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.


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.


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.


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

Day 1: “Swiss Army Man” and some VR

Hello fellow Trojans and Sundancers! Blake Bauman here, junior Cinema and Media Studies major at SC. This is my first time in Park City, so there is much to discuss. Let’s dive in, shall we?


Quick first impression: this place feels very much like the environment at SCA, so therefore, it feels like home. There was not a single moment where I passed a group of people on the street and film was not being discussed. These people live and breathe cinema, which not only allowed me to engage in some great conversations today, but also made the viewing experience for my first screening so incredibly enjoyable.

Movie #1: Swiss Army Man

Directed by: Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert


Ok, first off, my expectations for this film have kind of been all over the place. It started off as the film I was most excited to see at the festival because of the sheer absurdness of the plot, and the fact that it would be primarily driven by a single actor, Paul Dano, given the lack of a supporting cast, except for Daniel Radcliffe’s lifeless corpse. Then, tragedy struck: the first week of reviews began rolling out and the media’s primary headline was how Swiss Army Man is just “one big fart joke,” leading to many walkouts during early screenings of the film. This gave the film some bad buzz, so I was worried going in, but still hopeful. I can honestly say now that, yes, the film, at first glance, is a big fart joke, but at its core, is truly something very special and genuine. Swiss Army Man is a heartfelt, emotional journey that is so perfectly balanced with laughs that would make most comedies jealous.

The structure basically involves a lonely man, Hank (Paul Dano), who is stranded on an island, literally seconds from killing himself, when he discovers a washed up corpse, (Daniel Radcliffe) that cannot stop farting, on the beach. Hank begins to realize that this dead body is much more useful than he originally thought, so he drags the corpse along with him during his journey back to civilization.

Paul Dano is just fantastic in this film. Hank is a lonely, miserable complex human being, and if it wasn’t for Dano’s full dedication to this role, I would not have felt so connected to the character. There are some deep moments in this film, and require an actor that can be taken seriously throughout, despite the sometimes immature, but always hilarious, humor used here. This may be my favorite performance of his, and that is saying something considering his brilliant portrayal of Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy last year. And without going into spoilers, Daniel Radcliffe is even funnier than Dano. What he does with this role, that at first seems like just a prop, is unique, adds to the absurdness of the film, and is genuine as he lifelessly journeys with Hank.

This film tackles some very relevant themes. In the Q&A afterwards, co-director Daniel Kwan discussed how he wanted audiences to feel inspired by this story of smashing pre-conceived notions and making the world your own. He wanted viewers to be comfortable in their own skin and take chances before you regret not taking them. This is a bold film that is not afraid to take chances. I extremely recommend it.


Directors Daniel Scheinert (Left) and Daniel Kwan (Right)

Directors Daniel Scheinert (Left) and Daniel Kwan (Right)

The Treachery of Sanctuary

This exhibit was inspired by the old cave drawings based on the origins of man. Above is the artist’s exact description of what he wants guests to experience. We walked into a dark room with 3 large panels, with each section showing our silhouettes getting picked apart by birds and then reborn as a large winged bird creature. Very strange, but cool concept to experience.

Virtual Reality Projects

I spent the majority of the rest of the night checking out some VR outlets available at the VR Bar, which is basically self-explanatory: a small venue where drinks are served and VR can be tested. Fox Innovation Labs hosted the event so the main VR attraction was based on Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Guests got to relive Mark Watney’s journey from the surface of Mars back to his team waiting for him while orbiting the planet. There were still some glitches, but overall, I was impressed with how interactive the experiment allowed you to be with the environment. You could grab floating scrap metal, or reach out for the hands of Watney’s fellow astronaut. This was very cool to experience.

The next project was called Sequenced, which was an interactive, animated story about a futuristic recon named Sam who discovers a young girl, Raven, amongst a deserted city who is destined to become the Guardian of the Earth. The characters were flat, 2D animations but their environments were composed with 3D rotoscoping. Interesting story, but I only got a portion of the story so I’m looking forward to watching the rest.

The final project that I tried out was called The Unknown Photographer, which was my favorite of the night. It was basically a narrated journey through the works of an unknown World War I photo journalist, but the worlds in which these photos were shown resembled the description of the narration. Photos flew by to resemble a train when the narrator describes his hectic thoughts, and in another moment, I was transported to a cemetery with roaming giants lurking above me when he described the terror of the dead at the hands of the enemy. Very dark subject matter, but this was such a unique way to tell a story. I love that.

Alright, well, that was Day 1. Day 2 consists of my screenings of Operation Avalanche, Sleight, Outlaws and Angels, and American Epic. Thanks for reading!

Fight on!

Manchester by the Sea with Matt Damon

Sundance is now one day past its midpoint… The frenzy of its introductory days has passed, and it’s become a little easier to see through the haze of my excitement and anticipation at each event.


My first screening was Manchester by the Sea. Produced by Matt Damon and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (a reunion after their work on Margaret (2011)), the film stared Ben Affleck’s younger brother, Casey Affleck.

I loved seeing Matt Damon in person! I had seen The Martian in Leonard Maltin’s Film Symposium class at USC (a class in which films are screened before their release dates followed by a Q&A session with some of the crew), but he hadn’t shown up for that (instead we met the composer, Harry Gregson-Williams). Despite his celebrity status, Matt was calm, levelheaded, and straightforward. I think that’s an extremely admirable trait, given that his career revolves around him professionally acting normal.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 8.12.00 AMScreen Shot 2016-01-28 at 8.12.27 AM

I’m in the Business and Cinematic Arts (BCA) program at USC, and I love following the news on the bidding that’s going on for the films. This year it’s so different with Netflix and Amazon driving up the prices. I’ll be heading back to campus soon, but in the meantime it’s great to be out of LA — the atmosphere here is so different, and it’s a truly amazing experience.

– Perisa Brown


TALLULAH Premiere with Producer Sophia Dilley


USC student Siena Oberman (left), assisting the VP of Paramount for Sundance, celebrates the successful Sundance Premiere of Tallulah with Producer Sophia Dilley of Route One Entertainment. Siena used to intern for Sophia and says Tallulah is one of many people’s Sundance favorites. The film stars Ellen Page and was bought by Netflix prior to the festival. It was made by an all female department head filmmaking team, reflecting Hollywood’s progression towards gender equality.

Student demos VR at New Frontier


Siena Oberman, USC Cinema and Business student as well as DKA Futurist, checks out new media at the New Frontier at Sundance. Her favorite part and personal recommendation was The Martian experience created by Robert Stromberg, Ridley Scott, and Ted Schilowitz. Siena believes transmedia VR experiences like Fox’s The Martian or Paramount’s Paranormal Activity are key in introducing audiences to the quality and storytelling potential of virtual reality.


Sundance New Frontier – Interactive Media Gallery – Chris Milk

Hey Guys,

So it’s my official first day at Sundance, even though the festival kicked off yesterday… It was a long drive and super cold outside.

This year, I’ve decided to change up my video blogging or vlogging style and do reviews/interviews and cool s@!t, basically sharing what I like, encouraging you, the reader/viewer to share in my experience.

Here’s Chris Milk’s Sundance Institute webpage with more info. Sundance Institute New Frontier

Seriously, you guys, I was completely surrounded by the most beautiful sounds, making this piece an audibly and visually, interactive, captivating experience.

If you can read Chris Milk’s Artist Statement, I promise you it will be worth the strain.