Sundance 2011: What looks interesting….and the other stuff too

Original Photo by rscrobinmx99 on Flickr

Well, the Sundance Institute announced the line-up for its 2011 festival yesterday, and a lot of it is what you’d expect: love stories, intriguing documentaries, and genre busters.  While I’ve never been to the festival, everything I’ve heard can be summed up in festival director John Cooper’s statement:

The Festival is a challenge to narrowly define. It is all at once exciting, fun, crazy, engaging, visceral, and sometimes even painful. We can explain storylines, we can share what we know of each artist’s unique journey, but ultimately what we will experience for 10 days in January is different for each of us. It’s the spark from the filmmakers – their passion – that brings 200 unique worlds to life and, in turn, ignites the audience. The films, conversations, encounters are there to experience. And that’s what makes Sundance so magical.

I’m a bit cynical. Some of the films, at least in their short, soundbite descriptions sound dangerously clichéd. Others sound fascinating and beautiful. This is the problem of so little context to go on, you’re left with initial, gut feelings. So here we go, my initial, gut feelings for what sounds most and least interesting in each of the four categories of competition for Sundance 2011, the disclaimer being of course that these are my opinions, based purely on the descriptions and without a trailer or anything else to inform them. So let’s dive in.

US Dramatic

This was the category I had the most issues with. Love story after love story is described, and I kept looking for a standout, something different.

Take Shelter
Written and directed by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Kathy Baker, Jessica Chasthain, Katy Mixon, Shea Whigham
Official description: A working-class husband and father questions whether his terrifying dreams of an apocalyptic storm signal something real to come or the onset of an inherited mental illness he’s feared his whole life.
My Take: I’m a fan of the weird and different, and this story which evokes Stephen King using an everyman character and his distrust of his own senses appeals to me.  While I’m unfamiliar with the director, I like Michael Shannon and will keep an eye on this one.

On The Ice
Written and directed by:
Andrew Okpeaha MacLean
Starring: Josiah Patkotak, Frank Qutuq Irelan, Teddy Kyle Smith, Adamina Kerr, Sierra Jade Sampson
Official Description: On the snow-covered Arctic tundra, two teenagers try to get away with murder.
My Take: This one didn’t jump out at me at first, but after a little research, I found that it’s actually a longer version of a short that MacLean did back in 2008, Sikumi (On the Ice). Honestly sounds a bit like Fargo in the arctic, though a more serious take on it. Could be quite good, what with this latest obsession with Alaska.

Here are a few that didn’t excite me quite as much.

Another Earth
Directed by:
Mike Cahill
Written by: Mike Cahill and Brit Marling
Starring: William Mapother, Brit Marling, Jordan Baker, Robin Lord Taylor, Flint Beverage
Official Description: On the eve of the discovery of a duplicate Earth, a horrible tragedy irrevocably alters the lives of two strangers, who begin an unlikely love affair.
My Take: This was initially one of my top choices, as the sci-fi angle intrigues me. Honestly though, I have an allergy to the words “unlikely love affair.”

Like Crazy
Directed by:
Drake Doremus
Written by: Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlie Bewley, Alex Kingston
Official Description: A young American guy and a young British girl meet in college and fall in love. Their love is tested when she is required to leave the country and they must face the challenges of a long-distance relationship.
My Take: I want to give a purely visceral, one word reaction to this one, but I don’t think my editor would care for that, so I’ll just say that while I enjoy Anton Yelchin, this one appears to have taken too many pages from too many other films to be interesting to me.

World Dramatic

These all struck me as intriguing, because even if they seem cliche, I’d imagine that the different cultures of the countries they’re made in will inform the storylines and take them to different places a US audience might not be used to.

Abraxas (Japan)
Directed by: Naoki Kato
Written by: Dai Sako and Naoki Kato
Starring: Suneohair, Rie Tomosaka, Manami Honjou, Ryouta Murai, Kaoru Kobayashi
Official Description: After botching a speech on career guidance at a local high school, a depressed Zen monk with a heavy metal past realizes that only music can revive his spirit.
My Take: Buddhism + Heavy Metal = a good time at the movies

The Guard (Ireland)
Written and Directed by: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Don Cheadle, Brendan Gleeson, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Fionnula Flanagan
Official Description: A small-town cop in Ireland has a confrontational personality, a subversive sense of humor, a fondness for prostitutes and absolutely no interest whatsoever in the international drug-smuggling ring that has brought a straight-laced FBI agent to his door. However, a surreal chain of events pulls him into the action.
My Take: While part of me just wants to see Don Cheadle play the no-nonsense FBI agent/straight man, another thinks that this could be an extremely entertaining night at the movies. Perhaps a little bit of Monty Python and a tad of Bad Lieutenant?

