This is a special guest post by Sundance team member Joel Plosz.
Hello, my friends.
The films of Sundance have served as an excellent filler between my frequent bathroom visits. It is so fortunate that I just happen to have tickets for the films playing near my restroom locations of choice. Could it be the altitude that has my routine in disarray? Or perhaps being in the vicinity of so many talented people has my system all a bother with excitement. Whatever it is that is causing this unusual bodily behavior, I find myself in an almost perpetual search for the next pitstop opportunity.
But after a day full of bathrooms and film breaks, I think I have garnered a glimpse of shocking revelation: perhaps my desires of pristine porcelain at a film festival is a poor allocation of my attention. Maybe, just maybe, I have been so focused on what I thought I needed that I have missed the point entirely.
Worry not—there is meaning to this uncomfortably personal confession. When sifting through the vast Sundance selection and deciding which films I wanted to see, I, like any reasonable person with personal interests would do, selected only the films that I wanted to see. A novel thing to do, I know.
See, I prefer an imaginative more unconventional story as opposed to a gritty realistic one. I ponder more existential questions than I do political or social ones. I like my heavy themes buried in frivolity or subtlety as opposed to an in-your-face approach. Suffice it to say, I selected films accordingly.
I was disappointed then to find that a lot of my top picks were absent from the schedule and some of the films that I knew I wouldn’t be interested in managed to sneak themselves on there. I quickly attempted to resolve this problem by shopping around in hopes of trading them for anything I could. I knew what I wanted because I knew which stories and styles I was interested in. What I didn’t know at the time and I have now discovered is that the supposed “uninteresting” is pretty dang interesting.
My Sundance festival began on Monday with the screening of Corpo Celeste, a film I disregarded in the selection process because I thought it looked like a sleeping pill, and was pleasantly surprised—nay, amazed by the film’s subtlety and symbolism. It is a film that has stuck with me and has me pondering the images and their meaning. I followed that with An Oversimplification of Her Beauty—a film near the top of my list—and was served with a big helping of self indulgence (and I don’t use the term lightly as some of my favorite films have been described as such). While I enjoyed many moments of it and was inspired by its unique and creative approach, I was disappointed with what I perceived as interesting.
The next day followed with Middle of Nowhere—another film I dreaded seeing—and was surprised to find a beautiful film was some fantastic performances. The fact that it was a piece of eye candy didn’t detract from it either. It is my third favorite Sundance film so far.
To put it short, by watching films that assumed I would not enjoy, I have discovered that my preferences are not nearly as narrow as I thought and that my interests should not act as restrictions—because if you don’t give something a chance, how can you know you are not interested in it? I have realized that I was missing the point entirely. Instead of focusing on seeing more of what I thought I liked, I should have been focusing on expanding my perception. I was searching for restrooms when I should have been seeking films (see how I worked that metaphor in there?).
So, my advice to future Sundancers is to find at least three films from the selection that you think you would hate and put them on your list. Choose three films that are about stuff you don’t care about or would bore you to death—and be ready to be surprised. If you aren’t being stretched you aren’t growing, and growing is what I think this Sundance trip as all about. That, and exploring the many bathrooms of Park City. I mean seriously, what is causing this digestive madness?
Farewell, my friends.
Juan fell on the ice this morning and hurt his hip. He’s ok though. His Adamantium bones held up this time.
I spent most of today discussing the elusive description of the hipster. I’d write down our results, but only a few people would get it.
I’ve just come back from I Am Not A Hipster, the only movie where I’ve had the principle actor and composer come out to the line to serenade me. And this really explains a lot about Sundance up to this point; the artist is present, and he wants to wrap his/her film up in a bow and give it to you, clapping like a giddy elf as you consume their gift. More about hipsters later. They belong on the fringe of this blog post.
Today started with Windriding For-‘em, Where we met Middle of Nowhere director Ava DuVernay. I wish she could teach certain white-bread small-town Ohio boys to direct authentic racial stories, as her film is resonating with both black and mainstream viewers due to its authenticity. Sundance is a great place for minority films and filmmakers, as the studio system sees America populated by 18-26-year-old white suburbanites. Without the burden of reaching the widest possible audience, Ava was able to voice her story with Black culture in mind. Filly Brown directors Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos also made an appearance. They are both incredibly skilled, and also spoke about the need for the stories in underground cultures of America. Unless of course you are a hipster in which case you live underground.
We hoofed it over to the Egyptian theater for Beasts of The Southern Wild. Despite some low-budget monsters (Bacon with horns on strapped around their heads) the film was near-flawless. It was a surreal, whimsical Louisiana-based fantasy, and the theater got dusty and made my eyes water. BTW (hipster for ‘in that same vein’), Quvenzhané Wallis delivered the most impressive child-acting I’ve ever seen. She must be worked to the bone before we grow out of this precious national resource.
