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At Rotterdam I was mostly attending the CineMart, the festival's financing conference, which I'll report on for the blog in the next couple of days. At Sundance I mostly watched movies. Here's what I really liked:
The Beasts of the Southern Wild. It was the first film I saw at Sundance this year, and afterwards I thought, this is why I come to this festival. The film is a dreamy meditation on love, community and responsibility set within a fantastic Southern Louisiana community facing hurricanes and the apocalypse. As a producer, my jaw was dropped for fully half the shots in this film, and, indeed, its spectacular ambition is part of its meaning.
The Law in these Parts. Ra'anan Alexandrowicz's formally provocative documentary is a brilliant examination of the legal framework created by Israel to rule the occupied territories.
Queen of Versailles. Lauren Greenfield's opening night Sundance film is part "Real Housewives" and part economic crisis doc, with the former elements unexpectedly enriching the latter. In following the family building the largest private residence in the U.S. -- that is, before the housing bust suddenly upends their plans -- Greenfield builds her story layer upon layer, shooting several times the amount of footage other directors would be content with.
Keep the Lights On. Ira Sachs' personal story of love and break-up has a lovely novelistic flow as it checks in on its complicated and conflicted characters over several years during the 1990s and '00s. Especially effective is the use of Arthur Russell's music (both his avant garde classical and disco) as score for a film which is also a portrait of New York gay life during this time.
Indie Game. A great documentary on the indie game movement -- and also a great doc on creativity in general. I wrote about this here on the blog.
The Perception of Moving Targets. This experimental film consists of four sections, each inspired by a different dream of director Weston Currie. Lots of filmmakers have been inspired by the dream state, but what works so well here is Currie's evocation of the uncanny. Whether using shards of narrative, archival photos, or just flashes of abstract imagery, Currie taps into the realm of strangeness that exists between sleep and the waking hours.
Wuthering Heights. "Andrea Arnold sure knows how to make a movie," a filmmaker said to me as we left the screening of Wuthering Heights in Rotterdam. She sure does. Her audacious adaptation of Emily Bronte's novel feels like it was made in the time of its setting, so specked with mud, shrouded in fog and pelted with rain it is.
We're continuing to post reports from these festivals in the coming days, so check back at the site from time to time.
See you next week.
P.S. Do you read a magazine on your iPad? Do you like the experience? And, if so, do you prefer the flipbook type of PDF reader that you can download quickly or the larger files of a Wired or Vanity Fair type app? We're in the midst of figuring out an iPad edition of Filmmaker and I'd love your thoughts on what you like and don't like in the digital publication space. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IFP ALUMS TAKE HOME AWARDS IN PARK CITY In Park City, IFP alumni made strong awards showings at the Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals, taking home top prizes at both. At Sundance, congratulations to No Borders alum Beasts of the Southern Wild, winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Excellence in Cinematography Award, Dramatic; to Lauren Greenfield, director of Spotlight on Documentaries alum The Queen of Versailles, winner of the Documentary Directing Award; to Jonathan Schwartz and Andrea Sperling, awarded the Special Jury Prize, Dramatic for No Borders alum Nobody Walks and Smashed; and to IFP fiscally sponsored project Valley of Saints, awarded the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award and the Alfred P. Sloan Prize. And at the Slamdance Film Festival, Keith Miller's Welcome to Pine Hill, a 2011 alum of the IFP Independent Filmmaker Labs, was awarded the Grand Jury Sparky Award for Narrative Feature, the festival's highest honor. Congratulations, all!
Hammer to Nail Review
The Microbudget Conversation: The Success of Failure
IFP Alums Take Home Awards in Park City
BAD FEVER By Michael Tully
For those viewers with a deep-seated fondness for the character-based New Hollywood dramas that were churned out in the 1970s, Dustin Guy Defa's Bad Fever will feel like a welcome return to that glorious past (I should know, as I am guilty of said deep-seated fondness). From the spare opening title card--complete with a copyright tag at the bottom!--to its placing of atmosphere and character firmly in the foreground, Bad Fever recalls films from the past more than it does those it brushed up alongside in film festival programs over the course of the past year. Yet, to be clear, Bad Fever isn't some hip exercise in retro coolness. Defa's film is a darkly funny, ultimately crushing portrait of a lost soul who is unable to forge the type of connection he so desperately wants. read more THE INNKEEPERS Rising horror auteur Ti West returns with this follow-up to 2009's The House of the Devil, his atmospheric foray into adventures in satanic babysitting. The Innkeepers stars Sara Paxton and Pat Healy as Claire and Luke, two bored employees at an about-to-close 100-year-old "haunted hotel." With only one week left on staff, Claire and Luke set out to prove the hotel's reputation. The results are suitably creepy, with West flexing his talent for character development and well-earned thrills over cheap scares. Read Filmmaker's cover story interview with West in our Winter 2012 issue, on newsstands now. W.E Madonna's follow-up to her 2008 directorial debut Filth and Wisdom is, for better or worse, everything you'd expect from the elder pop icon. Trading in extravagant costuming and sweeping romance, W.E is an ambitious, century-spanning love story, tracing a lonely New Yorker's (Abbie Cornish) obsession with King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson's legendary relationship. As Cornish pours herself into investigating this landmark love story, Madonna intersperses flashbacks of the couple themselves, crafting an ambitious treatise on love, legend, and sobering reality. BAD FEVER A sleeper hit at last year's SXSW, this skewed dramedy from director Dustin Guy Defa centers on one of the most dysfunctional big-screen pairings in recent memory. Indie notables Kentucker Audley (Open Five, Ginger Sand) and Eleanor Hendricks (Daddy Longlegs) star as the antisocial duo, with Audley portraying a bumbling, failed stand-up comedian and Hendricks a predatory drifter with a penchant for filming moments of intimacy. The at-times brutal frankness at the core of Bad Fever might not be for the weak of heart, but Defa's unflinching style points towards a young filmmaker not afraid to lay his character's ambitions and emotions bare. This week on the blog, Dan Schoenbrun announces the winners of Sundance 2012 (pictured left), Alicia Van Couvering discusses two new music docs featuring Paul Simon and James Murphy and Randy Astle shares his thoughts on a recent Game of Thrones presentation.
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THE MICROBUDGET CONVERSATION: THE SUCCESS OF FAILURE By John Yost
For eighteen years I was a prisoner. I wasn't physically locked up behind bars, rather my mind was trapped behind the confines of institutionalized schooling. I swear this ties in to filmmaking, just bear with me. We're told that we go to school to receive an education, but I beg to differ. Indoctrination is really the point. I can't really remember much of what I was taught in all those years, except that we should play it safe, follow the rules, listen to authority, and fit in with the crowd. This is not a recipe for success and definitely not a blueprint to reach our fullest potential. It's a road-map to mediocrity. read more
Myrtle Beach International Film Festival
WAB Deadline: February 6
Festival Dates: April 20 - 28, 2012
Montclair Film Festival
Regular Deadline: February 10
WAB Deadline: March 2
Festival Dates: May 2 - 6, 2012
Newport Beach Film Festival
WAB Deadline: February 10
Festival Dates: April 26 - May 3, 2012