Going Clear, an extension of a book by Lawrence Wright and directed by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney, breaks down the origins of Scientology beginning with its founder L. Ron Hubbard right through the present day leader David Miscavige. Journey after journey is revisited by eight members of the church from the time they joined to the moment they knew in their heart to move on with another chapter in life.Read More
Hollywood is full of wannabe's, blockbuster movie stars and actors who were once the toast of the town - are now considered washed up because the Hollywood that made them a star has evolved into a social media/reality show/celebrity gossip driven world. Incest, fires, murder,sex and acceptance are all subjects tackled in the David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars.Read More
One of the first jobs I had when moving to Los Angeles was on a show for the Sci-Fi Network called GvsE. Some of the people in my episode were Rockmond Dunbar (SoulFood), Antonio Fargas (Starksy & Hutch) and Nichelle Nichols from Star Trek fame.
I sat in Nichelle's trailer for a minute as she shared her career highlights, including her time as a member of the U.S.S. Enterprise on Star Trek. So when news spread yesterday of Leonard Nimoy's passing, I couldn't help wonder how this much be affecting her and the other cast members of the iconic Star Trek series.
Leonard Nimoy had become so linked with Dr. Spock that many forget he had a career that led him to that all important moment in time. Born as Leonard Simon Nimoy in Boston, he parents were Ukrainian immigrants and Orthodox Jews.
Beginning as an actor from age 8, In 1949, he traveled to Hollywood, though it wasn’t until 1951 that he landed small parts in two movies, “Queen for a Day” and “Rhubarb".
He continued to be cast in little-known movies, and in a minor role on an episode of “The Twilight Zone” before landing his first starring movie role “Kid Monk Baroni,” in which he played a disfigured Italian street-gang leader who becomes a boxer.
Mr. Nimoy served in the Army for two years, rising to sergeant and spending 18 months at Fort McPherson in Georgia, where he presided over shows for the Army’s Special Services branch. After his Army stint, he returned to California, where he worked as a soda jerk, movie usher and cab driver while studying acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. He worked often television shows like “Wagon Train,” “Rawhide” and “Perry Mason” before booking “Star Trek.”
Nimoy returned to college in his 40s and earned a master’s degree in Spanish from Antioch University and later awarded an honorary doctorate from the same institution. He directed “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984) and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986), (where he also helped write the screenplay). In 1991, he was seen once again as Mr. Spock on two episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and was also the executive producer/writer “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”
Leonard Nimoy leaves a proud legacy as an actor, teacher, philanthropist. But who knew he once owned a pet shop in Canoga Park? Or that he teamed with Vic Morrow in 1962 to produce an indie film based on Jean Genet’s edgy play “Deathwatch.” Or that he paid for and narrated a TV special, “If The Mind is Free,” that aired only in Chicago to raise money for the city’s St. Mary High School?
Here are a few more interesting facts you may not know.
Before the end of “Star Trek’s” first season Nimoy was signed to a recording contract with Dot Records. His first album, “Mr. Spock Presents Music From Outer Space,” was released a month later. Variety’s review described his vocals on the pop selections as “pleasantly rugged.”
Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the unrest in major cities, Nimoy joined with Jack Lemmon, Bill Cosby, Barbra Streisand and others to rally Hollywood support for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s “The Poor People’s Campaign.” Nimoy spearheaded a food drive for the campaign, which held a fundraiser at the Hollywood Bowl later that year.
RIP Dr. Spock!!! You lived long and prospered!!!!
In the history of the Oscars, there are always a handful of people the masses feel are robbed of their recognition by the Academy. This year it was Selma Director Ava DuVernay and its star David Oyelowo. I bet you didn't know about these groundbreaking, big stars who also never got a chance to win an Oscar. Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles
Hitchcock was nominated five times for best director and never won an Oscar. However, was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968 (usually given to those with an outstanding body of work, but never won the coveted award). Kubrick and Welles were nominated and won an Academy Awards in other areas. Kubrick won a Best Effects Oscar for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Welles won Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Citizen Kane.
Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole
Burton and O'Toole, two of the best actors in any era have a total of 15 Oscar nominations between them. However, in 2003 O'Toole was bestowed with an Honorary Oscar.
One of the most iconic imitated movie stars of all time, Marilyn Monroe, changed the game for women in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Monroe was an amazing actress, but the Academy overlooked her talent due to her sex symbol status.
Grant starred in over 70 films, garnered 2 nominations, but the golden guy eluded his career.
Here are also 20 other actors, who have been nominated numerous times, but have never taken home an Academy Award.
Leonardo DiCaprio 1994: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, "What's Eating Gilbert Grape"; 2005: Nominated for Best Actor, "The Aviator"; 2007: Nominated for Best Actor, "Blood Diamond"; 2014: Nominated for "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Johnny Depp 2004: Nominated for Best Actor, "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl"; 2005: Nominated for Best Actor, "Finding Neverland", 2008: Nominated for Best Actor, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
TOM CRUISE1990: Nominated for Best Actor, "Born on the Fourth of July"; 1997: Nominated for Best Actor, "Jerry Maguire"; 2000: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, "Magnolia".
JULIANNE MOORE1998: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress, "Boogie Nights"; 2000: Nominated for Best Actress, "The End of the Affair"; 2003: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress, "The Hours"; 2003: Nominated for Best Actress, "Far From Heaven"
GLENN CLOSE1983: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress, "The World According to Garp"; 1984: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress, "The Big Chill"; 1985: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress, "The Natural"; 1988: Nominated for Best Actress, "Fatal Attraction"; 1989: Nominated for Best Actress, "Dangerous Liasons"; 2012: Nominated for Best Actress, "Albert Nobbs".
JOAQUIN PHOENIX2001: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, "Gladiator"; 2006: Nominated for Best Actor, "Walk the Line"; 2013: Nominated for Best Actor, "The Master".
EDWARD NORTON1997: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, "Primal Fear"; 1999: Nominated for Best Actor, "American History X"
ANNETTE BENING1991: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress, "The Grifters"; 2000: Nominated for Best Actress, "American Beauty"; 2005: Nominated for Best Actress, "Being Julia"; 2011: Nominated for Best Actress, "The Kids Are All Right";
ED HARRIS1996: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, "Apollo 13"; 1999: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, "The Truman Show"; 2001: Nominated for Best Actor, "Pollock"; 2003: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, "The Hours"; lost to Chris Cooper, "Adaptation."
SIGOURNEY WEAVER1987: Nominated for Best Actress, "Aliens"; 1989: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress, "Working Girl"; 1989: Nominated for Best Actress, "Gorillas in the Mist"
HARRISON FORD1985: Nominated for Best Actor, "Witness"
ALBERT FINNEY1964: Nominated for Best Actor, "Tom Jones"; 1975: Nominated for Best Actor, "Murder on the Orient Express"; 1984: Nominated for Best Actor, "The Dresser"; 1985: Nominated for Best Actor, "Under the Volcano"; 2001: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, "Erin Brockovich"; lost to Benicio del Toro, "Traffic"
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress, "Dangerous Liasons";
Nominated for Best Actress, "The Fabulous Baker Boys";
Nominated for Best Actress, "Love Field"
JOHN TRAVOLTA1978: Nominated for Best Actor, "Saturday Night Fever"; 1995: Nominated for Best Actor, "Pulp Fiction"
GARY OLDMAN2012: Nominated for Best Actor, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
ROBERT DOWNEY, JR.1993: Nominated for Best Actor, "Chaplin"; 2009: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, "Tropic Thunder"
LIAM NEESON1994: Nominated for Best Actor, "Schindler's List"
WILL SMITH2002: Nominated for Best Actor, "Ali"; 2007: Nominated for Best Actor, "The Pursuit of Happyness"
MARK WAHLBERG2007: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, "The Departed"; 2011: Nominated for Best Picture, "The Fighter" (along with David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman)
RALPH FIENNES1994: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, "Schindler's List"; 1997: Nominated for Best Actor, "The English Patient"
The Spirit Awards is always a highlight of awards season as it focuses more on the artists and their film rather than box office and politics. At the yesterday's ceremony, Birdman soars to to new heights taking home three awards for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Cinematography. Boyhood was nipping close at its heels with two wins. Patricia Arquette continues her winning streak for Best Supporting Actress as did Richard Linklater for Best Director.
No surprise, but very disappointed that yet again Selma (which had two noms) went home again empty-handed, as did Love Is Strange (which had four noms)
Here is complete list of the winners...
BEST FEATURE Birdman Producers: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, James W. Skotchdopole
BEST MALE LEAD Michael Keaton, Birdman
BEST FEMALE LEAD Julianne Moore, Still Alice
BEST DIRECTOR Richard Linklater, Boyhood
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
BEST SUPPORTING MALE J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
BEST SCREENPLAY Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
BEST DOCUMENTARY Citizenfour Director/Producer: Laura Poitras Producers: Mathilde Bonnefoy, Dirk Wilutzky
BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM Ida (Poland), Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
BEST FIRST FEATURE Nightcrawler Director: Dan Gilroy; Producers: Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY Justin Simien, Dear White People
BEST EDITING Tom Cross, Whiplash
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD Land Ho! Writers/Directors: Aaron Katz & Martha Stephens; Producers: Christina Jennings, Mynette Louie, Sara Murphy
LENSCRAFTERS TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD The Kill Team, Director: Dan Krauss
PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD Chris Chison
KIEHL’S SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD H., Directors: Rania Attieh & Daniel Garcia
Living in such a social media world where you are scrutinized within an inch of your life, Hollywood glamour and pop culture are always on the radar as are all of it stars. Even more interesting are the Hollywood Glamour Couples, so here are my top picks for the Glamorous Couples of All Time (in no particular order of course). 1. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
Dick and Liz, as the media affectionately dubbed them, were a staple of Hollywood glamour and red carpets. Both known for their unapologetic candor, it is safe to say that they were definitely the original "bad boy and diva" of the red carpet. In addition to being one the biggest movie stars in the world, Taylor lent her name to a still thriving perfume and jewelry line, as well as the CEO of the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation. Richard Burton died in 1984 and Elizabeth Taylor passed on in 2011.
2. Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman
These two were iconically, classic Hollywood. Newman, was the steel blue-eyed Hollywood hunk and Woodward the brainy beauty. The Oscar winners remained a couple until the untimely death of Newman at age 83. Woodward continues to act, mostly with small roles and voice-over work.
3. Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck
They met on the set of the film Daredevil and their lives have never been the same. Oscar winner Ben Affleck has taken a page from the George Clooney book by being a force to be reckoned with as a director, producer, actor and writer. Garner seamlessly made the transition from television to film and last year Co-Starred in the most buzzed about film of last season The Dallas Buyers Club. Both gorgeous and seemingly very kind-spirited people, Affleck and Garner make being a movie star look easy juggling career and family.
4. Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn
She was the Sock-It-To-Me girl on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, who went on to become an Oscar winning actress and he was the Disney kid who grew up to be a teen and adult heartthrob. Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell have been together for over 30 years and whenever they grace the red carpet it is always with elation and joy to be at the party. Oh...BTW...Goldie's daughter Kate Hudson is a bonafide star in her own right and winning a Golden Globe Award and Oscar nomination for her role in the Cameron Crowe film - Almost Famous. Here's clip from a comedy I loved watching them in called Overboard.
5. Jada Pinkett and Will Smith
He was the historic Grammy winning Fresh Prince of Bel-Air who kicked alien butt on Independence Day while joining Men in Black. She joined Oscar nominated Queen Latifah as a bank robber in Set It Off. They met in Hollywood and the rest is history. Oscar nominated Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith show the world that love is alive and well between people of color and shows no signs of slowing down. They always bring classic beauty and glamour to any red carpet lucky enough to have them. FYI...Jada auditioned for the role of Will's girlfriend on The Fresh Prince and lost the role to Nia Long (The Best Man).
6. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt
It was scandalous when Brad Pitt worked with Angelina Jolie on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. The chemistry was undeniable (just as it was more than 20 years ago with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra). Brad Pitt stole everyone's heart with his brief, but memorable stint in the now classic film Thelma and Louise. Jolie showed up on the scene, broke down what makes a chick a Girl Interrupted and walked away with an Oscar. Jolie and Pitt are the perfect blend of glamour, brains and immense humanity. Pitt, winning an Oscar for producing last year's monster hit 12 Years a Slave has many other projects up his sleeve. I, for one, can't wait to see what he does next and Jolie made an impressive directorial debut this year with Unbroken. Take a peek at the film that started it all and turned up the heat on their relationship...
7. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
She was a theatre usher and he was a middle aged movie star, but together...they were pure magic. Humphrey Bogart made a career being a guy who always had a dilemma and made being a gangster look glamourous. When Lauren Bacall crossed his path in To Have or Have Not, Hollywood would find themselves embracing a new kind of power couple. They remained married until Bogart's death in January 1957 and Bacall passed away in 2014. Although Bogart rook Oscar home for his role opposite Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen, Bacall was only nominated once for her role as Barbra Streisand's mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces, but enjoyed other successes on Broadway and as an author. Take a look at the iconic scene that was the beginning of the stuff Hollywood legends are made of.
8. Carole Lombard and Clark Gable
Clark Gable was a true "matinee idol" and Carole Lombard was the charming, yet stunning comedienne. Being stars during Hollywood's Golden Era, you can say that they were America's first couple stalked by the media. The press took great interest in their partnership constantly hounding the couple regarding wedding plans. They eventually wed and two years later Lombard perished in a fatal plane crash along with her mother and Gables' press agent - Otto Winkler. Gable would go on to act in 27 more films and remarry twice. "But he was never the same," said Esther Williams. "He had been devastated by Carole's death." Clark Gable died from a heart attack in 1959. Take a look at one of the rare moments they had on screen together...
9. Warren Beatty and Annette Bening
Warren Beatty was a notorious Hollywood playboy with his name being linked from starlets ranging from Natalie Wood to Madonna. But, when he starred opposite Annette Bening in Bugsy, it was clear his bachelor days were crawling to a close. Beatty has been nominated 14 times for an Oscar and won for "Reds". He is the only person to have been nominated for best producer, director, writer and actor in the same film — doing so twice for Heaven Can Wait, which he co-starred, co-wrote and co-directed with Buck Henry). Bening has been nominated four times, but has yet to take home Oscar. Here they are in Bugsy...
One of the many docs I screened over the weekend at PAFF which made a lasting impact on me was the documentary - From Watts to Senegal, a film that documents children from the Imperial Courts Projects in South Los Angeles and their journey to Senegal courtesy of the Foundation for Second Chances Foundation. The most important lesson learned according to one of the kids was"...be grateful for what you have - it could be worse."
Upon landing in Africa, one of the more memorable moments was their visit to the "door of no return", where many slaves passed right into slavery and away from their native land. The guides shared that in Africa, "...the masters would say that black people have no souls".
Knowing that learning is considered a privilege for children of Africa, the kids painted a newly constructed library and donated books.
A moment that struck me so hard is how a young spirit takes in such an extraordinary experience. When one child was asked what do they expect to see in Africa...they simply stated, "I expect to see me -every day of my life"
Check out this trailer and for more information on the Foundation for Second Chances - go to www.ffscinc.org
Could you imagine living in a world where you had to use separate entrances on public transportation, restrooms, dining establishments (if they would serve people of color at all), restrooms and drinking fountains?
Summer of 1963 in Opelika, Alabama...this was just an ordinary day. Just as it was in many states across America. On a normally hot day, Michael and his little white friend drink from a water fountain. After watching his friend drink for what he deemed an unusually long time, Michael thought the water must taste different on the "white only" side.
This TV One film (which aired on February 7th) starring Lorenz Tate and Sharon Leal is the true story of a seven-year-old black boy (played by twins Amir and Amari O’Neil) who becomes obsessed with the desire to taste water from the “whites only” drinking fountain.
The dialogue is riddled with sayings I have heard my whole life such as, "Never know what day is your last so eat dessert first", "Never tell anybody your dreams...they'll just tell you why they can't come true" and so many more that I was truly tickled to be reminded of my childhood in St. Louis, Missouri.
Michael adventures to drink from the fountain (despite warnings from his family and friends), takes him on a journey where he stumbles upon a KKK meeting, juke joint and arrest by the local police. He finally gets his chance when it comes to his attention the the "whites only" water and the "colored only" water come from the same pipe.
Just goes to show you how innocent and overworked a young mind can be. Shown during the Shorts Series at the Pan African Film Festival, "White Water" is produced by Dwayne Johnson-Cochran, screenplay by Michael C. Brandy/Eric Stein and Directed by Rusty Cundieff. It was truly pleasurable to watch and after a brief Q&A, the audience was treated to a "white water" rap by the twins who portrayed Michael. Check out the trailer and rap below...
How many times have I expressed my adoration for non other than Whoopi Goldberg! Whenever she was announced or attached to a film, I was always the first to see it and Boys On The Side was no different. I also adore Drew Barrymore and knew about Mary Louise-Parker waaaaay before WEEDS came along...lol These three women under ordinary circumstances would have no reason to be friends, but become bonded for life on a ride-shared trip to California. They all have challenges...Jane a lesbian, Robin suffering with AIDS, Holly running from her past, seeking one-night stands and a good man. It all results in girls on the road, reaching understanding, respect, and care for each other.
Featuring a young Matthew McConaughey and pre-Dextar James Remar...Let's roll on down the road with girls looking for Boys on the Side...
Sundance 2015 was full of worthy documentaries to screen. I caught three of them, Listen to Me Marlon, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution and Larry Kramer: In Anger & Love. However, here is a brief synopsis of those and some others that had a lot of people buzzing while I was in Park City...
WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?
Directed by Liz Garbus and making its debut at Sundance before premiering later this year on Netflix was What Happened, Miss Simone. Garbus sensitively explores the constant state of opposition that trapped and tortured Simone—as a classical pianist pigeonholed in jazz, as a professional boxed in by family life, as a black woman in racist America—and in so doing, reveals a towering figure transcending categorization and her times. The film stays true to Simone's subjectivity by mining never-before-heard tapes, rare archival footage, and interviews with close friends and family. Charting Simone’s musical inventiveness alongside the arc of her Jim Crow childhood, defining role in the Civil Rights Movement, arrival at Carnegie Hall, self-imposed exile in Liberia, and solitary life in France, this astonishingly intimate yet epic portrait becomes a non-fiction musical—lush tracks and riveting story resonating inextricably.
There were two prolific nights featuring the music of Miss Simone. After the premiere screening, John Legend performed his version of "Please, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". Footage is courtesy of J. Adler.
Later on in the week, Common, Erykah Badu, Aloe Blacc other stellar artists took the stage for yet another musical tribute. Here are some of those highlights...
LARRY KRAMER: IN LOVE & ANGER
While at Howard University completing my degree in Broadcast Production, I decided to run for Miss America. Of course, you have to win a local and then the state title in order to do so. I called Atlantic City, got the info of where to compete in Maryland and ran for a local. I won and was elated to have to opportunity to run for Miss Maryland and if I were lucky move on to Miss America.
During those days talent and interview made up more than 70% of your total judging score. Rock Hudson had just died from A.I.D.S. and America was in a panic, as they associated this dreadful disease with only being related to the gay community. Having lost two family members and a multitude of friends in the theatre community to this dreadful disease, my emotions were very raw when it came to this subject. Remembering it like it was yesterday, my interview was all fun and games until one of the judges presented me with this question, "Do you think A.I.D.S testing should be voluntary or mandatory?' I couldn't believe someone would even contemplate such a thing.
Needless to say, I responded, "AIDS does not discriminate. It doesn't care if you are black, white, rich or poor. It is a disease like any other and strikes at any given time...I don't recall anyone ever asking if there should be voluntary or mandatory testing for polio or cancer". I'm pretty sure that answer did me in and I never made it to Atlantic City. However, I stood up for what I believed and my opinion was based on the facts not rumors. My Mom was a registered nurse and made sure that I was educated properly on this issue, because like I said...I had family members and friends taken out by full blown A.I.D.S or HIV.
