Sundance Docs: From Nina Simone to Scientology

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... nina simone poster

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.

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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...

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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.

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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.

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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...

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THE BLACK PANTHERS:  Vanguard of the Revolution

imagesI 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

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FRESH DRESSED

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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...

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GOING CLEAR:  Scientology and the Prison of Belief

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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...

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LISTEN TO ME MARLON

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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.

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Power of Story: Serious Women - Sundance Film Festival 2015

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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.

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This panel was the first part of the Power of Story series at Sundance that occurred on 1/25/15.

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!!!

Day 7: Sundance Film Festival 2015

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.

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!!!

Day 5: Sundance Film Festival 2015

THE FORBIDDEN ROOM by Eric Hynes

It’s all but impossible to describe all that happens in The Forbidden Room, since it’s all but impossible to track all that’s happening in the moment. So let’s just say it has something to do with a doomed submarine, a woodsman determined to save his beloved from humanoid wolves, a manacled gardener, a soused parachutist attorney, a poisonous skeleton unitard, posthumous drinking buddies, an inner child murderer, and baths, for starters. It’s a film in which digressions aren’t really digressions, but rather thresholds to new flights of fancy, to more and more fervent valentines to lost and imagined cinematic worlds, to beautiful imagery and bawdy jokes.

“I started just be being a little bit tortured or haunted that some lost films by some of our favorite directors couldn’t be watched,” Maddin explained during the post-screening Q&A. “And then I asked Evan [Johnson, the co-director] if he wanted to help me research a bunch of lost film narratives, and then we discovered that we’re sort of glad that these things are lost, because we want to shoot our own versions of them—they sound really good. And then we realized when they were being filtered through the medium of us, and the things that matter to us most, that they all had our voice, and that they all fit together, and that the male characters all tended to be similar in response to female characters, and that there was a kind of jellification of manlinesses as our parents and parents’ parents generations expected men to behave, and then sort of jellified and quivered as much as film emulsions have during the time it took my generation to finally grow up. So it was just a matter of pointing ourselves all in one direction and making sure all the stories rhymed with each other, and fitting them all together.”

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The film makes hay with a full array of early cinematic flourishes, from sprocket jumps and emulsified celluloid to copious intertitles and prominent foley sound, which engendered quite a few questions about process and the material provenance of his mad creation. Maddin confessed the movie was more filmic in spirit than in fact. “I don’t know if I should be giving away recipes, but we just shot digital. I don’t even know if there are any films in the Sundance Film Festival this year,” he said, before continuing in much the same manner as his florid, funny narrative. “But there’s definitely a tribute to emulsion. And since a lot of the stories within the stories within the stories were inspired by lost film stories, it just felt that there should be a nod to emulsion anyway. And just the way that emulsion moves around when it’s aging and buckling and falling apart has always reminded me of what ectoplasm might look like if it moved around—the ectoplasm we know from those old spirit photographs. It just seemed like a nice vertical integration of feelings from start to finish of film history.”

And when asked why he shot in color after working in black-and-white for films such as Brand Upon the Brain! and Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary, he grew mock testy. “I’m done with black-and-white. Black-and-white is so, I don’t know, yesterday. It’s time for color. It’s time for color,” he said. Then Canada’s greatest unrepentant avant-garde film fetishist added, “I’m trying to make a hit here.”

THE NIGHTMARE by Eric Hynes

A follow-up to his sleeper hit Room 237, in which numerous fanatics of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining offered audio commentary about its hidden meanings (it debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival), The Nightmare is also a polyphonic tapestry, though this time the subjects appear on camera, and the subject is the horrifically mysterious phenomenon of sleep paralysis. Ascher, who mentions on camera that he’s also suffered from the malady, toggles between eight subjects whose testimonies are both unique and eerily similar—almost invariably it involves a kind of paralyzed liminal state in which a shadowy presence taunts their motionless body. The film dramatizes these experiences with a tone that slides between horror and comedy, documentary and fantasy. After the screening, Ascher asked how many in the audience had experienced sleep paralysis, and about 50 people raised their hands, eliciting gasps from the rest of the crowd.

