The New Frontier

Well, we are back in the airport, heading back to Indiana.  Everyone is here, everyone is safe, everyone is exhausted.  I can feel my brain shutting down as I type.  But it’s okay. We played hard this week and learned a lot along the way.  Practical things, like checking for ice before stepping out the front door and theoretical things, like the power of ideas.

Now that the festival is over, you can see the winners on the Sundance website, but don’t be fooled, the winning films are good, but everything else we saw was amazing.

Its sad to think that many of these films may never get distributed to a wide audience, that we may never get to share the experience of watching these films with you.  I guess you will just have to ask us as many questions as possible to find out what you all missed.

If you asked me what film I enjoyed the most, it would be Safety Not Guaranteed, a romance about time travel, or maybe a time traveling tale with romance.  Fortunately, this film was picked up and should get distributed, so you will get to see it!  Unfortunately, you will never get to experience the short film that went before it and and the spontaneous laughter that rolled through the theater as we waited for in darkness for the film to start.

The biggest surprise to me was Ai Wei Wei, a documentary about art, activism and China.  It chronicles the career of one man as he seeks to push the Chinese government to continue to improve.  Between the title sequence and the end credits, this film revealed the power of ideas while remaining fun and entertaining.  It also won the award for Spirit of Defiance.  I did not expect to like it going in, but it might be my overall favorite.

We are about to board the plane, but we are taking our memories with us.  Please ask us about the films we saw. We all saw over 15. Though, as the week went on, they all congeal to becomes some sort of movie goo where all the plots and characters combine and form some ectoplasmic monster!  The only way keep it at bay is by talking about the movies!

Do your part, ask a Sundancer about their time.  What they liked, what disturbed them, how they have changed. You won’t be disappointed.

Blog is a dumb word.

Why read our blog? I bet you’re asking that right now, or soon will be. Trust me, it’ll come up by the time I start talking about bowels. But in a serious answer to the question, because it’ll learn ya.

Some blogs are just journals, an unhealthily dulled-down version of our lives posted in public. But other blogs are devoted to a single, small topic worth delving into. I say this because there are many ‘autobiographical’ films here at Sundance. However, the ones worth consuming center on a specific subject, issue, or event. One can find ‘portraits of real life’ in actual real life, which is why many people despise ‘slow’ movies.

I can tell what I did and didn’t like by how many notes I take. A movie I do not wish to bash consumed a lot of my time yesterday in scenes where a woman looked out of a window and was sad. The  movie made up for its flaws by the end, but all the minor conflicts of its main character took up more screen time than the love interest the movie, who was ostensibly the major plot point. Wandering off from a major point in your story is dangerous, and the Parables of Jesus don’t often go into details that might distract from what the story needs to teach. At the same time, The Bible spends entire chapters describing the construction of God’s temple in Jerusalem. Rather than being a waste of paper in a best-seller, these passages teach us just how valuable God’s dwelling place is to be, which reflects on how we are to take care of God’s dwelling place in us.

Speaking of notes and wasting paper, I have a comic book to portray my drowning in notes.

Comic

Comic

Wasn’t that just a dandy. The notes pictured were a fraction of my overall writing, mostly derived from my favorite event of the day: The Power of Story Panel on how to foster creativity and keep a wonderful idea intact. It included Stephen Gaghan, writer/director of Syriana and writer of Traffic; Anne Deveare Smith, whose latest solo stage performance was Let Me Down Easy, based on interviews with hundreds of people about health care in America; Andrew Stanton, writer and director of Wall E, Finding Nemo, and John Carter; and Terence Winter, creator, executive producer and writer of Boardwalk Empire, and writer for The Sopranos. These would be the most famous people I met this week, and their body (of work) is a wonderland. The notes I hold boil down to this: some studios will screw you over, and write incredible great things because the money will come if it’s good enough.

