

For me, the films have definitely been my focus at Sundance, but there is so much else to explore. I have greatly enjoyed getting to hear the directors talk about their experiences making these movies, and the variety of directors we’ve been able to see.

I also have been attending the Ignite events – events created for the youth program at Sundance – where I was lucky enough to hear from both the Sundance Director and Lena Dunham. At these events, I’ve also been able to meet other film students from across the country. Overall it’s been a jam-packed, extremely exciting first two days. I’ll report back on more of my experiences soon!

-Jennifer Katz, Class of 2016

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