Journaling from the road, FilmShop Brooklyn member Lara Sfire sums up her favorite films, experiences and insiders tips to a great week at Sundance 2010.
This year I went out to the Sundance FF really excited to see the films I worked on: 3 Backyards, the Romantics, HappyThankYouMorePlease, & Twelve.
When not waiting in line for films or parties, I took advantage of volunteer friends who had hook-ups and hung out a lot at the Music Café, the Filmmakers Lodge and the New Frontier. The Fray performed to a tiny room of a couple hundred pushy but excited festival goers at the Music café, dance parties and free food were often found at the Filmmaker’s Lodge, and New Frontier was the coolest place to escape Main Street and some amazing video & 3-D art by world famous artists.
House parties can be fun, but you could also wind up at a mostly-LA condo after a $10 cab ride out there, with hilariously lame people posing, passing out their actor business cards with their photos on the front. Ugh. We were forced to start a dance party, in which Michael Jackson dance-a-likes joined in, keeping everyone jumping till the wee hours of the morning. It was still a lame party, but we made the best of it.
When Sundance gets exhausting, I go and check out Slamdance, which is also on Main St, and is generally much happier to have you join their party. This year the best short I saw was here at Slamdance, called Horsefingers 2: But I Am the Tiger, a stunningly charming and bizarre Alice in Wonderland-esque tale. Created by Kirsten Kearse, a script supervisor in NYC, about her own disability, causing her to have “horsefingers.”
Slamdance also has great events, like sledding, where we invaded the Park City Ski Resort with our bright plastic sleds, fruitlessly attempting to avoid skiers.
I also had the good-fortune to make a few new friends, from Winter’s Bone, and Dave Haddad (the film-truck guy). All you need is a few cool people who’ll out drink and dance you to have a blast. Networking grosses me out, but sometimes new friends turn into contacts down the road – I guess that counts?
My festival advice: Use Sundance as a place to socialize with NY friends who are too busy to hang out in NY. You’ll have a lot more fun & make some real friends. And the drunken dance parties will be remembered while the industry conversations forgotten when they’re looking to hire down the road…
Here are some reviews of films I worked on, or saw, loved, hated and the festival stories I picked up along the way…
I was most excited to see 3 Backyards, shot a year and a half ago, written and directed by Eric Mendelsohn, produced by Rocco Caruso (the duo created Judy Berlin, a Sundance baby in ’99).
Originally 4 Backyards, the financing for the 4th (and most expensive) backyard fell threw, leaving us with 3 interwoven stories of people beginning their day like any other, and finishing with radically altered perceptions of themselves and their lives.
The film was made for a few hundred thousand dollars, so it was truly shot with our blood, sweat and tears. I fell in love with the project and crew, and was heartbroken when it ended. Nothing compares to working on a passion project with friends.
The DP Kaspar Tuxen shot on the RED ONE, with pretty much some mirrors and a few bounces, and Mendelsohn extracted gut-wrenchingly honest performances from Elias Koteas, Embeth Davidtz, and his muse Edie Falco (and old friend of Mendelsohn’s, from Judy Berlin, who kindly allowed her home to be the editing suite once the film wrapped). All the hard work paid off, as the film looked exquisite, and Mendelsohn took home the JURY AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTOR.
In a snide, gossipy sort of way, I was excited to see this film. The Romantics, by first time writer/director, but well known producer Galt Niederhoffer, co-founder of Plum Pictures (a successful team of female producers with past Sudance hits Lonesome Jim, Grace is Gone, Dedication, the Winning Season…) shot out in the northfork of Long Island, a few months ago, and was fairly disasterous. The crew had a blast, but we all knew the movie was going to be terrible.
I’ve enjoyed the other Plum films I’ve crewed on, and thought Niederhoffer, with all her producing experience would shine as a first time director. But as it turns out, every director needs somebody to tell her NO once in a while, and unfortunately, that person was not on our set. The producers were from her own company, the AD was an idiot, and the DP was sweet but seemed to terrified to put his foot down and make some decisions.
The programmers at the festival, based on past successes with Plum Picts at Sundance, let the Romantics in after seeing a few roughly edited scenes. And I’m sure they regretted the decision.
In some ways I appreciate this as a business decision for Sundance, since Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin, Elijah Woods, Adam Brody, Malin Akerman, Josh Duhamel & the fabulous Candice Bergen were cast in the film. But for obvious reasons this frustrated me, as well. This film will probably get picked up. However, they rushed the edit to make the festival, there was no musical score (just a few indie rock songs thrown in at “pivotal” moments), and the film itself looked as though it was shot on my iphone. I was embarrassed to say I worked as a set electric on this film, for fear of the response – “there were lights used on that film?” Such a sad waste of 35mm. *Sigh.
The only saving grace here is that the supporting cast actually improvised a lot of humor into scenes where the awkward dialogue nearly ruined the moment. The leads, Holmes and Duhamel, in their weak attempts at feining destructively passionate love for each other, were overshadowed by the talent and wit of Woods, Akerman & Brody, who made the film bearable.
As far as HappyThankYouMorePlease (writer/director/actor Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother) and Twelve (Joel Schumacher) go, I didn’t see them at the festival.
I was told that Happy… was the film you wanted to see at the end of the festival, because it was the sweet-crowd-pleaser that would restore your hope in humanity after 10 days of dark, depressing, indie shit. Fair enough, however, it just didn’t fit into my schedule of shorts, sledding, partying, and features that I couldn’t wait to come out on Netflix. I might have been wrong in my film-snob arrogance because it got the AUDIENCE AWARD FOR BEST FEATURE.