Si, it suffices to say, when I read about a documentary being screened at Sundance on Larry Kramer, it was a necessity for me to attend.
Larry Kramer - In Love & Anger is the story of how one person said NO! Using that two letter word is how you start a movement and how you change the world. Kramer, affectionately known as the worlds's "Angriest AIDS Activist" was Yale educated and started out with a job finding projects for Columbia Pictures to produce. Some of those projects include such iconic films "Suddenly Last Summer". It didn't take long for Kramer to catch on producing a film called "Women In Love", which is notoriously known for a naked wrestling scene in front of a fireplace that ironically earned him an Oscar nomination.
Kramer had many accomplishments along his journey writing many books and plays. The Normal Heart opened on Broadway in 1985 and was made into a television film for HBO that garnered nominations for its stars Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts.
His anger over gay rights and discrimination leading to the delay of the AIDS cocktail, that ultimately saved millions of lives led to the birth of organizations like The Gay Men's Health Crisis and ACT UP! His tenacity paid off when after year of berating the FDA the cocktail was made public and saved many lives including his own.
The film is set to be released on HBO in June just in time for Kramer's Birthday in June 2015. I don't have a clip of the trailer yet, but here is speech Kramer gave in 1993 and it will give you the essence of this passionate, brave soul...
THE BLACK PANTHERS: Vanguard of the Revolution
I don't know about you, but I wholeheartedly associated the The Black Panther Party with varying images of Huey P. Newton from eh 60's. My knowledge about them, what they stood for, how they came into existence was limited at best until I attended a screening at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.
What I learned is that 50 years later, there is very little progress in the civil rights movement for citizens of the U.S. With incidents happening in New York, LA and in Ferguson (located in the suburbs of my hometown - St. Louis), it feels as though all the lives lost to make way for a better way of living have been for what?????
Director, Stanley Nelson declared that he had "always been interested in the Black Panther Party...I was 15 years old when they started and I thought they had swagger." It is Nelson and producer Laurens Grant's wish that the film m will be used to educate young people when it premieres a year from now on PBS (although they are shooting for a limited theatrical release in fall of 2015). Having just completed editing of the doc Monday, January 19th, it was seven years in the making and sheds the light on the reality vs the myth of the Black Panther Party, its members and its goals.
We were treated to a Q&A with the wife of BPP member Eldridge Cleaver - Kathleen Cleaver. She's a tough cookie and still adheres to the code by which she and the BPP lived so many years ago, but is very clear about what that code is (I AM A REVOLUTIONARY) and why it was and still is important in the 21st century.
Even though many members like Elaine Brown, David Hilliard, Jamal Joseph, Jim Dunbar, Willian Calhoun, Roland Freeman, Kathleen Cleaver and others were interviewed, there was a noticeable absence of Bobby Seale (who is still living in the Bay Area). It was understood that Seale may be holding out to tell his own version of the BPP story, how it unfolded and reached its demise.
To date, there are still 20 members of the Black Panther Party incarcerated. The party met its untimely demise when Newton and Cleaver had differences of opinion on how the party should continue, meddling to tear the party apart from the inside out by Herbert Hoover and the CIA and the shift in responsibility from Newton from community to drugs.
Although there is no trailer available at this time, here is an interview with the Director Stanley Nelson
With funky, fat-laced Adidas, Kangol hats, and Cazal shades, a totally original look was born—Fresh—and it came from the black and brown side of town where another cultural force was revving up in the streets to take the world by storm. Hip-hop, and its aspirational relationship to fashion, would become such a force on the market that Tommy Hilfiger, in an effort to associate their brand with the cultural swell, would drive through the streets and hand out free clothing to kids on the corner.
Fresh Dressed is a fascinating, fun-to-watch chronicle of hip-hop, urban fashion, and the hustle that brought oversized pants and graffiti-drenched jackets from Orchard Street to high fashion's catwalks and Middle America shopping malls. Reaching deep to Southern plantation culture, the black church, and Little Richard, director Sacha Jenkins' music-drenched history draws from a rich mix of archival materials and in-depth interviews with rappers, designers, and other industry insiders, such as Pharrell Williams, Damon Dash, Karl Kani, Kanye West, Nas Jones, and Andre Leon Talley. The result is a passionate telling of how the reach for freedom of expression and a better life by a culture that refused to be squashed, would, through sheer originality and swagger, take over the mainstream. (this description of the film comes from www.Sundance.org)
Check out this interview with Deadline Now...
GOING CLEAR: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had my own little up-close brush with the Church of Scientology. It was not a pleasant nor positive experience and that is all I will say about it in public. Having said that, this doc was the talk of the festival for one reason - Tom Cruise.
In Going Clear - Director Alex Gibney profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, including A-list Hollywood celebrities. Shining a light on how the church cultivates true believers, including their experiences and what they are willing to do in the name of religion, the film covers a broad range of material from the church's origins—punctuated by an intimate portrait of founder L. Ron Hubbard—to present-day practices and alleged abuses as reported in the media.
Check out this interview done by the Associated Press with Gibney and other key players associated with Going Clear...
LISTEN TO ME MARLON
LISTEN TO ME MARLON
There is no doubt Marlon Brando was one of the most brilliant acting talent of our time! Director/Screenwriter Stevan Riley gives us the greatest gift of all by allowing us to witness a master class in humanity and acting with The Godfather himself - Marlon Brando.
Listen to Me Marlon sheds light on the artist and the man. Charting Brando's exceptional career and extraordinary personal life with the actor himself as guide, the film explores his complexities, telling the story entirely in his own voice. No talking heads, no interviewees: just Brando on Brando.
Like most celebrities, we feel as though we know their whole story, but we only have the opportunity to scratch the surface. Marlon Brando was an activist against those whose voices were muffled in American and abroad, Black Americans, Indians and Tahitians. He used his status to shed light on these injustices at the risk of placing his own mortality in jeopardy.
His goodwill would soon be eclipsed by his womanizing, family tragedies and eccentric behavior as he became older in a business that doesn't embrace age or loss of good looks.
About 30 minutes too long, it was enjoyable and I wouldn't have traded that experience for anything in the world. Listening to Brando lit a fire under my behind creatively and I will forever be grateful for that master class in the dark.
The Sundance Film Festival deals keep on coming! A24 is finalizing a U.S. rights deal for Mississippi Grind worth just over $2 million...allegedly. Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the film stars Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton, Alfre Woodard and Robin Weigart.
Mississippi Grind is a drama is about a gambler who sets off on a road trip through the Southern U.S. with a young gambling addict in an attempt to change his luck. The film launched Saturday in the Premieres Section of the festival at the Eccles Theatre, with strong performances by Reynolds and Mendelsohn.
This film sort of felt like The Sting, but instead of centering on grifters we are engrossed in the world of two different types of gamblers. One gambles out of addiction and the other gambles literally for the high of it all and to make a little cash for his loved ones. Mississippi Grind took me on a roller coaster of emotions and often times I held my breath out of anticipation of what was to come next. It was intense in the way a good thriller keeps you on your toes with you thinking you have figured out the ending...only to be completely surprised in the end. Alfre Woodard, Sienna Miller and Analeigh Tipton are all equally compelling as a bookie and female escorts (respectively)
As I have said here many, many times, a good portion of the films that come out of Sundance end up being in future awards season conversation in the upcoming year...
I promise you...Australian Ben Mendelssohn and Ryan Reynolds will be on the lips of everyone when this film is released later in 2015. Here is an excerpt of an interview done with Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers with the two stars...
Los Angeles, CA – January 14, 2015 – Actor, Humanitarian, Author, Health and Wellness Ambassador and Philanthropist, Hill Harper, named Celebrity Ambassador for the 2015 Pan African Film & Arts Festival, to be held February 5 -16, 2015 in Los Angeles, CA.
Hill Harper is most recognizable for his starring role in the hit television drama, “CSI: NY,” where he played eccentric Dr. Sheldon Hawkes from 2004 until early 2013. During that time, Harper won three NAACP Image Awards for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of Dr. Hawkes. He most recently starred on USA Network’s “Covert Affairs,” as CIA station chief Calder Michaels. Prior to “CSI: NY,” Harper co-starred as an ambitious undercover FBI operative on the CBS series, “The Handler,” which earned him a 2004 Golden Satellite Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. In 2014, People Magazine named Harper one of their Sexiest Men Alive. Additionally, Harper was awarded the best actor prize at the First Time Fest for his starring role in “1982,” which debuted at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival. He will next be seen alongside Jennifer Lopez in the Universal Pictures film, “The Boy Next Door,” releasing January 23, 2015. Harper recently wrapped production on his next film, “Concussion,” alongside Will Smith.
In addition to his performing career, Harper has authored four New York Times bestsellers: “Letters to a Young Brother,” “Letters to a Young Sister,” “The Conversation” and “The Wealth Cure,” which chronicled his diagnosis with thyroid cancer and his journey to health. “Letters to a Young Brother” won several awards and was named “Best Book for Young Adults” by the American Library Association in 2007.
“I am honored to be the Celebrity Ambassador for such a prestigious and global film festival. PAFF has supported me in my career journey from the beginning and I look forward to giving back and supporting up and coming artists, as well as my peers,” says Harper.
In an effort to stop the high school drop out rate of underserved youth, Harper created the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, dedicated to empowering, encouraging and inspiring youth to succeed through mentorship, scholarship and grant programs. In August 2012, President Barack Obama appointed Hill Harper as a Member, President’s Cancer Panel; a key Administration post seeking to combat cancer and its devastating effects.
PAFF Founder and Executive Director, Ayuko Babu states, “Hill Harper’s talent and devotion to his community made him the perfect choice as the 2015 PAFF Celebrity Ambassador. We are looking forward to an amazing festival.”