“When it happened to me, the Internet wasn’t what it is, so it took 2 years before I found out that it was a condition that happened to other people, and that had a name, and that was hugely comforting to me,” Ascher said. “But now, because of where we are with social media, everybody’s able to share their stories and reach out, and I instantly got sucked into the rabbit hole. The amount of thought and difference of opinion was really fascinating to me. I was spending so much time reading that stuff that it made sense to start doing it on the clock.”

"The Nightmare"

Ascher said he looked into the science, psychology, history and folklore of the condition, but ultimately decided to focus entirely on the experiences of those victimized by it. “I was just most interested in first-person accounts, eyewitness testimonies of how they’re trying to make sense of it,” he said. “I’m absolutely certain that people see these things—I know, because I’ve seen them. But whether they’re something that’s generated internally or something we’re externally sensitive to I tend to be kind of agnostic about.” He said they found their subjects by both pursuing people who shared their stories on the Internet, and from people who heard about the project and wanted to become involved. “We had to hire two researchers just to pour through the responses,” he said.

Though it’s all based on actual testimony, the intensity and absurdity of much of the testimony and imagery conjured allowed for Ascher to make a documentary unlike any other—one with both punchlines and terrifying jolts. “I love horror, I love comedy, I love documentary—any good story, no matter what the subject matter, you’ve got to hit those different notes,” he said. To illustrate Ascher’s unique personality and approach, producer Ross Dinerstein described one day of shooting that realized a subject’s vision of a giant metal claw digging into his groin.

“We shot the claw scene, and I just kept saying ‘more blood, more blood’,” he said. “It was Rodney’s birthday the day we shot it, and when we wrapped Rodney almost had tears in his eyes, and he says, ‘There’s no place in the world that I’d rather be than here right now.’ And literally there’s blood everywhere, and there’s this giant claw. And I’m like—that is one weird dude. And I’m sure glad I got involved with this project.”

CARTEL LAND by Jeremy Kinser

Introducing director Matthew Heineman before the premiere of Cartel Land, programmer David Courier told the packed house at the Library Theater he’s happy Matthew is still alive. Heineman, whose 2012 Sundance doc Escape Fire offered a compelling expose on healthcare reform, returns with another tale that blurs the lines between good and evil. Within minutes of watching the chilling chronicle of two Mexican drug cartels, which screened in the U.S. Documentary Competition, the audience understood and shared Courier’s relief that the director survived the incredibly dangerous situations in which he placed himself.

Heineman gained unprecedented and often shocking access to vigilante groups in both north and south of the U.S./Mexican border—a war zone on both sides. Dr. Jose Mireles, a kindly physician known as “El Doctor” in the the state of Michoacán, heads the Autodefensas, an armed citizen’s group dedicated to driving the savage Knights Templar drug cartels out of their towns. Across the border in Arizona’s Altar Valley, known as “Cocaine Alley,” we’re introduced to Tim “Nailer” Foley, a charismatic American vet and former meth addict, who heads a paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, determined to prevent Mexico’s drug wars from crossing onto U.S. soil.

In an opening sequence, which could have been lifted from Breaking Bad, Heineman records a team of masked Mexican men cooking meth in the desert in the middle of the night. One of the men explains they they’d like to go straight but being impoverished provides them with no alternative. Heineman embeds himself with the Autodefensas as they fight back against the cartels, capturing harrowing footage of shootouts and speaks with victims affected by the violence.

During the Q&A after the screening, Heineman revealed Cartel Land differs from the film he initially set out to make, which would focus solely on the Nailer and his vigilantes. “Four or five months later someone sent me an article about Mexican vigilantes,” he said. “I realized it could become an amazing parallel structure. A few days later we were in Mexico filming.”

He admitted that the story evolved in ways he could never have imagined. “No one had ever spoken out against the cartel or stood in the square front of of the cartel and said we’re coming after you,” he said, adding “I originally thought I was telling a story of good vs. evil. It became more gray, more complex.”

Asked how to win the war on drugs, Heineman paused while some in the audience laughed at the simplicity of the question. “If I had that answer I wouldn’t be standing in front of you,” he eventually answered.

