The Sundance Film Festival, which began January 20 and ends January 30, self-identifies as a discovery festival, meaning that it embraces its own legend of being a place where, over the course of a single screening, an unknown can transform into an industry-redefining stareven as that fantasy seems increasingly out of date in a world in which video is eminently demandable and filmmakers are their own best marketers. As Kevin Smith put it during a 30-minute lecture on the evolution and inner workings of indie-film distribution following the premiere of Red State, his amateurish and largely unsatisfying extremist religion vs. extremist politics parable, I came here 17 years ago, and all I wanted to do was sell my movie, and my life changed in an evening. And now I cant think of anything fucking worse than selling my movie to someone who doesnt get it.
Smith managed to turn the premiere of his 10th filmhis follow-up to the much maligned Cop Out, and his first since Clerks to be produced without a distributorinto the hottest ticket of Sundances first weekend by first refusing to book a separate screening for the press, and then announcing via Twitter his intention to auction the film off to the highest bidder immediately after the closing credits. Instead, with a captive audience full of journalists and executives, he proceeded to explain at length his decision to embrace indie film 2.0 and release Red State himself. The best part? When Smith started essentially eulogizing his first distributor, Harvey Weinstein: Harvey was very, very good. He was a genius. The Miramax co-founder is not deadhe was in the room.
Smith was merely the highest-profile prodigal child in a weekend defined by Sundance discoveries, from both the last decade and the last century. The hot topics of conversation over the past few days have been new works by filmmakers like Miguel Arteta, Azazel Jacobs, Miranda July, James Marsh, Jesse Peretz, and Morgan Spurlock, all of whom broke out here years ago and, in grand Park City tradition, have come back to unveil new productall too literally in the case of Spurlocks reprehensible (but crowd-pleasing!) exercise in advertainment, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
Of that pack, the highlight for me was Julys The Future, a structurally adventurous, dryly surreal anti-romance in which a thirtysomething couples decision to adopt a stray cat touches off desperate interventions to deal withor delaythe inevitable. Closer in tone, theme, and sensibility to Julys early video art than to her 2005 Sundance breakout, Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Future sees the writer/director/actress creating space to explore imagery and ideas more akin to performance art than traditional acting within a character-based drama. Much like Julys latest, Terri, an episodic portrait of the social stratification of high school freaks directed by Jacobs (whose Mommas Man debuted at Sundance in 2008), displays the thrilling results of a filmmaker making formal advances without abandoning his unique voice.
While returning champs may have dominated the weekend, there was one potential overnight- sensation-style discovery: Bellflower, a brazen, bloody noir-mance written, directed, edited by, and starring Evan Glodell. A hyper-indulgent, apocalyptic adolescent revenge fantasy, Bellflower is bloated and inconsistent, but its also a gorgeously shot evisceration of the young male ego. Its exactly the kind of film Sundance should be discoveringand that will probably require the filmmakers aggressive indie 2.0 savvy to make it further out into the world.
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