2015 Sundance Film Festival Winners

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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.

U.S. DOCUMENTARY

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.

Day 6: Sundance Film Festival 2015

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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.”

"Pervert Park"

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.

"Cronies"

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.

 

Carla Renata

Hey My Fellow Movie Lovers...

A Bison, Virgo, devoted daughter, yoga and spinning enthusiasts, graduate of  the "mecca" - Howard University's School of Communications, former publicist, actress, branding influencer and "doggie mom" to an adorably smart-energetic maltese are just a few of the characteristics that make up the essence of me -- Carla Renata.

Formerly of UBNRAdio.com, where I Co-Hosted "On Air With Tony Sweet", this Fall, I will be hosting a new show for Black Hollywood Live owned by E! Correspondent Maria Menounos  and am a freelance contributor for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered.

I absolutely adore talking about all things cinema and it is my sincere hope that although not every opinion I have will or will not be embraced, know that I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to share!  Enjoy and see you on the red carpet!!!