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER by Jeremy Kinser

With Take Me to the River, director Matt Sobel delivers not only an atypical take on the coming-of-age story, but one of the most original movies at the festival—a button-pushing mindfuck about adolescent sexuality and family secrets that veers between comedy, drama, and thriller sometimes within the same scene. It’s not an easily accessible film, but as described by programmer David Courier during his introduction, it’s the kind that defines what the NEXT section of the festival is about. “It’s a richly textured movie,” he added.

Sobel’s debut feature follows Ryder (Logan Miller, who also stars in The Stanford Prison Experiment), an artistic gay California teen, completely comfortable with his orientation, who travels with his parents (Robin Weigert, Richard Schiff) for a family reunion in the Nebraska farmland. With his shaggy hair, sunglasses and bright red short-shorts, Ryan stands apart from his redneck relatives and is immediately greeted with derision during a cookout. His young cousin Molly (a remarkable Ursula Parker) becomes immediately infatuated and when something offscreen happens in a barn, Ryder becomes the target of suspicion and is further made an outcast by his uncle (a quietly menacing Josh Hamilton), and a long-buried family secret is soon unearthed.

"Take Me to the River"

Sobel, who also wrote the screenplay, said his inspiration came from his own family reunions in Nebraska which he emphasized were far less dramatic than the one depicted in the film. “I had a vivid nightmare about being falsely accused of something at one of these reunions and when i woke up I couldn’t remember exactly what it was,” he shared. “I remembered the feeling of not being able to defend myself and feeling like any sort of logic I’d use to defend myself would just get me in deeper. It became my goal to inject that feeling in a film.”mHe said the opening scene in which Ryder discusses whether he should come out to his conservative relatives was meant to set up audiences to expect a simplistic story, which would later be complicated. “At the end it doesn't matter if he comes out because that’s not what the story is about anymore,” he added.

Some in the audience seemed unsettled by the complexity of Molly, and wondered if she’s a pre-teen seductress. Weigert, who seemed very knowledgable about sociological behavior, disagreed and said she sees Molly as being in a natural phase of development. “Both children are in a state of innocence together,” she suggested. “You see it written on their faces. There’s tremendous gentleness and you don’t see a child being hurt in this movie. You see a child exploring and the parents and adults around the child freaking out and needing to demonize someone for it.” 

BREAKING THE SILENCE, BREAKING THE CYCLE by Christine Benjamin

This year, Sundance received an overwhelming amount of submissions dealing with stories of transformation. More specifically, films centered around sexual trauma, assault, and recovery. It’s no wonder that Caroline Libresco (Director, Special Programs and Senior Programmer, Sundance Film Festival) introduced yesterday’s panel “Breaking the Silence, Breaking the Cycle” with the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind: “So what’s going on here?”

What’s going on is that we’ve been afraid to have conversations surrounding these heavy topics, but storytellers from around the world are pushing forward, determined to make us more aware. With films such as The Hunting Ground, Pervert Park, and Dreamcatcher, it’s hard to ignore the thematic elements bubbling to the surface. Individuals such as Kirby Dick, Kim Longinotto, Frida Barkfors, Lasse Barkfors, and Regina Scully are working tirelessly to help us get out of this cycle we’ve grown accustomed to. The cycle of denial and the cycle of abuse encompass the whole complexity of this social issue.

“We need to start to talk about these issues. We can't come up with solutions until the taboos melt away. That’s why storytellers are all my heros.” Regina Scully so graciously motioned to the audience as she applauded all those on stage with her. The films we have seen in the festival and elsewhere are just the beginning of the conversations that need to take place. That’s why we are using the hashtag #BreakingTheSilence. It’s time to get these stories out there and listen to those who are brave enough to share their voices.

Pat Mitchell, Sundance Institute’s own Chair of the Board and the moderator of yesterday’s discussion, summed it up perfectly as the panel came to a close: “It begins here. It begins with knowledge and knowing, then the outrage. Out of the outrage there are actions that can be taken.”

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!!!

Power of Story - Vision of Independence with George Lucas and Robert Redford

[youtube=http://youtu.be/YX-9QCkwHiI] Every year, the Sundance Film Festival produces two Power Series.  Earlier in the week, we witnessed the Serious Ladies with Krisitn Wiig, Jenji Kohan and Mindy Kaling.  Today,  kicking off Art of Film Weekend, a program celebrating the craft of filmmaking is a panel with Robert Redford and George Lucas—two iconic filmmakers who epitomize the spirit of independence in American cinema—in conversation with critic Leonard Maltin.

