Sundance Day One: Chilean narrative, Iranian experimental, and American documentary

20130119-072121.jpgYesterday was a whirlwind experience for my first day (and my first time ever) at the Sundance Film Festival. Not surprisingly I had a way too ambitious plan to try to pack 5 films into one day. It might have been possible at a smaller festival where everything was condensed to a few venues. And, if I didn’t need to eat. And with more than 4 hours of sleep. We got in late Thursday night and did literally a 10 minute drop by to the Opening Night Party. Then we came to the house where I’m tagging along as an extra guest and I got to stay up talking to the director of one of my favorite documentaries that I’ve been teaching for years. That alone was most awesome. Friday morning I jumped out of bed before 6am, already delirious and full of adrenaline. We started the morning at the 9am premiere of Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Silva’s (The Maid) new film Crystal Fairy. The film was entertaining and well shot, but most impressive was the script which in the Q&A Silva revealed was completely improvised. It was also neat to see Michael Cera, who stars in the film, in real life. One of my few celebrity sightings ever. Next we went to the World Premier of an Iranian film called Fat Shaker by Mohammad Shirvani. The Sundance staff person who introduced the film hailed him as one of the most important young directors in Iranian Cinema right now. I had high hopes. Sadly though, the film was really disappointing. There’s much that I appreciated about it, particularly the dream-like quality and use of symbolism that is characteristic of contemporary Iranian cinema. I’m still processing what didn’t work for me about it though (and the dozens of people who walked out early)–more soon. That was then followed by the World Premier of a fantastically done and very emotional documentary After Tiller. The film, by first time filmmakers Lana Wilson and Martha Shane, follows the four remaining late term pregnancy termination providers who remain after Dr. George Tiller’s murder. The film is controversial and incredibly brave–it was the only film at Sundance where audience members had to go through a security pat down and scanner and police were stationed in the theater. Technically, the film was solid. A great mix of intimate interviews and verite style footage, excellent cinematography and a score that gives ambience without emotional manipulation. I appreciated how honest the doctors were with how they struggled and how hard their jobs are. The film, as one of the directors said in the Q&A afterward, “addresses the grey area.” The most incredible part was all four doctors were there at the screening for the Q&A and I was deeply awed and moved by the whole experience. Today is day two of three here for me and I’m doing my best to pack in more. I’m kicking the day off with The Stuart Hall Project about one of my biggest intellectual influencers Stuart Hall, directed by John Akomfrah whose work I’ve read about over the years but never seen. After that I’ll be catching the documentary God Loves Uganda and then checking out the filmmakers lounge and other side things here. Another report back tomorrow!

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