Magazine article Filmmaker

Sundance Film Festival 2016

Magazine article Filmmaker

Sundance Film Festival 2016

Article excerpt

Few film festivals carry inscribed connotations the way that Sundance does. For this newcomer to Park City, a visit to this beacon of American indie cinema came loaded with preconceptions about both the nature of the "Sundance film" (part myth, part truth) and the tendency for the collective critical response to hyperbolize and rush to proclaim the year's early favorites. Given the calendar-based approach of looking at movies in the context of their year, Sundance emerges on the heels of last year's best-of lists, nearly 12 months ahead of when its own lineup will be assessed in this fetishistic format and ranked against an entire year's rollout of releases, The films that premiere at Sundance are the films we have the most time to think about and reconsider by the time we look back on the year's highlights, and as such that makes this particular grouping of films the most susceptible to revised opinion and second thoughts. Or maybe, as has been suggested, the high altitude throws us off our game.

One film did indeed emerge as the iconic "Sundance film," and the regret of this hoisting to the rafters will surely set in when Fox Searchlight unveils Nate Parker's egregious The Birth of a Nation to a wide audience, Explicitly inspired by the work of Ed Zwick and Mel Gibson (and practically cut-and-pasted from Braveheart), this is hardly the sort of film deserving of an indie spotlight. While sympathy towards its subject matter gives it a head start, any goodwill is lost at the sight of Parker's shallow and altogether tactless direction. The provocative theft of D.W. Griffith's title is earned not in a cultural corrective gesture, but from being its very own problematic mistreatment of race and history.

Aside from Parker's film, which hogged all the attention with standing ovations and a festival record $17.5 million buy, the U.S. Dramatic and Documentary Competitions were overshadowed by premieres from established filmmakers such as Kelly Reichardt, Kenneth Lonergan, Whit Stillman, Ira Sachs, Todd Solondz, and Werner Herzog. Aside from the latter two, these veterans made the very best films that screened at Sundance. Love & Friendship, Stillman's witty adaptation of Jane Austen's short epistolary novel Lady Susan, was the most fun of all, with an impeccable ensemble cast led by a surprisingly brilliant comic turn from Kate Beckinsale. In Ira Sachs' tender drama, Little Men, the director takes a measured and human look at gentrification in Brooklyn via the story of two 13-year old boys who become best friends when Jacob's family takes over his recently deceased grandfather's apartment and adjoining clothing store, run by Tony's mother. A conflict arises over a new lease. Jacob's family wants to triple the rent to support themselves, which Tony's mom simply cannot afford. In his most accomplished film, Sachs is worthy of evoking Yasujiro Ozu and François Truffaut, both of whom served as inspiration.

The two films best equipped to withstand a year's worth of consideration will be Reichardt's Certain Women and Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea. The former is an adaptation of three short stories by Maile Meloy, all set in Montana, making it Reichardt's first film set outside of Oregon, and first not co-scribed by Jon Raymond since her debut, River of Grass. Certain Women patiently tells three understated stories of the daily lives of women played by Laura Dern, Michelle Wiliams and Lily Gladstone (for whom Kristen Stewart figures as an elusive love interest in the final chapter). …

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