I also ended up with a ton of notes from the director of I Am Not A Hipster. The director and his entire family showed up to answer our questions in our small, sleepy church, and answered questions such as “Cool story, bro” and “Would you rather answer question 2, 3, 4, or 5?”

Director Destin Cretton was an incredible human being. He taught us stuff…

one writes emotions one feels in the context one felt them in, so all films are somewhat autobiographical;

allow a lot of collaboration, because not many art forms allow for 50 different contributors… this allows people to give more because it is their project;

be willing to have a plan b in case the ‘magic doesn’t happen’ (with actors, cameras, lighting);

why waste your time just making a silly movie if there is no bigger point to it? Especially if you planned on making a satire about hipsters and ended up contemplating overcoming depression. Because that first idea isn’t getting into Sundance.

That’s what he taught us. I thought I’d write it down because it sounded so much like business seminars I expected to hear the word synercollabistatistics.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed our blog. In 48 hours I’ll be home, and this post will be a long forgotten memory. However, I hope I was able to illuminate a specific plot: Hollywood has emptied into a small ski resort and is dwarfed by the individual. It’s a pretty good story, and I hope it inspires you to pursue your dreams without compromising them for the world. And my dream is to get my digestive system back in order. Joel and I will be collaborating on this project, and we would appreciate your support.

African Skies

Yesterday I had the privilege to see “Under African Skies,” a film by accomplished documentarian Joe Berlinger. The film features Paul Simon’s 1986 album Graceland and the political controversy that surrounded it. My husband John and I had front row seats at the MARC theatre for this trip down memory lane. Graceland was the music of our junior year in college and a favorite among our group of friends.

When Simon traveled to apartheid South Africa to make the album, he violated the cultural boycott then in place, upsetting the U.N., the ANC and the leadership of Artists Against Apartheid. Simon said that music transcended politics and that his goal was to collaborate with African musicians like Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The results were amazing both in 1986 and again in 2011 when Simon returned to South Africa for a 25th anniversary reunion concert. The reunion was featured in the documentary along with archival footage of the original recording sessions and Graceland tour.

It was a shame that technical issues hampered the sound of the film, but Dolby technicians were able to remedy the problem after about 40 minutes, so that Simon’s music could shine in the second half. The soundtrack is rich with African harmony and rhythms, and with Simon’s lyrics and trademark voice layered on top, the result is pure joy. It’s no wonder this album is routinely included in lists of the greatest rock albums of all time, and it was such a gift to rediscover it here at Sundance. We’ll have to pull out the old vinyl when we get home!

Berlinger built the film’s narrative on a fascinating conversation between Simon and Dali Tambo, the head of Artists Against Apartheid. Simon told why he made made the album in spite of the cultural boycott and Tambo explained why Simon’s actions were hurtful to the cause in 1986. In the end, the two embraced and let bygones be bygones. As the credits rolled, the audience clapped along enthusiastically to  Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes. I was tempted to dance in the aisles but confined myself to some major chair dancing:) Twenty five years later, Simon’s music still points us toward the grace and pure joy we all long for.

 

 

 

The Future is Ours

Throughout the week, I have seen many film makers, and I have talked to many of them as well.  They are incredible people, dedicating time, money, and countless hours to what they love.  These films are more than a hobby or job, it’s a way of life, and it shows.  After every movie, the discussion panel reveals how much they all care.  They eagerly answer every question and everyone stays to listen.

These people truly love what they do and they are all unbelievably skilled.  When I don’t enjoy a film, it’s probably because the story doesn’t resonate with me.  Every film I have seen has been skillfully executed.  These directors really know what they are doing and it is wonderfully humbling.

But that’s normal.  This is the greatest film festival in America, of course the films are good.  The fact that these films are skillfully made does not surprise me. I expected to be humbled.  What surprises me is that I could see many of my friends making films just as good.

I am not really that great of a movie maker, but I have seen the ability of the guys I am with and then I see the short films that Sundance accepted… the only difference seems to be the budget available, and that is exciting news.