The Pan African Film & Arts Festival has premiered a host of top black films including Think Like a Man, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, About Last Night, Love & Basketball, and many more. Each Year PAFF presents awards of recognition to key industry players and rising stars who have soared in the film industry. Previous recipients include Forest Whitaker, Loretta Devine, Charles Dutton, Alfre Woodard, Idris Elba, Billy Dee Williams, Sidney Poitier, Nicole Beharie, Omari Hardwick, Phylicia Rashad, David Oyelowo, Nate Parker, Taraji P. Henson and a host of other extraordinary industry professionals both in front of and behind the camera.
PAFF collaborates with other festivals around the world, giving us an audience that is truly international. Not only are we the largest and most prestigious Black film festival in America, but PAFF-LA is the largest Black History Month event in the United States, during the month of February. The Pan African Film & Arts Festival is the quintessential Black festival.
The Pan African Film & Arts Festival is sponsored by Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, Cinemark, City of LA, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs; Bank of America, HBO, Macy’s, Turkish Air; Union Bank, Film LA, Revolt TV, Water Replenishment District, South Africa Airways and Final Draft.
Festival passes and tickets are on sale now. For more information on PAFF, including screening schedule and events, please visit www.PAFF.org.
Established in 1992, The Pan African Film & Arts Festival (PAFF) is a non-profit 501(c)(b) corporation dedicated to the promotion of cultural understanding among peoples of African descent. PAFF is dedicated to racial tolerance through the exhibition of film, art and creative expression.
The Festival showcases over one hundred fifty (150) quality new films and over one hundred (100) fine artists and unique craft persons from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, South America, Europe, the South Pacific and Canada, all showcasing the diversity and complexity of people of African descent. The Festival also features special red carpet screenings and receptions, as well as a variety of other special events, including panels & workshops headed by industry professionals on various topics surrounding acting, directing and other film industry related topics.
Sundance was a whirlwind of activities, parties and screenings all on little to no sleep or food. Man, was it a great time!!! My "Sundance Saints" were both named Melissa and AIR BnB and Uber saved my life...literally!!! Having said that, most of the films I screened were wonderfully though-provoking films, but were not among the winning list announced over the weekend.
If the history has taught us nothing, one of these films will surface very strongly closer to next year's Oscar season.
Right here at Carla Renata's Corner is where you will be kept in the loop 2015 Sundance Film Festival Awards - LIVEas to which ones end up on the cutting room floor and which ones will eventually walk away with award gold.
Here is a full list of all the winners from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival
U.S. DRAMATIC Grand Jury Prize Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon Greg is coasting through senior year of high school as anonymously as possible, avoiding social interactions like the plague while secretly making spirited, bizarre films with Earl, his only friend. But both his anonymity and friendship threaten to unravel when his mother forces him to befriend a classmate with leukemia. Cast: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon.
Audience Award Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Directing Award The Witch, Robert Eggers (U.S., Canada) New England in the 1630s: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life with five children, homesteading on the edge of an impassable wilderness. When their newborn son vanishes and crops fail, the family turns on one another. Beyond their worst fears, a supernatural evil lurks in the nearby wood. Cast: Anya Taylor Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Lucas Dawson, Ellie Grainger.
Stanford Prison ExperimentWaldo Salt Screenwriting Award The Stanford Prison Experiment, Tim Talbott Based on the actual events that took place in 1971, when Stanford professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo created what became one of the most shocking and famous social experiments of all time. Cast: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Tye Sheridan, Johnny Simmons, Olivia Thirlby.
Special Jury Award – Excellence in Cinematography Diary of a Teenage Girl, Brandon Trost Minnie Goetze is a 15-year-old aspiring comic-book artist, coming of age in the haze of the 1970s in San Francisco. Insatiably curious about the world around her, Minnie is a pretty typical teenage girl. Oh, except that she’s sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend. Cast: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig.
Special Jury Award – Excellence in Editing Dope, Lee Haugen Malcolm is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself. Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoë Kravitz, A$AP Rocky.
Special Jury Award – Collaborative Vision Advantageous, Jacqueline Kim, Jennifer Phang In a near-future city where soaring opulence overshadows economic hardship, Gwen and her daughter, Jules, do all they can to hold on to their joy, despite the instability surfacing in their world. Cast: Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams, Ken Jeong, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Kim.
WolfpackGrand Jury Prize The Wolfpack, Crystal Moselle Six bright teenage brothers have spent their entire lives locked away from society in a Manhattan housing project. All they know of the outside is gleaned from the movies they watch obsessively (and re-create meticulously). Yet as adolescence looms, they dream of escape, ever more urgently, into the beckoning world.
Audience Award Meru, Jimmy Chin, E. Chai Vasarhelyi Three elite mountain climbers sacrifice everything but their friendship as they struggle through heartbreaking loss and nature’s harshest elements to attempt the never-before-completed Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru, the most coveted first ascent in the dangerous game of Himalayan big wall climbing.
Directing Award Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman (U.S., Mexico) In this classic western set in the twenty-first century, vigilantes on both sides of the border fight the vicious Mexican drug cartels. With unprecedented access, this character-driven film provokes deep questions about lawlessness, the breakdown of order, and whether citizens should fight violence with violence.
Special Jury Award – Social Impact 3 1/2 Minutes, Marc Silver On November 23, 2012, unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis was shot at a Jacksonville gas station by Michael David Dunn. 3½ Minutes explores the aftermath of Jordan’s tragic death, the latent and often unseen effects of racism, and the contradictions of the American criminal justice system.
Special Jury Award – Verite Filmmaking Western, Bill Ross, Turner Ross For generations, all that distinguished Eagle Pass, Texas, from Piedras Negras, Mexico, was the Rio Grande. But when darkness descends upon these harmonious border towns, a cowboy and lawman face a new reality that threatens their way of life. Western portrays timeless American figures in the grip of unforgiving change.
Special Jury Award – Break Out First Feature (T)error, Lyric R. Cabral, David Felix Sutcliffe With unprecedented access to a covert counterterrorism sting, (T)error develops in real-time, documenting the action as it unfolds on the ground. Viewers get an unfettered glimpse of the government’s counterterrorism tactics and the murky justifications behind them through the perspective of *******, a 63-year-old Black revolutionary turned FBI informant.
Special Jury Award – Cinematography Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman, Matt Porwoll
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC
Grand Jury Prize Slow West, John Maclean (UK, New Zealand) Set at the end of the nineteenth century, 16-year-old Jay Cavendish journeys across the American frontier in search of the woman he loves. He is joined by Silas, a mysterious traveler, and hotly pursued by an outlaw along the way. Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, Rory McCann.
Audience Award – World Cinema Dramatic Umrika, Prashant Nair (India) When a young village boy discovers that his brother, long believed to be in America, has actually gone missing, he begins to invent letters on his behalf to save their mother from heartbreak, all the while searching for him. Cast: Suraj Sharma, Tony Revolori, Smita Tambe, Adil Hussain, Rajesh Tailang, Prateik Babbar.
Directing Award The Summer of Sangaile, Alanté Kavaïté (Lithuania, France, The Netherlands) Seventeen-year-old Sangaile is fascinated by stunt planes. She meets a girl her age at the summer aeronautical show, near her parents’ lakeside villa. Sangaile allows Auste to discover her most intimate secret and, in the process, finds in her teenage love, the only person that truly encourages her to fly. Cast: Julija Steponaitytė, Aistė Diržiūtė.
Special Jury Award – Cinematography Partisan, Germain McMicking (Australia) — Alexander is like any other kid: playful, curious and naive. He is also a trained assassin. Raised in a hidden paradise, Alexander has grown up seeing the world filtered through his father, Gregori. As Alexander begins to think for himself, creeping fears take shape, and Gregori’s idyllic world unravels. Cast: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara.
Award – Acting Glassland, Jack Reynor (Ireland) In a desperate attempt to reunite his broken family, a young taxi driver becomes entangled in the criminal underworld. Cast: Jack Reynor, Toni Collette, Will Poulter, Michael Smiley.
Special Jury Award – Acting The Second Mother, Regina Casé, Camila Márdila (Brazil) Having left her daughter, Jessica, to be raised by relatives in the north of Brazil, Val works as a loving nanny in São Paulo. When Jessica arrives for a visit 13 years later, she confronts her mother’s slave-like attitude and everyone in the house is affected by her unexpected behavior. Cast: Regina Casé, Michel Joelsas, Camila Márdila, Karine Teles, Lourenço Mutarelli.
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY
Russian Woodpecker - Grand Jury Prize The Russian Woodpecker, Chad Gracia, UK A Ukrainian victim of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster discovers a dark secret and must decide whether to risk his life by revealing it, amid growing clouds of revolution and war.
Audience Award – World Cinema Documentary Dark Horse, Louise Osmond (UK) The inspirational true story of a group of friends from a workingman’s club who decide to take on the elite “sport of kings” and breed themselves a racehorse.
Directing Award Dreamcatcher, Kim Longinotto (UK) Dreamcatcher takes us into a hidden world seen through the eyes of one of its survivors, Brenda Myers-Powell. A former teenage prostitute, Brenda defied the odds to become a powerful advocate for change in her community. With warmth and humor, Brenda gives hope to those who have none.
Special Jury Award – Editing How To Change The World, Jim Scott (UK, Canada) In 1971, a group of friends sails into a nuclear test zone, and their protest captures the world’s imagination. Using rare, archival footage that brings their extraordinary world to life, How to Change the World is the story of the pioneers who founded Greenpeace and defined the modern green movement.
Special Jury Award – Impact Pervert Park, Frida Barkfors, Lasse Barkfors (Sweden, Denmark) Follows the everyday lives of sex offenders in a Florida trailer park as they struggle to reintegrate into society, and try to understand who they are and how to break the cycle of sex crimes being committed.
Special Jury Award – Unparalleled Access The Chinese Mayor, Hao Zhou (China) Mayor Geng Yanbo is determined to transform the coal-mining center of Datong, in China’s Shanxi province, into a tourism haven showcasing clean energy. In order to achieve that, however, he has to relocate 500,000 residences to make way for the restoration of the ancient city.
Audience Award – NEXT James White, Josh Mond A young New Yorker struggles to take control of his reckless, self-destructive behavior in the face of momentous family challenges. Cast: Chris Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Makenzie Leigh, David Call.
Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize (announced Thursday) The Stanford Prison Experiment, Kyle Patrick Alvarez (U.S.)
SHORT FILM PRIZES (announced Thursday)
Short Film Grand Jury Prize World of Tomorrow, Don Hertzfeldt (U.S.) A little girl is taken on a mind-bending tour of the distant future.
Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction SMILF, Frankie Shaw (U.S.) A young single mother struggles to balance her old life of freedom with her new one as mom. It all comes to a head during one particular nap-time when Bridgette invites an old friend over for a visit.
Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction Oh Lucy!, Atsuko Hirayanagi (Japan, Singapore, U.S.) Setsuko, a 55-year-old single so-called office lady in Tokyo, is given a blonde wig and a new identity, Lucy, by her young unconventional English-language teacher. “Lucy” awakens desires in Setsuko she never knew existed.
Short Film Jury Award: Non-fiction The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul, Kitty Green (Australia) Adorned in pink sequins, little girls from across a divided, war-torn Ukraine audition to play the role of Olympic champion figure skater Oksana Baiul, whose tears of joy once united their troubled country.
Short Film Jury Award: Animation Storm hits jacket, Paul Cabon (France) A storm reaches the shores of Brittany. Nature goes crazy, two young scientists get caught up in the chaos. Espionage, romantic tension, and mysterious events clash with enthusiasm and randomness.
Short Film Special Jury Award for Acting Back Alley, Cécile Ducrocq (France) Suzanne, a prostitute for 15 years, has her turf, her regular johns, and her freedom. One day, however, young African prostitutes settle nearby, and she is threatened.
Short Film Special Jury Award for Visual Poetry Object, Paulina Skibińska A creative image of an underwater search in the dimensions of two worlds — ice desert and under water — told from the point of view of the rescue team, of the diver, and of the ordinary people waiting on the shore.
Check out these brilliant, fearless storytellers Lena Dunham (Girls), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project, The Office), Jenji Kohan (Orange Is the New Black, Weeds), and Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, Saturday Night Live) with New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum as they discuss antiheroes and archetypes, using humor to crash through boundaries, as well as how far their art will go to tell the truth.
This panel was the first part of the Power of Story series at Sundance that occurred on 1/25/15.
FINDERS KEEPERS by Eric Hynes
The story of Finders Keepers, a rollicking and sneakily emotional film that screens as part of this year’s U.S. Documentary Competition, is almost too good to be true. But as the filmmakers said after the film’s world premiere at the MARC Theater, they could never have predicted what unfolded—or that it would take six years for them to follow it.
It’s a tale you may have heard in the news, or on any number of reality TV shows. After Shannon Whisnant bought an old grill at a storage facility auction and found a human leg inside, the dismembered limb became a highly contested property issue, with Whisnant claiming purchasing rights over Wood’s…bodily rights. For Whisnant, it was a matter of principal as well as a chance to achieve fame; for Wood, it was a reminder of the plane crash that killed his father, maimed him for life, and sent him on a tailspin of addiction. While Finders Keepers is far from the first attempt to tell the story, it has depth, humanity, and a turn toward redemption that the infotainment cycle could never have captured.
“I verbally heard the story two weeks after the leg was found,” recalled producer Ed Cunningham. “So I did the research, found a great article in the Charlotte Observer, and called and asked [the reporter] what are these guys like and she said they’re amazing. Then in March of 2008 we started filming with them, and started collecting archival material at almost the same time as the story was going on.”
“Both of these families were so open and honest with us that we were really able to get into the complexity of who they are, and go through both sides even deeper than we imagined,” said co-director Bryan Carberry. But as several questions from the audience intimated—and as Wood’s body and facial language suggested whenever his adversary was mentioned—such equanimity can seem problematic once it’s clear how attention-hungry Whisnant was and remains. “If [attention] happened to be what he wanted, we gave him a platform to tell his side. Hopefully we did that truthfully,” Carberry said.
“Ed was always very honest with them. Without the other one, the story just wouldn’t be what it was. So they knew that early on,” said co-director Clay Tweel. “Just because it gives Shannon what he wants doesn’t mean he didn’t effect change for John and for himself. They’re antipodal forces that change each other’s lives.”
While Wood was on hand to receive congratulations on the sobriety that he achieves by film’s end, and to show off a fine pair of overalls, Whisnant was noticeably absent. According to Cunningham, he’s currently in jail for contempt on a weapon’s charge, and hasn’t had a chance to see the film yet.
On this point of who was getting what from whom, Cunningham was refreshingly candid and thoughtful about the unavoidable pitfalls of making a movie out of real people’s lives. “You’re exploiting people when you’re making documentary films. You have to come to grips with that,” Cunningham said. “What you have to do is hopefully rise above what other people were trying to do with this story. And try to actually let these people tell their story, instead of choosing what their story is. But there’s no doubt that there was a lot of times, because I was the lead contact with these guys, I felt conflicted about exactly what we were asking. We were doing essentially what CNN and all these other folks had done. What we tried to do was realize we were on torched land. To be respectful, and do it in a way that would represent who Shannon is a bit more deeply.”
TRUE STORY by Jeremy Kinser
Journalistic ethics and the relationship between storytelling and the truth are at the forefront of True Story, a compelling cat-and-mouse drama that marks the debut feature from acclaimed theater director Rupert Goold. The film, which premiered out of competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival stars Jonah Hill as Mike Finkel, a disgraced New York Times reporter, and James Franco as Christian Longo, who’s been arrested for the murder of his wife and children. The director, who also adapted the screenplay from Finkel’s memoir, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, acknowledged the importance of casting the right actors, for what is essentially a two-hander.
Although the ubiquitous Franco brings a lot of baggage to the enigmatic character, Goold shared that it was partially this reason that inspired him to cast the actor. “Because of all the things he does — his art, his novels, his experimental movies — I think there’s a sort of mystery to him, in the public consciousness anyway. You want to pursue James as a person. I think a lot of all that stuff is a construct. He’s playing with what it means to be a movie star. As a man he’s really down to earth and very normal. I find him fascinating in a way that I find Longo fascinating.”
Hill was cast as Finkel because of his “innate vulnerability,” Goold revealed. “Both of these men are in some ways unlikable narcissists. At some level I thought we had to have an actor you had sympathy for, and Jonah carries that the way most young actors don’t.” Goold decided this made the two perfect to portray the spider and the fly element of the script.
Goold sees his story’s structure as paralleling a film noir, only substituting Franco for the femme fatale. “You have a couple and the man is hypnotized away by fatal attraction or something,” he offered. “It’s as much a fascination as it is a fear.”
STATION TO STATION by Eric Hynes
Over at the Temple Theater, New Frontier alumnus Doug Aitken presented his singularly ambitious project, Station to Station. At once a documentary film, a digital tapestry, a series of happenings, and an elaborate, many-pronged experiment, Station to Station is 61 1-minute films, presented in succession, that were recorded over 24 days on or near a commissioned train traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The films are dominated by musical performances, as we visit stage sets by Beck, Cat Power, and Ariel Pink and witness onboard jams by Thurston Moore and others. There are also kinetic drawings dictated by train movements, digitally mapped laser art that shadows the track, photo essays, sculptures, lectures and more. The effect is unique in that it unfurls less like a feature film than as a swift deploy of ideas, images, and sounds. Instead of an attention grabbing narrative, there’s a barrage of short-attention-span information, and the effect is less about 61 indelible films than a collective, accumulative sense of creative exuberance.
THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT by Nate von Zumwalt
Kyle Patrick Alvarez may not be the second coming of Dr. Philip Zimbardo, the groundbreaking psychologist at the helm of the Stanford Prison Experiment, but that doesn’t preclude his new film from playing like a microcosm of those chilling events. One could speculate that every film screening is an “experiment” of sorts, as a number of audience members intimated during The Stanford Prison Experiment’s Q&A session, but Alvarez is loath to concede that his film manipulates with the same scheming tendencies as the experiment itself.
About that experiment (which Alvarez worked pedantically to adhere to in the film, even going so far as to enlist Zimbardo as a consultant). In the summer of 1971, Zimbardo (played by Billy Crudup in the film) conceived a project that would simulate the conditions of a prison by soliciting 24 exceedingly “normal” men to play the roles of guards and prisoners. Assigned at random, the participants inhabit their roles on a 24/7 basis and under the analytical surveillance of Zimbardo and his team. With only a basic—and albeit ambiguous—condition that the guards may not physically assault the prisoners, the experiment develops with an escalating dubiousness as a number of guards adopt a nearly fascistic attitude that is perpetuated by unruly behavior from the prisoners—most notably an increasingly unstable Ezra Miller. Just as the guards begin to revel in their newly instituted authority, the prisoners find that the ostensible “experiment” is more closely aligned with reality than simulation. Not even two days into the project, Miller’s character begins to break down after a protracted stint in ‘the hole,’ a room for solitary confinement from which he implores for a release while proclaiming that the experiment is not allowed to “fuck with my head.” As the project takes on a life of its own, Zimbardo and his team are forced to reconcile the potential benefits of their research with the traumatic repercussions for its subjects.
It would be facile to call The Stanford Prison Experiment a ‘challenging’ film—that designation should be reserved for the emotionally gripping experiment itself. But there is a tinge of a test (despite the director’s belief otherwise) in Alvarez’s dedication to veracity, which does not play as a fault in this case. “We really were careful to make sure the movie didn’t hit too hard too fast so that hopefully it wouldn’t become a test. I wanted to make sure that it always felt accessible as opposed to the movie being a constant endurance test for the audience.”
Perhaps more notable than the film’s stellar direction—and Alvarez’s deftness in working with the confines of the true story—is the way the film is entirely hands-off in dealing with the moral ambiguity of the experiment. That fueled Alvarez’s inclination to remind the audience that, ultimately and arguably, nothing truly horrific happened. “One of the things that I found really fascinating about the experiment was that they walked away—they ended it,” said Alvarez. “It was ultimately more an expression of humanity than it was of how bad humanity is.”
