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Sundance Announces Selections

December 3, 2008

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Sundance has announced their line up (yes now all you have left to wait for is Oxford Film Festival!).

I have been reading over the two documentary and dramatic categories, American and global, and have found some definitely interesting submissions based completely on the three line description that defines the film to the audience. Likely the description will not actually be what ultimately defines the hits of Sundance..but for now…it is the first encounter with these possible little gems.

For a full listing of selections visit Sundance.

16 American made documentaries were selected this year from 879 submissions. 

My faves so far are:

1.  Art & Copy (Director: Doug Pray; Screenwriter: Timothy J. Sexton) – Rare interviews with the most influential advertising creative minds of our age illustrate the wide-reaching effect advertising and creativity have on modern culture. World Premiere

Sexton wrote a great little screenplay for Children of Men, so I am looking forward to see what he does with a doc on one of the most fascinating subjects: effect of advertising on modern culture.

2. Boy Interrupted (Director: Dana Perry) – An intimate look at the life, mental illness and death of a young man told from the point of view of the filmmaker: his mother. World Premiere

Perry produced the 1998 Robbie Robertson TV musical performance, which was just a stunning auditory delight for Robertson fans. But why I am fascinated by this is as the daughter of a mother who lost her child, I am fascinated to see how she will put this on film without shutting out the audience.

3. Good Hair (Director: Jeff Stilson) – Comedian Chris Rock turns documentary filmmaker when he sets out to examine the culture of African-American hair and hairstyles. World Premiere

I just really want to get inside the head of a beauty salon stylist that does African American hair. This could be great.

4. Reporter (Director: Eric Daniel Metzgar) – Set in Africa, this documentary chronicles, in verité fashion, the haunting, physically grueling and shocking voyage of Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, Nicholas D. Kristof. World Premiere.

I did not see Metzgar’s first documentary “The Chances of the World Changing,” but would love to see more about NYT’s Kristof. 

5. When You’re Strange (Director and Screenwriter: Tom DiCillo) – The first feature documentary about The Doors,  When You’re Strange enters the dark and dangerous world of one of America’s most influential bands using only footage shot between 1966 and 1971. World Premiere

Real footage of Jim. On the big screen. Joy!

8. William Kunstler:  Disturbing the Universe  (Directors: Sarah Kunstler and Emily Kunstler) – With clients including Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and the Chicago 10, the late civil rights attorney William Kunstler was one of the most famous lawyers of the 20th century. Filmmakers Emily and Sarah Kunstler explore their father’s life from movement hero to “the most hated lawyer in America.” World Premiere

Kunstler who died in 1995, was the attorney for the Chicago 7. This will be an interesting, intimate look from his daughter’s take on the civil rights defender.

The 16 films from over 1,026 submissions for dramatic competition also involve an interesting and strange mix of films. The ones that I found most interesting are:

1. Adam (Director and Screenwriter: Max Mayer) – A strange and lyrical love story between a somewhat socially dysfunctional young man and the woman of his dreams. Cast: Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher, Amy Irving, Frankie Faison, Mark Linn-Baker. World Premiere

I didn’t see Mayer’s first film Better Living, but I am interested in an autistic man who develops a love affair with his neighbor. Could fall flat, or may be one of the most touching movies of the year.

2. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (Director and Screenwriter: John Krasinski) – When her boyfriend leaves with little explanation, a doctoral candidate in anthropology tries to remedy her heartache by interviewing men about their behavior. Cast: Julianne Nicholson, John Krasinski, Timothy Hutton, Dominic Cooper, Christopher Meloni, Bobby Cannavale.World Premiere

All I know is I love John Krasinski and am interested to see his take into the female psyche of recovering after a bad breakup.

3. Cold Souls (Director and Screenwrtier: Sophie Barthes) – In the midst of an existential crisis, a famous American actor explores soul extraction as a relief from the burdens of daily life. Cast: Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson, Lauren Ambrose, Katheryn Winnick. World Premiere

The cast is stunning and that alone draws me to this quirky little story.

4. Don’t Let Me Drown (Director: Cruz Angeles; Screenwriters: Maria Topete and Cruz Angeles) – Two Latino teens whose lives are affected by the attack on the World Trade Center discover that love is the only thing that keeps them from drowning. Cast: E.J. Bonilla, Gleendilys Inoa, Damián Alcázar, Ricardo Chavira, Gina Torres. World Premiere

Although I am not drawn by the description, I am interested to see the next take on the post-9/11 world.

5. The Greatest (Director and Screenwriter: Shana Feste) – After the tragic loss of their teenage son, a family is again thrown into turmoil by the arrival of a young woman.  Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, Carey Mulligan, Johnny Simmons, Aaron Johnson, Mike Shannon. World Premiere

This is Feste’s feature length premiere as a writer and full premiere as a director. I am curious to see what happens with this but I am not overly eager for the storyline.

6. Humpday (Director and Screenwriter: Lynn Shelton) – A farcical comedy about straight male bonding gone a little too far. Cast: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore, Lynn Shelton, Trina Willard. World Premiere

You may recall my glowing review of My Effortless Brilliance from both SXSW and Indie Memphis. I am a big fan of Shelton as a director and can’t WAIT to see this next step for her. 

