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Sundance: this is the renewed rebellion

“This is the renewed rebellion
This is the recharged fight against the establishment of the expected-
This is the rebirth of the battle for brave new ideas-
This is Sundance, reminded-
This is your call to join us”

and  this was what appeared on every projection screen while you took your seat and stripped off  layers of weather proofing at the  (26th  Edition) of the Sundance Film Festival 2010. They announced that a fresh wind had blown through Park City, (bringing with it the sub- zero temperatures and continuous snowfall)  and that Sundance had returned to its roots.   

Biggest crowds ever -over 185,000 tickets sold to over  40,000 individuals for approximately  120 films showcased over a 10 day period that kicked off on January 21st .  These hoards of enthusiastic,  remarkably courteous cinephiles each year  invade the tiny enclave (once mining town,  now ski resort) of Park City, that is tucked up high in the Wasatch mountain range above Salt Lake City, Utah.  SLC is home to  NOT the  Morons, as my French friend gleefully  mis-pronounced, but  the  Mor - mons, the so- called Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints- a peculiar pedantic polygamous people with and pledges a plenty and secrets to conceal- but we’ll come to that later. On the shuttle bus towards your next venue, you can see LDS signs on sprawling million dollar homes throughout the(Pleasantville style) community.

This year’s chant was-  Welcome Back Film Buffs !      Good Riddance  Lookie Loos!    The  glitz and hype of the past has been  drowned out. Sundance was returning to its origins, declared new Fest director John Cooper and Sundance Founder Robert Redford;  it was re-claiming and re-affirming its independence from Hollywood… Has to be said though, that the economic crisis and worldwide financial order meltdown might also have had an impact on this new attitude of  ‘rebellion’ and ‘rebirth’ because in the last few years  many  of the major studios have shut down, taken  over, or absorbed  their  specialty (think art house) film divisions. They’re already gone.

Also  different this  year  was  a new  breed of filmmakers referred to  as the  “ DIY Generation” who make films on  micro-budgets-(very low or no budget- meaning pricetags of 5 or 6 figures)  that are shot on inexpensive  digital cameras. These  filmmakers found new  ways to complete  post-production and developed new avenues for distribution by adopting the    Do It Yourself  philosophy.    

A new category called “NEXT”  was created to incorporate these microbudget films and        <=>    was the logo symbolizing and defining them     (less than equals greater than).   Traditionally, Sundance entries  (especially docs) are photographed on 16mm/ Super 16mm, but with new technology-   high quality but inexpensive hi-def  and digital cameras,   now  Any and Every one can make (and finish) a film that looks professional.  It’s not just the tools of ‘acquisition’ or’ image capture’ , but in post-production as well. There is colour correction software included in the  new “ Final Cut Pro” that makes it possible to do it yourself without the cost of  highly skilled technician (colourist) to make the necessary changes/enhancements to your finished project. All this has leveled  the playing field between  low/no  budgets  and the expensive films who are all seeking a buyer, a distributer, a home.  These films are more accessible to the ‘acquisitioneers’ and they also making their way to mainstream audiences via the internet. In terms of  ‘Distribution’ and ‘Acquisition’, the filmmakers and producers in the NEXT  category have  gotten more involved and have taken much more control over their own releases.

“It was reported in Variety, that “ In an unprecedented move, two  of the “Next”  titles are going into the fest with distribution in place, using publicity stirred up by Sundance to support VOD and DVD launches. The filmmakers behind “One Too Many Mornings” plan to sell DVDs immediately after the pic’s Park City premiere through an arrangement with direct- to- fan music-marketing shingle Topspin Media.  Producer Thomas Woodrow has partnered with publicist Marian Koltai-Levine and New Video to make “Bass Ackwards” available on demand beginning Feb. 1. “           That is   NEW and exciting.

“ Next” was created so that audiences could make a more direct connection  with the DIY community” says John Cooper and to complement that, there was the introduction of  the Sundance Film Festival USA  initiative which transferred  8 films from the festival to 8 cities around the country on Jan. 28th. Sundance  also partnered with Rainbow Media’s VOD platform   ‘Sundance Selects’  to brand a “Direct From the Sundance Film Festival “- a showcase where 3 films were made available to cable and satellite viewers on- demand during the course of the festival and after it finished.

