Sundance Film Festival 2010 Part 1

I have to admit, being at HBS has afforded me some really cool experiences that I probably wouldn't have had the chance to be a part of otherwise. Going to this year's Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, was one of these experiences and arguably one of my favorites!

Thanks to a partnership between the Entertainment & Media Club and the Art Society, nearly 40 of us trekked across the country together for a long weekend of film screenings, fluffy snow and lots of good food!

For me, the weekend began Thursday afternoon with a mid-afternoon flight out to Salt Lake City. The EC group stayed at the Snow Flower Condominiums, which are less than a mile from the main drag, Park Avenue. I was in a condo that sleeps 14 (one of the biggest the place offers), yet it felt surprisingly cozy with the old-fashioned slanted ceilings and warm living room fireplace. After getting an early-ish night (by the time we got in and got to the condo it was nearly 1am), I got up super early (7am) to head out to the Sundance box office. Since most of the films I wanted to see were sold out during my original registration window, I had to vie for a limited number of "day-of" tickets that they open up each morning of the festival. The box office opens at 8 daily, and by the time I got there, a line of at least 150 people had formed. Thankfully though, I was able to secure tickets to two additional films for Friday.

1) The first film I saw was called "Skateland," (it screened in a 1,250 seat theater called the Eccles Theater) and it starred Ashley Greene from the Twilight movies (and no other "names"). The film was a throwback to growing up in the 80s and had a very loose, wandering plot about a teenager dealing with the consequences of maturing and moving on from his home town in light of his childhood hangout and current workplace, a roller skating rink called Skateland, closing to make way for a more popular establishment. In the midst of discovering himself and where he wants to go in life, Richie (the main character) must deal with love, loss, betrayal and fear from friends, family and foes. Overall, I really enjoyed the film -- the 80s music was INCREDIBLE, the funny moments made you laugh out loud and the intense moments really poured out from the screen. My only criticism is that the screenplay could have been tightened up a bit to better define some of the secondary characters and the back story. My grade: B+

2) My next film was ALL the way across the festival site at a much smaller theater called The Egyptian. The theater was actually really neat in its decor and had King Tut masks on the walls and a big temple-like shroud over the screen -- even the lobby was themed! The film that I saw here was a documentary about Holocaust propaganda called "A Film Unfinished." The premise was that as Jews suffered from overcrowding, malnourishment and struggle during their lives in the Warsaw ghetto, the Nazis staged scenes of luxury and enjoyment to create war propaganda that would convince the outside world that they were doing no harm. Apparently more than 60 minutes of film was shot, but the footage was never actually edited into a full-fledged film as the Nazis had intended. Rather, as the title suggests, the film was left unfinished and hidden in the massive German Film Archive to be forgotten. Since that time, portions of the film had been used in other documentaries about the Holocaust, but the full 60 minutes had never been shown together. This idea was the filmmaker's inspiration. She added emotional and dramatic affect to the already haunting footage by bringing in actual Holocaust survivors to watch the reels while their emotions were recorded.

Obviously, it's hard to say that you "like" a film about such a horrific time, but I can say that I thought the film provoked great emotion in me (and the rest of the theater if the number of hands I saw wiping away tears speaks for itself). The one thing that I did NOT like about the film was that it, too, seemed unfinished in a sense. I thought that the filmmaker could have pushed a little bit farther in using the footage to make a clear statement. Instead, it just felt as though it were an exhibition. Perhaps that was her purpose, to allow us to make all of the decisions on our own. My grade: B

3) The third and final film I saw on Friday was "Sympathy for Delicious," a film directed by Mark Ruffalo (that is him speaking into the microphone in the above photo, I swear!). I chose this film knowing nothing about it except that it starred an all-star cast including Orlando Bloom, Laura Linney, Juliette Lewis and Ruffalo himself. Plus, I heard a rumor that Ruffalo would be at the screening to do a Q&A and I just HAD to see at least one celebrity during my trip! ;)

Unfortunately, the hype didn't live up to my expectations and I have to say that this was my least favorite film of the day, and one of my least favorite from the festival as a whole. I actually really liked the plot -- the story was about a crippled homeless DJ who discovers that he has the power to spontaneously heal the ill (like you see those evangelists do on those crazy TV shows where people fall all over the place and claim to be cured). At first people don't believe him, but then as he begins to cure other homeless folks, the press takes note, as does a grunge rock band quite conveniently looking for a new DJ. DJ Delicious, as he's thus called, joins the band and together they create an enterprise where Delicious "heals" people at concerts, causing ticket sales to explode. I don't want to spoil the film in case anyone happens to see it, but let's just say from there things don't go exactly as planned.

My problem with the film was that it was just TOO rough around the edges for me. I understand that sometimes expletives are the perfect word to express particularly extreme emotion, but come on, the "F" word must have been used more than 1,000 times in 2 hours. Literally, it felt like every other word was f***. Not only that, but the film had strong drug use, sexual innuendo, dark, dirty characters and not a single ray of happy sunshine. I felt down and dreary after watching the film -- like I needed a bath and a soundsoother with beach noises. My grade: D+/C-

After Sympathy for Delicious ended around 10:30, I headed back to the condo, hung out with friends for a bit and then hit the sack, since I was planning to get up on Saturday even earlier (at 6am!) to try to beat the inevitable box office rush (since most of the great films were screening that day). Since this entry is already really long and I want to give the four films I saw on Saturday the time they deserve, I'm going to finish up my review of Sundance later today or tomorrow. Adios for now!

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