Sundance 2020 Dispatch 3: Some Kind of Heaven, Black Bear, The Fight

Aubrey Plaza and Christopher Abbott appear in Black Bear (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

The Villages—a planned retirement community approximately 130,00 strong in Florida—has, its happiest residents say, "everything": an orthopedic clinic, karate classes, a bank, etc. There's overlap here with limited American ideas about what, exactly, the Good Life might look like as cruelly/accurately imagined in Alexander Payne's Downsizing, whose community for the shrunk-down to live out the rest of their lives is a strip mall adjacent to character-less suburban sprawl. Lance Oppenheim's Some Kind of Heaven, which explores The Villages through three subjects, isn't here to either celebrate or roast a community established, as its founder explains in archival footage, to suggest a kind of eternal '50s, boomer culture perpetuating itself in endless pallid copies of a fundamental unreality: town squares, movie theaters, clean…  Read more


“You Might Think it’s a Fun Work About Pizza, But It’s Really a Meditation on Mortality and Gentrification”: Director David Shapiro on his Sundance Premiering Doc Series, Untitled Pizza Movie

Untitled Pizza Movie

Before there was the no-budget Best Buy scam (scoring equipment by cycling through 30-day return policies) there was the Crazy Eddy scam — same deal, except that instead of the corporate anonymity of Best Buy’s Death Star big box there was a scrappy local circuit embodied by a screaming man feigning mental illness on late-night television. (“These prices are insane!!!!”) And before there was Eater, Grub Street and Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown there was Eat to Win, a kind of punk foodie travelogue in which friends David Shapiro and Leeds Atkinson tooled around New York City with their Crazy Eddie camera, visiting pizza parlors, talking to owners, and whipping out at each spot a stainless steel set of measuring tongs…  Read more


Sundance 2020 Dispatch 2: Exil, The Earth is Blue as An Orange

The Earth Is Blue as an Orange (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

In the very first scene of The Social Network, Rooney Mara tells Jesse Eisenberg that he may go through life thinking that girls don't like him because he's a nerd, but "that won't be true. It'll be because you're an asshole." That line rang through my head all through Visar Morina's Exil, Komplizen Films's first Sundance world premiere, and was directly echoed near its end by Sandra Hüller—star of Komplizen co-founder Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann, here the long-suffering wife of Albanian immigrant Xhafer (Misel Maticevic), who's convinced he's being discriminated by German society. "Did it ever occur to you that it's not because you're a foreigner," she asks, "but because you're an asshole?" This may seem like gaslighting. Xhafer feels like he's never allowed to forget,…  Read more


Impact Partners Executive Director Jenny Raskin on Financing, Fellowships, and Following the Filmmakers’ Lead

On the Record (Courtesy Sundance Film Festival)

From 2018’s feature doc Oscar winner Icarus, to 2019’s Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary recipient Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, to the Sundance Grand Jury Prize nabbing Of Fathers and Sons and Dina (in 2018 and 2017, respectively), Impact Partners has been behind some of the most critically acclaimed nonfiction work of recent years. The company’s winning streak, however, actually goes back a decade, all the way to 2010’s Academy Award for Documentary Feature recipient The Cove. And Impact Partners itself goes back even further. Founded in 2007 by Dan Cogan and Geralyn Dreyfous with a mission to bring about social change through cinema (and without sacrificing artistry), Impact Partners recently raised veteran doc producer and director Jenny Raskin to…  Read more


Art House Convergence 2020: Transparency and Crisis

małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore (courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Despite looming industry crises such as the DOJ moving to end the Paramount consent decrees, years of slumping box office sales and the ongoing proliferation of streaming giants offering consumers content in their own homes, arthouse cinemas and independent festivals appeared to be thriving—if one looked only at the surface of Art House Convergence. Now in its 15th year, the annual AHC convenes representatives from art house cinemas, film festivals, service providers and independent distributors for three and a half days in Midway, UT, right before Sundance. Most of the attendees are representatives from US-based organizations. Though they comprised a wide range from single-screen “jewel boxes” to screening series to venerable NYC institutions, AHC itself was visibly going through a…  Read more


Sundance 2020 Dispatch 1: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets; Epicentro; Olla

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (courtesy of Sundance Institute)

There will be time and occasion, I'm sure, during this year's Sundance Film Festival to go big picture: to attempt to take the temperature of independent film in 2020, once again fuss over what that designation could possibly mean at this point and so on. But let's skip that for now: for this year's first dispatch, I have the rare of pleasure of leading with enthusiasm, and I'd like to lean into that. Barflies mistranslate William Blake's exhortation to see the world in a grain of sand as "study the human condition through endless hours sitting at the bar"—if in vino veritas, then more wine must equal more truth, right? Bill and Turner Ross's Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is a day-night-day portrait…  Read more


14 Films Not to Miss at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Time directed by Ursula Garrett Bradley

Always a bellweather for the health — artistic as well as business — of the American independent film scene, the Sundance Film Festival began yesterday in Park City, Utah, preceded by more than the usual amount of pre-fest news and drama. On the positive front, Sundance 2020 is something of a launch party for a new documentary financing and production company, Concordia, formed by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim and former Participant Media production president Jonathan King, in partnership with Laurene Powell Jobs's Emerson Collective. One quarter of the Documentary Competition slate boasts the Concordia logo. And then distressingly there’s Oprah Winfrey’s withdrawal as a producer from Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering's documentary on On the Record, about sexual abuse allegations against hip hop icon…  Read more


The Sundance Question: What Prop or Piece of Set Decoration is Particularly Integral to Your Film?

Photo: Kelsey Doyle

Each year Filmmaker asks all the incoming feature directors at Sundance one question. (To see past years’ questions and responses, click here.) This year’s question: Whether capturing or creating a world, the objects onscreen tell as much of a story as the people within it. Whether sourced or accidental, insert shot or background detail, what prop or piece of set decoration do you find particularly integral to your film? What story does it tell? (Check back daily during the festival — new answers are uploaded each day throughout the festival.) “We Had a Lot of Fun Creating Sexist Ads Until It Became Not So Fun": Shana Feste | Run Sweetheart Run "I’m Interested in How Objects Hold History and Stories and Remember People": David Shapiro…  Read more



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