YouTube is the sponsor of the ‘ Next’ section and it put up 12 short films for free on their site. Five  feature films from the 2009 festival  and from this year were made also available for rent on  YouTube up until the festival finished on January 31st. 

What I find  cool about this  “ DIY“  filmmaking community is the comradery  that has developed-  many  collaborate on each other’s films, they share ideas, equipment, and resources, sometimes act in or even produce each other’s films, and THAT is so refreshing, so   un-Hollywood.   Bravo Sundance!  Bravo the spirit of collaboration and solidarity!  Bravo, this brave new breed of storytellers!

Films I watched and can recommend as outstanding:   Restrepo, The Oath, Enemies of the People, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, Russian Lessons, 8:The Mormon Proposition, Secrets of the Tribe, Kick in Iran, A Film Unfinished, Countdown to Zero, The Shock Doctrine, Climate Refugees, Fix Me, Freedom Riders, Space Tourists,  Southern District, Contracorriente, Smash His Camera, Welcome to the Rileys, Grown Up Movie Star, His &Hers.

Films  I can recommend  (but haven’t seen): Last Train Home, Waiting for Superman, 12th& Delaware, I’m Pat Tillman, Sins of My Father, Winter’s Bone, Sympathy for Delicious, Obseledia, Jean-Michel Basquiat:The Radiant Child, My Perestroika, All That I Love,The Red Chapel, Jack Goes Boating, The Runaways


As for the awards, well, they were a bit strange but one never knows with these juries .  The Excellence in Cinematography award for Documentary was particularly puzzling as  “The Oath” is largely made up of talking heads interviews topped and tailed with nicely composed still shots  of some  location (Guantanamo Bay sunset for example) or a piece of architecture. The cinematography credits go to the director, Laura Poitras and Kirsten Johnson.

I did not see Obselidia, photographed by Zak Mulligan, which won the Excellence in Cinematography Award for a Dramatic film nor did I see “ The Man Next Door (El Hombre de al Lado) awarded to director and cinematographers Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat, but I was lucky enough to catch up with the winners on Sunday to see a lovely film from   Ireland’s Ken Wardrop’s  film  entitled  “His & Hers”, photographed by cinematographers Kate Mc Cullough and Michael Lavelle, which won the  World Cinema Cinematography Award in the Documentary category. It is a beautiful mosaic of voices and interviews  from 76 women  at different stages of their life pieced together , telling a story about the passing of time and about the journey through  life itself.

Madelyn Most-  report from Sundance 2010                       

P.S.    There are such extreme contrasts and contradictions at Sundance- it could make you schizophrenic if you stayed there too long…

Not far away from ground zero of the Mormon Empire, in Park City, we watched  “8: The Mormon Proposition”, where scary and sordid details are revealed  about how this {cult- called- church}  pressured, threatened, and commanded  its members to write very large (and largely unaffordable)  checks  in order to finance the defeat of California’s Proposition 8  that had legalized same sex marriage.  Devastating to see how so many lives have been destroyed by this organization and how they illegally overturned this  legislation- not even in their own state-    but, Hey-  they got away with it         

And on  Wednesday January 17th, Amy Goodman, of National Public Radio’s “ Democracy Now” program hosted  a panel entitled, “Saving Democracy One Story at a Time”   with Laura Poltras, director of “The Oath” (the lives of two brothers in law who were Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard and driver) and Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Oscar winning Alex Gibney who directed “Casino Jack and the United States of Money”,  a film that fleshes out the corruption, scamming and scandles of  Washington lobbyist Supremo Jack Abramoff  and Tom DeLay among other politicians and federal officials who are raking in millions of dollars and undermining the foundations of  democracy.  The panel  took place only two days after the U.S. Supreme Court judges overturned the legislation  limiting the amount of money corporate lobbyists could use to bribe U.S. politicians. Both infuriating and almost impossible to believe-  but anything goes now in this once country now Corporation , The United States of America.


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