Zimbardo himself, who was in attendance for the screening but did not take the stage during the Q&A, spoke with a similar sentiment. “What’s not in the film is that when the study was ended, we spent a full day in psychological debriefing,” he said. “We spent hours with all the prisoners, hours with all the guards, and then we brought the prisoners and guards together. And we literally called it ‘moral reeducation.’ I was able to say, all of us did bad things, including me. Aside from the guards that did bad things, the good guards never once interfered to prevent the bad guards from doing what they did. The prisoners who didn’t break down, never gave support to the fellow prisoners that did break down.”
For Alvarez, he hopes that audiences can glean the significance of the story. “I think what’s important is to acknowledge that it’s still incredibly relevant today in terms of how we’re given authority and what that authority means. And i think it’s really important to note that a lot of people involved in this experiment, Dr. Zimbardo and many of the grad students, went on to participate in prison reform.”
RESULTS by Jeremy Kinser
Andrew Bujalski returns to Sundance with Results, a perceptive comedy set in the world of fitness trainers that examines the relationship between money and happiness.The movie premiered at the Eccles in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, and it’s not only his most accessible project to date, it also marks his first foray into directing professional actors.
Newly-rich, recently-divorced, perpetually schlubby Danny (Kevin Corrigan) decides to change his life by visiting a local gym, but unwittingly and inextricably becomes entangled in the low-simmering romance between fitness guru Trevor (Guy Pearce) and trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders). During the Q&A that followed the screening, Bujalski, who will likely forever be known as the “Godfather of Mumblecore,” seemed as surprised as anyone to have made such a mainstream romantic comedy.
He said while attending the festival two years ago he was pressured to come up with a new project to pitch. After directing four movies with non-professional actors, he decided to break out of his comfort zone and work with pros. “I started thinking very specifically about Guy Pearce and Kevin Corrigan, who I’ve been a fan of for years,” he shared. “I don’t know why, but it just made me laugh. I thought it would be fun to see those two mix it up in a movie together.” Bujalski also draws winning comic performances from his supporting cast that includes Brooklyn Decker, Anthony Michael Hall and Giovanni Ribisi.
The director said shooting in a gym inspired all kinds of “fitness shenanigans” and added that the cast was constantly doing pushups. Bujalski didn't pressure his cast to get fit during the shoot, which was probably unnecessary since Pearce had been a teenage body builder. “He loved having the excuse to go hit the gym,” Bujalski suggested. “If Guy was here he’d tell you how out of shape he is, which is not true.”
However, the director also caused gasps from the audience by revealing Smulders, who sports a lean, taut physique in the film, had been four months pregnant when making the comedy. This news initially caused Bujalski to panic, but he assured the audience there had been no actual problems during the shoot.
PERVERT PARK by Eric Hynes
People, places, and stories aren’t always what you expect them to be in Pervert Park, a moving and bravely humane documentary about a self-contained community of sex offenders in St. Petersburg, Florida. As Swedish director Frida Barkfors and her Danish husband Lasse Barkfors said during the post-screening discussion for their debut film, they were also surprised by what they found in the park.
“We read an article in a Danish magazine about 5 years ago. And the park was described as a parallel society, where they didn’t really leave the park and created jobs for themselves because they couldn’t be part of society,” said Frida Barkfors. “So we went there to film that, and it turned out to not be the case exactly,” since residents regularly work, attend school, shop, and visit friends outside the park. They also found both men and women of many ages who had been convicted and served time for of a wide array of crimes—in person and online, onetime and repeat offenders, intra- and extra-familial offenses—and all the residents were deep into recovery and rehabilitation when the directors met them. “We hadn’t given much thought about what a sex offender was, because we bought into the stereotype picture that mainstream media is telling. So when we came there we were quite surprised by the whole situation, and tried to portray just what we found.”
The subjects of the film give extensive onscreen testimonies about their lives, describing both their crimes and their own troubled childhoods, which often involved brutal, cycle-generating abuse. “I cried a lot during the interviews,” Frida said. “There were different emotions connected to each different person. I was appalled and angry,” with some of the interviewees, “but I also cared for them.”
That sense of caring was crucial from the start, and helped earn the trust of the residents. “The first time we got there we spent a week with them, just sitting in therapy classes and following them around and talking. Just to get them used to us being there,” Lasse Barkfors said. “Then during three years we tried to finance [the film], based on a teaser, we stayed in contact with them and remained dedicated to telling their stories.”
“A key to gaining their trust was approaching them with no hidden agenda or labeling, because they’re so used to being labeled. So once we entered the park with this approach of just wanting to listen to them, they opened up to us,” Frida said.
During the post-screening discussion, members of the audience wondered why the film doesn’t feature interviews with members of law enforcement, or the victims of the crimes. In addition to the strong formal decision to never leave the park during the film—everything and everyone we see takes place in its environs—the directors were determined to limit the scope of the film to this one aspect of a complex and tragic phenomenon. “We never saw this film as a journalistic film. So we decided early on that we weren’t going to include all the different perspectives. We just wanted to give a voice to the people who are normally not heard,” Frida Barkfors said.
CRONIES by Jeremy Kinser
The stark, black-and-white St. Louis-based drama drama Cronies marks not only writer-director-producer Michael J. Larnell’s debut at Sundance (it screened in the NEXT section), it’s also his thesis film at NYU. The film offers an interesting study of male camaraderie and follows a trio of friends in St. Louis during a typical day in the life that ranges from fishing, smoking, ogling girls, and a stolen car.
The film has already received a boost in awareness due to Spike Lee’s credit as executive producer. Larnell said he applied and won a grant offered by Lee, who teaches third year students at NYU. “I showed him the first 10 minutes and he decided to become the executive producer on the film,” he added. Larnell shot the film in 12 days in St. Louis, his hometown.
Larnell said he always intended to shoot it in black-and-white, partly as a nod to Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and because of his admiration for the french film La Haine, another drama about three friends over the course of a day. The first-time director draws naturalistic performances from his three non-professional actors, George Sample III, Zurich Buckner, and Brian Kowalski, who responded to a casting call advertised on the local news.
The film’s casting director Albert A. Smith said he and Larnell were looking more for interesting characters, rather than accomplished actors. “A lot of people came in and we felt out the people with the right vibe to make sure they were responsible enough to learn the lines," he told the audience. Larnell added it was a conscious decision to employ local non-actors. “Someone who wasn’t from St. Louis wouldn’t have the dialect,” he added.
Smith also served as the film’s music director and made vivid use of local musicians, who also responded to an open call. He thinks the film might serve to change public opinion of St. Louis, due to the violence in nearby Ferguson. “I think it’s a blessing that the timing of this film comes where you can see another side of St. Louis and black people,” he suggested to the audience.
“This movie is our reality and perception is left up to people watching it. Some people will see cursing and negativity. Some will see love and hope.”
BEAVER TRILOGY PART IV by Eric Hynes
For those of a certain cinephilic bent—the kind that used to pass around bootleg VHS tapes of rarities and oddities, the kind for whom calling a film “cult” is the greatest of compliments—Trent Harris’s Beaver Trilogy is among the greatest of films, an obsessive, formally mutating triptych (documentary to mockumentary to short narrative) about a misfit who just wants to be a star. But for the people of Beaver, Utah, the underground sensation called the Beaver Kid was simply Dick Griffiths, a young man whose chance meeting with Harris in the parking lot of Salt Lake City’s KUTV 2 served as both a big break and a nearly fatal circumstance.
After never receiving any kind of release, in any kind of form, since Harris first met Griffiths in 1979, The Beaver Trilogy was finally screened at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Harris’s surprise reunion with his subject at the Eccles premiere, after 30 years without contact, provides director Brad Besser with a hook for Beaver Trilogy Part IV—a loving and cheeky documentary that provides the backstory to the cult film and catches us up to what both men were doing during those years. (Griffiths died just a few months after the Sundance screening.)
“After I’d caught up with him years later Dick said, ‘You know I have been in television over the years.’ And I said really? He said ‘yeah, I repair televisions’,” Harris said during the post-screening Q&A.
"Beaver Trilogy Part IV"
“He was a television repairman,” confirmed Dick’s sisters Vicki Hutchings and Laurie Griffiths. “He actually was just an everyday, down-to-earth, give you the shirt off his back guy. He had a million friends. And we loved him. As I said when he passed away, we loved this kid to death. When he died the entire town mourned with us.” As they do in the film, the sisters intimated that participating in Harris’s short documentary prompted a suicide attempt, from which none of them—Griffiths, his sister, perhaps even Harris—seemed to ever fully recover, though this film seems to have brought everyone together. “He always loved Trent Harris. Us sisters—not so much,” they said, before receiving an embrace from Harris.
While he may have been beloved in Beaver, to this day many in the town still don’t know about The Beaver Trilogy, or about Griffiths’ talent for impersonating John Wayne or Olivia Newton John. And while the Beaver Kid may have been at peace living a life beyond the limelight, his time in Park City certainly stoked something inside. As the film shows, he even sent a demo to Harris for a possible fourth installment in the Beaver series. “He had the time of his life at Sundance,” recalled the sisters. “But one day we were talking and he goes, ‘You know what, there’s a lot of people around here that don’t know a damn thing about me. They don’t know that I’m a star and that I’ve been in a movie.’ But people probably know more now than they knew then,” and thanks to Besser’s film, the legend should only grow.
Since it was virtually impossible to screen ALL of the films at Sundance, they have graciously provided press with these accounts of Day 3 written by Jeremy Kinser and Eric Hynes. Enjoy
THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL by Jeremy Kinser
While introducing The Diary of a Teenage Girl, which premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, David Courier prepared the audience to meet two striking new talents. The Festival’s senior programmer noted that he was honored to have Marielle Heller, a veteran of the Sundance Institute Screenwriters and Directors Labs, return with her debut feature, and predicted actress Bel Powley’s future is “so bright that we’re going to be seeing her work here for years to come.”