And as for Twelve, I may have been wrong again my assumptions. I only worked a few days on the film, but it looked like the Rated R version of Gossip Girl, with the hot young lead on drugs, partying with other rich, underaged kids, and somebody gets killed. oh the drama. But yet again, I think I was wrong in my film-snobbery due to the surprising reviews on the shuttle bus around the festival. People loved it! They agreed the premise was a little eye-rolling, but in actually the film was terrifyingly smart, dark and twisted.
So, it’s on my Netflix wait-list.
Other films I saw..
Sympathy for Delicious:
Mark Ruffalo (In the Cut, XX XY, Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind) directs and plays a supporting role in this film written by and staring Christopher Thornton. Props to these guys for making an original and amazing film! It’s an amazing feat to make a greatly entertaining film, with strong characters, so well put together, and have such a unique storyline.
As Ruffalo put it at the Q&A after the standing ovation at the screening, “It’s really difficult to make a film, even a really shitty one. So your response means the world to us.” He actually teared up while explaining what he and Thornton, his long-time friend, went through to make this film.
The story is about a DJ (Thornton) in NYC who, after an accident, wound up in a wheel-chair and his anger and bitterness caused him to lose everything, forcing him to live in his car, relying on a priest (Ruffalo) from the neighborhood shelter for occasional hand-outs (and that’s just the opening scene).
DJ Delicious searches for work, getting nothing but rejection. After attempting to help a friend, he finds he has healing powers of biblical proportions. Although the priest tries to contain the secret, word gets out, and soon Delicious finds a way to exploit his gift for fame and fortune, becoming a rock star of sorts, in a band with Orlando Bloom and Juliet Louis, managed by the brilliant Laura Linney.
The true journey begins when it all comes crashing down, and Delicious steps back from the wreckage. Although he is unable to heal himself, he finds what he is looking for, making this an unlikely but somehow uplifting tale of courage and strength.
What is so remarkable about this film, also is that Thornton himself was paralyzed from the waist down after a climbing accident, around the age of 20, when he was in acting school with Ruffalo.
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE.
In a word: Disturbing.
Adapted from the novel about meth addicts and “cookers” in the Ozark region of Missouri, Debra Granik (Down to the Bone) directs this terrifying portrayal of a world most of us have never seen, although it’s in our backyard. 16-year old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a poverty-stricken, back-woods part of America where everyone is either on meth or they’re cooking it out in their shed. Stick your nose out where it don’t belong, and you’ll lose it, quite gruesomely, I might add. It’s survival of the fittest, or owner of the biggest shotgun.
Ree, caretaker for her mother and 2 young siblings, has to find her dealer father or she’s going to lose the house.
She is threatened and beaten by the women of these meth houses (played mostly by locals) while she is looking for her father.
It’s horrifying, but you can’t look away!
Stories on set of very little production design at the houses, toothless junkies given supporting roles, diseased children and animals, and extreme poverty with cultural pride make it all the more fascinating.
John Hawkes (Me and You and Everyone We Know) and Dale Dickey (Domino) kicked serious ass.
And did I mention the music? Folk music like you’ve never heard it – you’ll be stomping your feet while the shivers go down your spine.
At their after-party, the musicians featured in the film and those who made the score gathered in Granik’s living room, performing for hours, with the actors and crew joining in. Winter’s Bone gets the unofficial award for Best after-party.
GRAND JURY AWARD FOR DRAMATIC FEATURE &
WALDO SALT SCREENWRITING AWARD.
Distribution deal with Roadside Attractions set to be released this summer.
The Killer Inside Me:
My favorite film of the fest!
From the 1950’s novel, Michael Winterbottom (Mighty Heart, 24 Hr Party People) directs this noir starring Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba.
This film caused a lot of controversy at the Q&As post screening! Women were standing up, telling Winterbottom he should be ashamed for making such a violent film against women, and Sundance should be ashamed for supporting him!
Had Winterbottom been better prepared, his simple response could have been, “This film is a story of a man who was sexually traumatized by a woman when he was young, combining sex and violence. With no parental guidance or self-control, as a man he was compelled to kill the women he loved. Had he been abused by a man as a child, he would have killed men instead.”
Snob alert – My MFA in feminist film theory entitles me to say if this film is genuinely violent against women or just genuinely violent. I pick the latter. And I can say with certainty that it is highly entertaining in the vain of Tarantino but with more emotion, art and character development.
This film was not in competetion.
First time writer/director Diane Bell created a quirky, unconventional love story between George, a librarian and Sophie, a film projectionist, both lost in the wrong decade. Their love for all things old brings them together for a road trip through the cinematic Death Valley, while they explore philosophical ideas about love and people. Zak Mulligan, D.P. used old lenses found in resale shops, with the RED ONE.
EXCELLENCE IN CINEMATOGRAPHY AWARD, DRAMA.
For the full line-up of Sundance 2010 festival winners:
The time for Rooftop Films has arrived! Shout out to Keiran O’Hare for his animated short “80 Billion Guys” which will screen as part of the Romance Shorts program.[Read more]
We’re proud to announce that ‘The Hair Man of Williamsburg” a short
film featured in last season’s “UnProtected” screening, will be
playing in this year’s Rooftop films summer film festival.