7. Paper Heart (Director: Nicholas Jasenovec; Screenwriters: Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi) – Even though performer Charlyne Yi doesn’t believe in love, she bravely embarks on a quest to discover its true nature – a journey that takes on surprising urgency when she meets unlikely fellow traveler, actor Michael Cera. Cast: Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, Jake Johnson. World Premiere

This intrigues me. Jasenovec created a short with Bill Hader in 2004 and also got a small part in Superbad. Now with Cera, I am interested to see what he does now.

8. Peter and Vandy (Director and Screenwriter: Jay DiPietro) – Juxtaposing a couple’s romantic beginnings with the twisted-manipulative-regular couple they have become, Peter and Vandy is a contemporary Manhattan love story with no beginning and no end. Cast: Jess Weixler, Jason Ritter, Jesse L. Martin, Tracie Thoms. World Premiere

Ritter returns to Sundance this year after Good Dick. The play it is adapted from received positive reviews but with a warning that its collegial love lessons are somwhat beyond the typical adult. 

9. Push (Director and Screenwriter: Lee Daniels) – Based on the acclaimed, best-selling novel by Sapphire, Push is the redemptive story of Precious Jones, a young girl in Harlem struggling to overcome tremendous obstacles and discover her own voice. Cast: Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo’Nique Imes, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey.  World Premiere

It’s no Glitter. I can tell you that.

10. Taking Chance (Director: Ross Katz; Screenwriters: LtCol Michael R. Strobl, USMC (Ret.) and Ross Katz) –  Based on real-life events, Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, a volunteer military escort officer, accompanies the body of 19-year-old Marine Chance Phelps back to his hometown of Dubois, Wyoming. Cast: Kevin Bacon.  World Premiere

Interestingly, this will be on TV directly after the Sundance premiere. Early test screenings are positive of the film. Could be the next Ballast – a lovely quiet film. Katz produced Trick and Lost in Translation. He knows good film, lets see what he does with his own.

For world docs, the ones that caught my eye were:

This year’s 16 films were selected from 744 submissions.

1. Kimjongilia/France/USA (Director: N.C. Heikin) – Defectors from North Korea finally speak out about the terrifying reality of their lives–and escapes. World Premiere

Since it is all defectors, as it has to be, it is a certain perspective, but still one that I would love to hear more on.

2. Nollywood Babylon/Canada (Directors: Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal) – Welcome to the wacky world of Nollywood, Nigeria’s bustling home-grown movie industry. U.S. Premiere

Intriguing, but I admit I know nothing about the topic.

3. Prom Night in Mississippi/ Canada (Director: Paul Saltzman) – When a small-town Mississippi high school resolves to hold its first integrated senior prom, strong emotions fly and traditions are challenged to their core. World Premiere

Yay! This is a fascinating story. I can’t wait to see what Saltzman did with it. 

4. Tibet in Song / USA (Director: Ngawang Choephel) – Through the story of Tibetan music, this film depicts the determined efforts of Tibetan people, both in Tibet and in exile, to preserve their unique cultural identity. Choephel served six years of an 18-year prison sentence for filming in Tibet. World Premiere

I don’t even know what to say about how excited I am to see this especially after what Choephel went through to let us see this footage.

Word Dramatic Category have 16 films selected from a record 1,012 submissions.

1. The Clone Returns (Kuron Wa Kokyo-Wo Mezasu)/ Japan (Director and Screenwriter: Kanji Nakajima) – A Japanese astronaut who dies during a mission is subsequently resurrected as a clone and returns to his childhood home. Cast: Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Eri Ishida, Hiromi Nagasaku.  North American Premiere

I love Japanese film and am interested to see what happens with this.

2. An Education/UK (Director: Lone Scherfig; Screenwriter: Nick Hornby) – In the early 60s, a sharp 16-year-old with sights set on Oxford meets a handsome older man whose sophistication enraptures and sidetracks both her and her parents. Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson.  World Premiere

Nick Hornby is the screenwriter. Need I say more? Oh ok. Peter Sarsgaard. Alfred Molina. Emma Thompson.

3. Heart of Time (Corazon Del Tiempo)/ Mexico (Director and Screenwriter: Alberto Cortes) – In La Esperanza de San Pedro, Chiapas, in the midst of the Zapatista struggle, a young woman makes serious waves when she falls in love with a revolutionary fighter from the mountains.  Cast: Rocío Barrios. North American Premiere

Cortes is much more known in his homeland, but he has a strong track record in documentary, television and film. Should make for a good movie.

5. Zion and His Brother (Zion Ve-Achiv)/ France / Israel (Director and Screenwriter: Eran Merav) – The disappearance of a young boy sends a wedge between two teenage brothers whose loyalty had been unshakeable, in this gritty story of a working class Tel Aviv single-parent family. Cast: Reuven Badalov, Ronit Elkabetz, Tzahi Grad. World Premiere

Just because. 

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