The film, based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, is a remarkable debut for both Heller and Powley, a British actress who carries the film with complete assurance, as well as a faultless American accent. Powley stars as Minnie, a lonely, precocious 15-year-old in 1976 San Francisco who finds the attention she yearns for through sex with Monroe, the 35-year-old boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård) of her drug-using mother, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig). Minnie creates a diary of sorts to document her secret affair using expressive illustrations and brutally honest messages spoken into her tape recorder.
Heller’s film has the hazy look of a faded 1970s Polaroid and she unobtrusively integrates animation, some of it based on Minnie’s drawings and others inspired by the comic books she reads. The director said she found Gloeckner’s book to be a revelation. “I never encountered such an honest portrayal of a teenage girl,” she told that audience. “I found her to be so vulnerable and brave and funny and embarrassing and smart and exciting.”
The film received sustained applause after the screening ended, and many in the audience were curious how Heller found her perfectly-cast leading lady. “Bel submitted an audition tape from England and did her whole audition with an American accent and I didn’t realize she was British until the end when she delivered a personal message to me,” Heller said.
Powley said the whole experience was incredible and she was overwhelmed by the response. “I read the script and I’d never read anything like it,” she shared. “It was something I related to in so many ways. I thought I have to be in this.”
Skarsgård, who achieves a small miracle here by making his character extremely likable and surprisingly uncreepy, explained how he developed such chemistry with his young co-star. “We had three weeks in San Francisco before Kristen joined us so we rehearsed,” he revealed. “We shot our scenes first and I think they went pretty good because when Kristin got there we had a secret.”
SLOW WEST by Eric Hynes
The Western may be among the most American of genres—if not the most American of genres—but that has never stopped filmmakers from around the world, from Italy to Japan and beyond, from trying it on for size. In Slow West, which premiered on Saturday night at the MARC Theater as part of the World Dramatic Competition, English writer-director John Maclean doesn’t transpose the genre to Europe—he brings a European sensibility to the American West. Considering the preponderance of immigrants who migrated to and settled in America, it wasn’t exactly a crazy notion. “The more I read about it, the more I realized the Germans, Scandinavians and Africans” were everywhere in the Old West, and fundamental to the formation of the country. “I did want to make sort of the truest western,” he said, wryly.
The film stands out not only because of its European influences—Maclean chose a 1:66 aspect ratio rather than the familiarly epic widescreen scope to offer a less operatic, more European arthouse aesthetic—but thanks to a unique tonal approach. “Once upon a time, 1870 to be exact,” is how the film starts, and an air of storybook wonder is maintained—although so is a wicked gallows humor and pistol-packed violence. An innocent young Scottish man named Jay Cavendish, played by Kodi-Smit McPhee, travels westward in search of his lost love, Rose (Caren Pistorius), and is befriended by a bounty hunter played by Michael Fassbender who, unbeknownst to Jay, also has the fugitive Rose in his sights. “The way I approached this was a mixture of realism and a kind of fairytale. I wanted it to be authentic but also kind of like a dream,” Maclean said. “I hoped it would be sort of funny and sad—sometimes at the same time.”
While Fassbender was absent from the post-screening discussion—he’s on location filming the Steve Jobs biopic, and sent along a greeting—Pistorius and McPhee were joined by supporting star Ben Mendelsohn, who was outfitted in the hugely shaggy fur coat worn by his outlaw character in the film. Without giving too much away, by the end of the film a great number of the characters are snuffed out, stars included, and at the end of the film Maclean makes the uncommon choice to revisit and, to some degree, pay respect to the scenes of carnage.
“When I was writing [the film] there were some 80s Eddie Murphy films on the telly,” he recalled, stifling a laugh. “And there were security guards getting blasted by the goodies, and then after [we’re] not having a second thought about it. So I just wanted to pay tribute to people that died making this journey.” And with that he perfectly evoked the wry humor of his film, its blend of pathos and parody, horror and hilarity.
HOT GIRLS WANTED by Eric Hynes
For their last film, Sexy Baby, co-directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus chronicled the effect of pornography and social media on young girls. And in order to educate themselves about the subject, “we watched a lot of online porn,” confessed Gradus. “And we just had this burning question: who are all of these girls that are populating these sites?” That question led to their current film, Hot Girls Wanted, which had its world premiere on Saturday at the Temple Theater.
In Hot Girls Wanted, we meet numerous young girls, most just past 18 and straight from their childhood homes, living in a house in Miami, Florida, where a young man named Riley sets them up on pornographic film shoots. They make good money and thrill to the sudden independence it affords, and dream of fame and social media popularity. But they’re also thrust into increasingly intense and degrading situations, and rarely last more than a few months in the business.
According to Ronna, the answer to their initial question shocked them. “These girls look like the girl next door and they literally are the girl next door,” she said during the post-screening Q&A. “We were not expecting that, and we were not expecting that they would all be so smart and frankly quite innocent and bright eyed, and just good kids that were in search of an adventure. And you can get that now with one click of a mouse and being impulsive.”
By the conclusion of Hot Girls Wanted, Tressa Silguero, one of the subjects of the film, is persuaded to leave porn by her boyfriend Kendall, and they were both on hand to support the film. She talked of how mass and social media make the life of a porn star seem like an appealing choice for women searching for a way forward. “It’s more appealing for young women my age. It’s like, oh I want to be like her, she gets so many views. Everybody loves her,” she said. “Obviously pop culture is a huge factor in these girls lives,” agreed Bauer.
They were joined after the screening by Rashida Jones, who served as one of the film’s producers. Bauer explained how the actress became involved, and encouraged the directors to shape the material into something that links the stories of these women’s lives with the hyper-sexualized culture that influences them, something that could make the most impact. “Basically we had this little story, and she paid attention to it and to us, and she really loved it,” Bauer said. “And she said guys, I really want this to be the film about pornography, the honest film about pornography. So let’s make it bigger.”
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28TH, 2015 Park City, Utah - Sundance Institute this evening announced the jury prizes in short filmmaking at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The awards were presented at a ceremony in Park City, Utah; full video of the ceremony is at youtube.com/sff. The short film program at the Festival is the centerpiece of Sundance Institute’s year-round efforts to support short filmmaking, including a series of daylong workshops and a traveling program of short films.
This year's Short Film program is comprised of 60 short films selected from 8,061 submissions. The Short Film jurors are: K.K. Barrett, Alia Shawkat and Autumn de Wilde.
The Short Film program is presented by YouTube.
The 2015 Sundance Film Festival runs through February 1 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah. A complete list of films and events is available at sundance.org/festival. Short film award recipients will also be honored at the Festival’s feature film Awards Ceremony, hosted by Tig Notaro, on Saturday, January 31 at 7:00 p.m. MT and live-streamed at sundance.org.
Sundance Institute and its Festival have long supported the creation and exhibition of short films. Notable Institute alumni who started their careers with short films include Wes Anderson, Todd Haynes, Spike Jonze, Damien Chazelle, Debra Granik, Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Tamara Jenkins and Jason Reitman. In addition to the short film program at the Festival, the Institute also hosts daylong workshops for short filmmakers and a program of short films that screens in theaters across the country.
The Short Film Grand Jury Prize was awarded to: World of Tomorrow / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Don Hertzfeldt) — A little girl is taken on a mind-bending tour of the distant future.
The Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction was presented to: SMILF / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Frankie Shaw) — A young single mother struggles to balance her old life of freedom with her new one as mom. It all comes to a head during one particular nap-time when Bridgette invites an old friend over for a visit.
The Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction was presented to: Oh Lucy! / Japan, Singapore, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Atsuko Hirayanagi) — Setsuko, a 55-year-old single so-called office lady in Tokyo, is given a blonde wig and a new identity, Lucy, by her young unconventional English-language teacher. "Lucy" awakens desires in Setsuko she never knew existed.
The Short Film Jury Award: Non-fiction was presented to: The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul / Australia (Director: Kitty Green) — Adorned in pink sequins, little girls from across a divided, war-torn Ukraine audition to play the role of Olympic champion figure skater Oksana Baiul, whose tears of joy once united their troubled country.
The Short Film Jury Award: Animation was presented to: Storm hits jacket / France (Director and screenwriter: Paul Cabon) — A storm reaches the shores of Brittany. Nature goes crazy, two young scientists get caught up in the chaos. Espionage, romantic tension, and mysterious events clash with enthusiasm and randomness.
A Short Film Special Jury Award for Acting was presented to: Laure Calamy for Back Alley / France (Director and screenwriter: Cécile Ducrocq) — Suzanne, a prostitute for 15 years, has her turf, her regular johns, and her freedom. One day, however, young African prostitutes settle nearby, and she is threatened.
A Short Film Special Jury Award for Visual Poetry was presented to: Object / Poland (Director: Paulina Skibińska) — A creative image of an underwater search in the dimensions of two worlds — ice desert and under water — told from the point of view of the rescue team, of the diver, and of the ordinary people waiting on the shore.
The Sundance Film Festival® The Sundance Film Festival has introduced global audiences to some of the most groundbreaking films of the past three decades, including Whiplash, Boyhood, Rich Hill, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Little Miss Sunshine, sex, lies, and videotape, Reservoir Dogs, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, An Inconvenient Truth, Precious and Napoleon Dynamite, and through its New Frontier initiative has showcased groundbreaking media works by artists and creative technologists including Chris Milk, Doug Aitken, Palmer Luckey, Klip Collective and Nonny de la Pena. The Festival is a program of the non-profit Sundance Institute®. 2015 Festival sponsors to date include: Presenting Sponsors – HP, Acura, SundanceTV and Chase Sapphire Preferred®; Leadership Sponsors – Adobe, Airbnb, Grey Goose® Vodka, LensCrafters, Southwest Airlines and YouTube; Sustaining Sponsors – Blundstone Australia Pty Ltd, Canada Goose, Canon U.S.A., Inc., Chobani, LLC, Omnicom, Stella Artois® and VIZIO. Sundance Institute recognizes critical support from the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development, and the State of Utah as Festival Host State. The support of these organizations helps offset the Festival’s costs and sustain the Institute's year-round programs for independent artists. sundance.org/festival
Sundance Institute Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, and new media to create and thrive. The Institute's signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences to artists in igniting new ideas, discovering original voices, and building a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Sin Nombre, The Invisible War, The Square, Dirty Wars, Spring Awakening, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
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I SMILE BACK by Eric Hynes
Sarah Silverman has built a career on confidence—on being the smartest, funniest, and most brazen person in the room. But after the unveiling of her career-turning, soul-baring dramatic performance in I Smile Back, which premiered on Sunday night at the Library Theater, she seemed utterly disoriented in front of the appreciative crowd. “Weird,” she intoned into the microphone, then tried to hide behind director Adam Salky.