All Your Dead Ones (Todos Tus Muertos) (Columbia)
Directed by: Carlos Moreno
Written by: Alonso Torres and Carlos Moreno
Starring: Alvaro Rodríguez, Jorge Herrera, Martha Marquez, Harold Devasten, John Alex Castillo
Official Description: One morning, a peasant wakes to find a pile of bodies in the middle of his crops. When he goes to the authorities, he quickly realizes that the dead ones are a problem nobody wants to deal with.
My Take: My first thought was that this might be a comedy/farce. However, thinking over the region where this is taking place and the implications, I think it could be a very interesting cultural commentary cum thriller.

US Documentary

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
Directed by:
Constance Marks
Official Description: The Muppet Elmo is one of the most beloved characters among children across the globe. Meet the unlikely man behind the puppet – the heart and soul of Elmo – Kevin Clash.
My Take: I like Muppets. A lot. And while Elmo may be my least favorite, red-furred Grover rip-off ever, I will sit through this. Because I like Muppets.

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Directed by:
Marshall Curry
Official Description: The Earth Liberation Front is a radical environmental group that the FBI calls America’s ‘number one domestic terrorist threat.’ Daniel McGowan, an ELF member, faces life in prison for two multi-million dollar arsons against Oregon timber companies. But who is really to blame?
My Take: The ELF is interesting to me because I briefly considered a career in Environmental Science and these issues are close to my heart. However, their methods are something I can condemn without question. So this film, which puts a human face on the tree spiking, arson and protests, is something that I think will be both interesting and relevant and will hopefully open up a dialogue without extremism on both sides of the issue.

Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest
Directed by:
Michael Rapaport
Official Description: The story of the rise and influence of one of the most innovative and influential hip hop bands of all time, the collective known as A Tribe Called Quest.
My Take: Michael Rapaport? The ACTOR? And with our Doc Brown moment out of the way, I’ve gotta say that I’ll still see this. A Tribe Called Quest is good stuff even if this is one of the weirdest pairings I’ve seen in a while.

The Redemption of General Butt Naked
Directed by:
Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion
Official Description: A brutal warlord who murdered thousands during Liberia’s horrific 14-year civil war renounces his violent past and reinvents himself as an Evangelist, facing those he once terrorized.
My Take: With a WTF title and an interesting premise, this could be an intriguing film simply on the basis of the culture clash of evangelism and a war-torn country’s rebirth.

World Cinema Documentary

The Bengali Detective (India, US, UK)
Directed by: Phil Cox
Official Description: Chubby, dance-obsessed private-detective Rajesh Ji and his motley band of helpers tackle poisonings, adultery and the occasional murder on the frenzied streets of Kolkata.
My Take: I’m expecting both laughs and drama from this one, as I can’t see how Chubby’s love of dance can mesh very well with the other story elements without sticking out like a sore thumb and leading to some sweet, very different moments from the rest of the film.

KNUCKLE (Ireland, US)
Directed by: Ian Palmer
Official Description: An epic 12-year journey into the brutal and secretive world of Irish Traveler bare-knuckle fighting, this film follows a history of violent feuding between rival clans.
My Take: I’ve never been a fan of the whole UFC thing, but this story of Fight Club-esque gang warfare appeals to me. There will probably be some moments that are extremely hard to watch, but I’m betting that this film won’t be there to glorify the combatants.

The Green Wave (Germany)
Directed by: Ali Samadi Ahadi
Official Description: Animated blogs and tweets tell the story of democracy under fire and hopes dashed as protesters are arrested, tortured and raped during Iran’s tumultuous elections of June 2009.
My Take: An interesting way to deal with a heady subject, this could be a tough film to watch, but an important one that sheds some light on a now-ignored and ignominious moment in history.

Project Nim (UK)
Directed by: James Marsh
Official Description: From the Oscar-winning team behind Man on Wire comes the story of Nim, the chimpanzee who was taught to communicate with language as he was raised and nurtured like a human child.
My Take: My sister read the book, Nim Chimpsky by Elizabeth Hess, and her glowing review, along with the fact that this group made Man on Wire makes this film worth seeing. That, and you know, chimps.

So there you go. My picks for Sundance this year, without having watched a single trailer or read any more than is on their website. What do you think? What are your choices? Let us know in the comments and have a great weekend.

Posted on December 2, 2010 at 15:48 by Lincoln Eddy · Permalink
In: Uncategorized · Tagged with: ,

2 Responses

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  1. Written by RS
    on 2010-12-04 at 18:44
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    Hey that is my picture in this here website.

  2. Written by Trisha Lynn
    on 2010-12-05 at 01:46
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    It is, indeed! And thank you and thank Creative Commons for making it easy for us to have used it to illustrate the story. Hope you have a great Sundance this year.

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