A Six Minute Trip, But It Feels Like Eternity: Sundance Film Festival, a review.
11 degrees and snowing. The weather and its children–snow, slush, wet shoes, stung faces–frames Sundance. As much as I’d like to say I acclimated, I didn’t. But the weather does amplify a sense of frenzy & camaraderie already present for the sake of the namesake: movies. People go to see movies, buy movies, sell movies–share movies and share themselves. And, yes: if you don’t have passes, know that you should wake up at 6am or earlier every morning to stand in line for hours at the box office, just to find out that you can only get tickets to 2 (max) of the 5-8 movies you wanted to see. There was a guy, first in line, who camped out at the box office for the night only to be beaten to the punch for tickets by someone who paid faster (cash). Devotion.
So there is a madness to the festival. It is worth it. I met filmmakers–actors, writers, directors, producers–I highly respect, and had leisurely conversations with them. All were warm, all were happy to be sharing. I saw six films in four days and a night, three of them great. It was thrilling.
The title above comes from a line in Enter The Void–one of the characters is describing a DMT trip. I stayed away from the DMT, but the festival, all gathered & gleaned, is a very specific and inspiring drug and gauntlet.
Okay. Here’s what I thought of the films:
Film #1/Thursday Night: Restrepo, directed by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington.
We–me and four others–got into Park City near dinner time, but I had my eyes on this one since I scanned the website months ago and finally convinced everyone to standby for tickets. This is a tough film to convince people to see because it’s a tough narrative to convince people to see. Military operations in Afghanistan have been mostly left dark by the whole system–media, politic, commodity machine. It is a mostly unknown territory, culture, fight. The soldiers are mostly unknown, and they feel unknown. This documentary is about the men of Battle Company, warring in the most dangerous region in Afghanistan a few years ago. The namesake, Restrepo, belongs to the man pictured here who was part of Battle Company. He was killed in combat. An outpost, advanced space, a weak stronghold on a large hill, was fought for and established and named after him. The directors, Sebastian and Tim, were embedded with the company for roughly a year. Many people died. The film is a testament to death, to space, to war, to nature’s place in men’s affairs. It is a highly emotional and painful film. It should be seen.
Film #2/Friday: Catfish, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.
DO NOT READ OTHER REVIEWS OF THIS FILM. This is imperative. Most of them will say too much. I cannot express the power this movie has if discovered and experienced naturally. Don’t read other reviews. Wait for this movie to show up in town, or in a town close, and see it. Some of the best storytelling I’ve experienced. If you want to know just a bit: the film concerns a man’s growing online relationship with a family. That’s all you need. See this film.
Also: the filmmakers & subject (Yaniv–on the right) were astonishingly nice & receptive.
Film #3/Friday: Enter The Void directed by Gaspar Noé
This was a big one for me. I’d been anticipating its release for ~2 years, ever since I heard it was ‘completely POV’. The film I want to direct first will rely heavily on POV. I was interested. And then I saw Irréversible.
That space is representative of my brain after watching Irréversible. To be short: wildly inventive, brave, hard, entertaining, disturbing, visceral. More than anything: visceral.
So, Enter The Void was The One I Have To See. Luckily, the whole group got tickets. The theatre filled up fast, and the film started.
I have not seen a more divisive movie.
Half the audience walked out. One shot caused an exodus of at least twenty. I stayed. I couldn’t leave. I was mesmerized. I wouldn’t say I had one of those rare transcendent moments while watching, but I’m certainly changed because of this movie. For good? Can’t say. Certainly changed.
It’s the most innovative movie I’ve seen. I feel it’s a closer-to-total vision from Gaspar. He said Irréversible was his ‘bank robbery’ to get the financing/trust to make this one. Irréversible: 3 page script. Enter The Void: ~180 page script. It’s almost three hours long.
Afterwards, Gaspar and the two lead actors came out and answered the meager questions, posed by like three people. He also polled the audience about an ambiguity near the end of the film: he had everyone who thought __________ was A instead of B raise their hands, then shouted ‘You’re all wrong!’ and laughed. Great sense of humor.
And I talked to him, and the actors. Gaspar was very kind, laughing a lot, and thankful for the praise. The actors: same. They both seemed still zonked from the experience of making the film, and sort of guarded–I’m guessing you’d have to be after such a love/hate response over and over again. As I left the theatre they were all heading to a party, with Crispin Glover, Brady Corbet and James Franco in tow. Everyone loves Gaspar, and they should: he is a megaprovocateur and brilliant artist, and, damn, a really nice guy.
See this movie. You may want to punch me after you have, but see it.
Film #4/Saturday: I won’t talk about this one, but I will say that Bill Murray was a great entertainer and thoughtful human being.
Film #5/Sunday: Double Take, directed by Johan Grimonprez.
This one was recommended to me by a guy in line for Enter The Void. He said it’s a documentary based on a Tom McCarthy story based on a story by Borges about Hitchcock. Or something like that. He said postmodern. I was sold.
What I saw: a weird, sublime, rhizomatic but struggling to self-contain narrative about ??? and the Cold War and doubles and Hitchcock and media. Really wish I was more awake for this one. I was half-lucid for most of it, but what I did see I really liked. Again: see this.
Film #6/Sunday: Shorts Film Program IV directed by six people.
The standout here was Laredo, Texas directed by Topaz Adizes. It’s a poignant and tense cinéma vérité, and part of a larger education campaign called The Americana Project.
The other remarkable story: Echo directed by Magnus von Horn. With heavy debt to Haneke, it swirls around two teens who may or may not have killed, and a catastrophic minute of grief.
And that was that. We ate at the Wynn buffet on the way home, and I wanted to sleep for four days. I slept for four hours. Looking forward to next year.