These are some paraphrased notes from he conversation...

Maltin:  When did you fall in love with movies and how?

RR:  I fell in love with the cinema and the bizarre for independence.  When I was 4 or 5 years old, we would walk to the movies on Saturday because we had nothing else to do.  There was nothing more exciting for me as a child than to hear "Once Upon A Time."

GL:  I grew up in Central California and I would go to the movies just to chase girls.  I listened to a lot of radio and Disney story records.  I didn't really fall in love with movies until I was in my 20's.  I was always obsessed with cars.

RR:  In my head, I decided I wanted to be an artist.  In LA, when I was in the 3rd grad I found that I wasn't interested in what the class was about or what the teacher was saying, so I would draw.  One day she caught me and asked me to show the class what I was drawing and afterwards told me that she would get an easel and give me 15 minutes to draw for the class.  If she had gone the other way...I don't know what would've happened.    I was a BIG sportswear lover, but drawing was my passion.  My Granddad use to say "You can't eat art".

GL:  My Dad would say that too!!!

Maltin:  How did you get into acting

RR:  I was in Europe and came to New York because I had been in Los Angeles my whole life.  The city I loved (LA) was pulled underneath me and I was ready to leave.  I was in this acting class in New York and after a very challenging class, I had decided I wasn't coming back.  My teacher begged me to come back and again if he had gone a different way...

Here's what Lucas and Redford had to say on the first time meeting Francis Ford Coppola

GL:  Francis (Ford Coppola) was the first film student to make it into the industry with Seven Arts, which for him led to directing, writing and producing (Paris Is Burning, Patton, Finian's Rainbow).  Seven Arts bought Warner Brothers where I had just received a scholarship.  While the studio was in transition, I was put on  a back lot of a movie where I first met Francis.

RR:  In 1960, I was doing theatre in New York and was asked by the Sanders Brothers (who were under contract with United Artists) to do a black and white war film in Los Angeles.  We shot it in Topanga Canyon and Francis was driving a car and drove it right into a ditch.  I helped him get the car out and that was the first time I met Francis

Redford started in the studio system, but in 1980 when the industry shifted and became more youth driven and cable television was exploding, there wasn't a means for filmmakers to tell "their" stories as independents.  So, Redford applied for a NEA grant to start Sundance.  Now, Sundance is the most sought after festival to have your film screened for distribution, exposure and another way for filmmakers to express their artistry with workshops, panels, etc...

GL:  Zoetrope started at my house in San Francisco....I've never been happy with Hollywood and have never made a movie there...The industry at that time was about street films (psychological dramas, police dramas, etc...).  With Star Wars, I avoided the studio, then THX took the film and tried to recut it(the same thing happened with American Graffiti).  They (the studio) let me have the sequel rights because they though Star Wars wasn't going to make any money.  The licensing didn't exist...there was no such thing.  I thought I could make a bunch of t-shirts and posters to sell the movie...I've been very lucky in my career.  I will say...Fox was very good to me giving me extra money to do re-takes.  The studios treat directors and writers like they are the plumbers that come in and do the work.  So, I invested everything I had into The Empire Strikes Back.  It worked, so I just keep taking what I made off of one film to invest in the next.

RR:  If you're going to work outside the studio system you have to be very creative in order to make it work

 

GL:  The idea that some answers are outside the box.  You can tell a fun story without following the rules.  That's what I did what Star Wars.  I'm gonna do what is entertaining.  No matter what you're doing...just have a good time.  Never follow the rules...

 

When asked where they felt the industry was going in..

GL:  Most movies today are circus movies where the action has little to do with telling the story...All art is technology.

RR:  The New Frontier here at Sundance shows us what role technology plays in film...

In closing, when asked for advice to up and coming filmmakers, Redford simply stated...Pay Attention and Listen

 

The Sundance Film Festival runs through February 1 in Park City, Utah.

 

Day 3: Sundance Film Festival 2015

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

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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.”

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!!!

2015 Sundance Short Film Awards

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.

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.