In the film, she plays Laney, a suburban woman with two adorable children and a successful husband, who nevertheless suffers from depression and addiction. At first she manages to cover most of her tracks, but ultimately spirals into a dangerous maelstrom of alcohol, drugs, sexual promiscuity, rage and self-destruction. She rehabilitates at an addiction treatment center, and tries to reconcile with her estranged father, but struggled to readapt to normal life.
Silverman spoke of how she came to play the part. “I wasn’t looking for this, but it came to me. Amy [Koppelman, author and co-screenwriter] heard me on Howard Stern and decided I was Laney, and got in touch with my agent, who loved her book, and forced me to read it. And it’s hard for me to read—I had to learn how to read first,” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “And I thought it was beautiful and I didn’t know if I liked her or not, but I liked how complicated it was. And they wrote a script of the book, and then they let me play it. And why wouldn’t I? What am I, busy? Why wouldn’t I do something so different where I’m unable to use any of my myriad bag of tricks?” Seemingly catching herself for slipping into a comedic routine, she then confessed, “I feel such pressure to entertain.”
In the post-screening discussion, Silverman, along with Salky, Koppelman, and co-screenwriter Paige Dylan discussed Laney’s questionable likeability, and the value of that ambiguity. “I understand seeing her sympathetically, and I understand seeing her like, fuck you, we’ve all had to survive things from childhood. And that’s what I like about it. That how you like Laney is going to be subjective and depend on your lives, and that’s interesting to me. We can fight about if she’s likable or not because we’re talking from our own little selves and life experiences.”
As for how Silverman’s own experiences filtered into her portrayal of Laney, she offered a story about her personal sensitivities. “My mother sent me a link, and the subject line said, ‘Elephants Reunite After 20 years.’ Now I’m sure it was really beautiful and a happy video, but I didn’t watch it. Because my heart can’t take it. As well as most Pixar movies. There are certain kinds of beauty that, for someone who might be kind of depressive, it’s too much.”
And when asked if working on I Smile Back was cathartic, she replied, “No, it hurt. But I’m really glad I did it. And came through the other side.” And though she wavered between being caustic and confessional during the Q&A, she admitted that the two are actually very related. “Comedy I feel is very vulnerable and exposing, and this was both of those things but on the other side of the coin. It was something I’d not experienced before,” she said.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
by Jeremy Kinser
Introducing Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Sundance Festival Director John Cooper described the film as the kind programmers are always hoping for. “The one that sets the bar for everything else that’s going to happen,” he added, in what would prove to be an understatement.
Gomez-Rejon has directed numerous episodes of TV series such as American Horror Story and Glee, in which his virtuoso camera work has made him a standout talent on the small screen. However, nothing on his resume quite prepares one for his achievement with Me and Earl, which premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the Eccles Sunday to tremendous applause and quickly launched a record-shattering bidding war for distribution.
The story follows Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), a witty high school outcast who is forced to spend time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl he barely knows who is dying of leukemia. The title of the film, based on a novel by Jesse Andrews who also adapted it into the screenplay, sets up viewers for a tearjerker, which it is, but the film also delivers as a skillful character-driven comedy that wears its love of cinema on its sleeve (Greg is also an aspiring filmmaker who creates his own clever versions of cinema classics). It’s to the credit of both Gomez-Rejon and Andrews that the film never feels sentimental (there’s no romance between Greg and Rachel) or false and earns both its tears and laughter.
The director said he took on the project “for personal reasons and to process stuff that I’d gone through and come out the other end like Greg.” A credit dedicates the film to Gomez-Rejon’s late father. Gomez-Rejon told the Eccles crowd how important the Sundance premiere was to him. “I’ve been obsessed with movies since I saw my first one,” he said. “I’ve always dreamed of making a film that would premiere at the Sundance Film Festival so the fact that I’m here is overwhelming.” The director gave credit to his cast and crew and Andrews’ script.
“There was so much love on this set,” he said. “I’ve never felt anything like it. I hope you feel some of that love, too.” The audience shared the sentiment, giving the film a nearly five-minute-long standing ovation, with many still dabbing tears from their eyes and leaping to their feet before the lights came up.
Gomez-Rejon, who admitted he was very emotional following the film’s rapturous reception, credited his casting director for helping him find the ideal cast, which included vets Nick Offerman, Connie Britton and Molly Shannon.
Mann said he related to the character. “Sometimes you read something that sounds like you,” he shared. “I just saw a lot of myself in him and knew it was something I wanted to do.”
Cooke said she didn’t approach her character as a victim and that her illness was just an aside. “When I read the script I’d have done anything to be in it,” she admitted. Chemistry between the two leads was key to the film’s success, the director said. “They had to be just right,” he added. “If it was too much, it would be a love story. It had to be just this intense connection and acceptance.”
THE WOLFPACK by Jeremy Kinser
A stranger-than-fiction documentary, The Wolfpack reveals the almost unbelievable story of the Angulo family. They’re seven children — six brothers and one sister, all with waist-length black hair — who are being raised on welfare in a crowded, untidy apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The surprise here is that they weren’t allowed to leave for 17 years due to their Hare Krishna father’s fear of the outside world. Crystal Moselle’s film, which premiered at the Temple Theatre in the U.S. Documentary Competition, isn’t a postmillennial Grey Gardens. Although the siblings are essentially shut-ins, they’re made aware of the world outside them through their intense love of movies.
Moselle began filming the boys in 2010 when they ranged in age from about 11 to 18. Articulate and likable, they’re being homeschooled by their mother (a hippie who grew up on a farm in the Midwest), but with no friends besides each other, the boys cope with their isolation by recreating their favorite movies, which include Batman movies and Quentin Tarantino films. Eventually, their curiosity about the outside demands satisfaction.
Moselle documents their attempts to ease into the city around them. She records their excitement at seeing their first film in a movie theater and their trepidation at stepping into the water while visiting a beach. Late in the film she introduces the boys’ father Oscar, but viewers never get a clear sense of what’s motivated him to hide his sons from the world. Moselle also doesn’t interview any of their neighbors or social workers (one of the teens is arrested, not for any wrongdoing but for freaking people while wandering the street dressed as Jason from Friday the 13th) to provide further insight.
Still, The Wolfpack offers an intriguing glimpse into the nature of establishing one’s identity and creativity with an introduction to one of the most unusual families you’re likely to meet, even if the film raises more questions than it satisfactorily answers. Perhaps sensing this, during the Q&A that followed the screening, the moderator asked the audience to keep their questions positive so most focused on the craft of the film and the brothers’ home movies.
Moselle says she befriended the brothers during one of their earliest ventures away from their home. “I feel so honored to have met these boys in the street that day,” Moselle said before the screening. “I was walking down the street and I saw this boy with long hair run past me and something about him intrigued me,“ she recalled. “Then another ran past and then another.”
When Moselle approached them they told her they’re not supposed to talk to strangers. The boys were intrigued to learn that Moselle is a filmmaker and told her that they want to get into the business.
When the Angulo brothers took the stage after the screening, their obsession with film was still evident as they were dressed in Reservoir Dogs-style black suits and sunglasses. The boys, who were enthusiastic discussing their home movie reenactments, also shared their current occupations, which include film production, activism and teaching yoga.
WESTERN by Eric Hynes
With its named derived from the classic 1970s outlaw movie, the Sundance Film Festival has always been fertile ground for fresh takes on the Western genre. But I’m not sure Park City has ever seen a Western like this one.
In Western, sibling director duo Bill and Turner Ross fashioned a frontier tale for our times not from the Hollywood handbook, but from the substance of real life. From 2010 to 2011, the brothers lived in Eagle Pass, Texas, which is directly across the border from Piedras Negras, Mexico, capturing the lives of the people and their culture, and crafting it into a work of nonfiction unlike any other. Rather than focus on issues or interviews or statistics, Western patiently observes an endangered way of life, and fashions these observations into indelible images, lyrical passages, and pungently metaphoric riffs on a genre that imbues the consciousness of the region as much as it does the Ross’s vision of it.
“As young kids we would go and see these B-westerns at a rerun theater with our dad, and it built up this mythology of the lawman and the cowboy, those landscapes, those big skies,” Turner Ross said during the post-screening Q&A. “We wanted to confront the mythic American landscape and the genre of the Western. We wanted to make a nonfiction Western.” But they also didn’t want to tell a story familiar to the one told on the nightly news, one that dwells entirely on immigration patrol and drug violence. “We wanted to see what the modern frontier really looks like. Beyond the one-dimensional news stories—because that’s not the way that everybody experiences it,” he said.
One of the fallacies that the film redresses is any notion of rancor or great difference between the two communities. People have long moved often and freely across the border, and Western shows two towns largely in harmony, with shared customs. “These are inexorably tied peoples. It’s not Texas and Mexico—it’s the border. It’s a region with its own history and culture,” Turner Ross said.
After following numerous people over 13 months of shooting, the Ross’s wound up crafting a film that focuses on two main characters—Chad Foster, the righteous mayor of Eagle Pass, and Martìn Wall, a fifth-generation cattleman. “Because we are relying on realism, on life, you can only get what comes to you. If it’s not scripted, then you have to rely on the world to give it to you,” Turner Ross said. “So we cast a very large net. We probably had a dozen people that we followed, and in the end it’s only two. You might see those people’s faces throughout the film, but in the end those stories either weren’t fully realized or they weren’t conducive to the story we were trying to tell. And in the end, Chad and Martìn sort of represent the poles of the story and two classic archetypes—Martìn as our cattleman, and Mayor Chad Foster as our John Wayne.”