Later, we saw a doc on how the War on drugs has cost 1 trillion bucks, caused 45 million arrests, has driven our prison demographic the highest in the world, and operates on racial lines. Don’t believe the racial bit? The type of crack most often used by African Americans carried 100 times the penalty of that used by whites. As blacks compose %30 of crack users in America, they make up %90 percent of convictions in relation to this drug. The doc is called The House I Live In, and you should watch it.
Speaking of movies (how’s that for an ironic hipster transition?) I loved I Am Not A Hipster. A mix of cynicism, angst, and an honest look at art and a scarily accurate view of depression. One is tempted to hate the main character, a mirror of any self-loathing artist who loves to create but ends up seeing his work as useless and shallow. Juxtaposed with the almost hateful ‘protagonist’ were characters who showed the greatest possible love, passion, and joy in the same situation. And suddenly, one wonders why we would name the titular Hipster as a protagonist at all. Is it because he gets more screen time?
In short, yes. I have a theory, and I would love responses in the comments section below. My theory is that the longer one examines a character, the more one sympathizes with said character. I often wondered what a biopic of Hitler would look like… would it eventually bring up his love of art, his tragic upbringing, or his love of dogs and vegetarianism? Hitler, people, had sympathetic qualities. This is the madman we associate with pure evil. But once one breaches the surface of any human life, I know one can see something worth saving. Not only that, but an honest, non-vilifying work will always make one recognize his own sin.
God, sitting in a theater, sees your entire life and finds you worth dying for. He did it for our Hipter (who redeems himself by the end of the film), he did it for Hitler (no matter how much he turned down the offer), and he’ll did it for you.
Jesus was a great hipster. He liked you before you were hip.
To be more accurate, I should say there is metaphorical silver here in Park City, or at least their was. The silver mines here have been unworked for decades.
Inspiration comes in many forms but that does not mean it is easy to find. Most movies we attend have a q and a session afterwards and most questions boil down to where the director received their inspiration. But we are at a snobby film festival, so this question is often disguised, and you have to be clever to see it. Take a look at some real life examples.
“Where was the genesis of this film?”
“Were there real life events that inspired this?”
“What galvanized you do to this?”
“Metaphorically speaking, the third act reconciled a nonfulfillment of propitiation between the protagonist and her posturer persona similar to the early creations of Wissou. Is this where you received your narrative’s origin?”
It can get pretty ridiculous.
I think its important to note that, unlike every other member of our group (excluding Tim) I am not a film/production major. I am a writing major (thus the blogging), and after being here for a few days, I began to wonder why I came. What did I want to accomplish here at Sundance as a journalist?
Naturally I began digging deep, meditating and journaling about my feelings. After I realized that came to nothing, I decided it would be easier if I just stole the thoughts of my film savvy and much more motivated friends.
Their reasons were spectacular: to network and keep advancing towards my dreams, to be surrounded by people who see God in film as much as I do, to be able to say I was at the most prestigious film festival in the USA. I received no wrong or bad answers in these mini conversations held on crowded busses between film screenings.
The answer that sticks out in my mind the most came from Juan Cespedes, who just becomes increasingly impressive as I get to know him. Wedged into a plastic bus seat, he didn’t miss a beat when I asked him why he came. Juan was there ”To get inspired”.
Though it is fantastic reason, inspiration seems to be one of the most fleeting. A film that inspires on person may not inspire another. When directors are asked about it, the replies are subpar. We may not know where it comes from, and we can’t make it last, but when we get it, if we get it, we couldn’t be happier.
I am so glad I discovered I did not need to be studying film to be inspired by it. Already, I have been immensely inspired on this trip. Filly Brown and Ai Wei Wei have both inspired me to become a more diligent artist and 5 Broken Cameras has shown me the power of perseverance. It’s hard to say what else is inspiring me because so much happens in one day, but the inspiration is there, and I am so glad I am looking for it.
If you read Paul Yoder’s post about short films, you know that the good get mixed in with the bad. In response and for the sake of documenting our trip, Tiim Riethmiller decided to put together some footage he has been shooting. Consider it a response to some of short films we had been put through here at Sundance.
Don’t get too down about our time here. We have seen some remarkable film that I will have to write about later, for now, just know that Fishing without Nets, a short about pirates in Somilia, won the short films Grand Jury Award. Make sure to keep your eyes open for it on Youtube, Vimeo, or Netflix.