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 WhiplashBoyhoodRich HillBeasts of the Southern WildFruitvale StationLittle Miss Sunshinesex, lies, and videotapeReservoir DogsHedwig and the Angry InchAn Inconvenient TruthPrecious 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 WildFruitvale StationSin NombreThe Invisible WarThe SquareDirty WarsSpring AwakeningA Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on FacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube.

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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!!!

Day 4: Sundance Film Festival 2015

Sarah_H

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.”

Day Two: Sundance Film Festival 2015

Day2_CThe D Train offers a surprising look at the cult of celebrity and features no-holds-barred performances by Jack Black and James Marsden ...easily some of their best work Screenwriters Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul make their directorial debuts with this comedy which premiered Friday night in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Black stars as Dan Landsman, a small-town high school reject who comes up with a scheme to become a local hero by luring Oliver Lawless, the most popular kid in his class (Marsden) back to their upcoming 20-year reunion. When Dan travels to Hollywood to meet his former classmate for a drink, he spins a web of lies  as his plan goes terribly awry.  This unexpectedly threatens Dan’s family/career and results in a jaw-dropping conclusion.

During the post-screening Q&A, Mogel and Paul insisted their screenplay isn’t fact-based. “We just wrote this character who was so desperate and looking for the popular guy,” Paul revealed. “It didn’t come from anything personal.”

Black generated more laughter from the audience when he said his own high school reunion was less eventful than the one seen on screen and that it was the clever screenplay that drew him to the project. “I just loved the script,” he said. “It made me laugh so hard. I loved how surprised I was by the twists and turns and so many things I’d never seen done before in a comedy. I was interested in the desperation of the character. I feel that I know that, not just in myself but in other people.”

“As an actor it’s so nice to have all the work laid out for me,” Marsden shared. “In comedies you feel like you’ve seen it all, but this was so subversive and such an interesting character for me and under their guidance we just played every day.”

STRANGERLAND

In Strangerland, Kim Farrant’s directorial debut, follows Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew Parker’s (Joseph Fiennes) two children vanishing into the unforgiving Australian desert. Forced to grapple with the fallout and unable to evade suspicions pointing toward them, the couple’s already fragile relationship spirals out of control, pitting Matthew’s inward-facing coping tendencies against Catherine’s increasingly volatile behavior.

strangerland_AshleyLindsey

Farrant cited the tragedy in her own life following the death of her father at a young age, and a subsequent interest in “the behaviors that I went into, and how I dealt with that, or didn’t deal with it.” She continued, “I’m kind of fascinated by how we act out when life’s punishing us. For me it was around connecting and the urge to make love or be sexual or something to feel anything other than the horrific pain.”

Speaking about her role, Kidman described how she channelled the seemingly endless layers of complexity that define a character like Catherine Parker. “It’s so personal, that to dissect it like this – it’s kind of the work, and I leave it,” she said. ““I only saw the movie for the first time tonight, so I’m a little bit in shock myself.” Strangerland’s dedication to rawness -  left more than just Kidman speechless.

Farrant, while fielding questions about the film’s ending stated,  “We were committed to leaving you how the parents were left.”

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!!!

Sundance Film Festival: Day One Press Conference with Robert Redford

sundance-film-festival-event The 2015 Sundance Film Festival has officially kicked off with an informative press conference moderated by Salt Lake Tribune Movie Critic Sean Means along with the Sundance Film Festival Founder:  Robert Redford,   Sundance Film Festival  Executive Director:  John Cooper and Sundance Institute Director Executive Director:  Keri Putnam.

With diversity being on the forefront of so many conversations in the last few weeks, Redford said "Change is inevitable...the festival is meant to use change to underline the word diversity."

Everyone knows that most filmmakers attend Sundance with hopes of walking away with distribution for their projects.  Redford agreed stating "Distribution is the end part".   Putnam piggybacked with talking about how digital means have been provided for filmmakers with Quiver Digital, which allows every filmmaker to see how their film is doing over the course of the 10 day festival.

Putnam and Redford both stressed how diversity comes into play with documentary film.  "Documentaries at Sundance has always been my passion...it's important because documentaries carry with them a feeling of you being in the moment as it's happening...one day documentaries will be on equal footing with feature films".

Responding to a question concerning Amazon and distribution, Redford replied, "I'm only interested in the fact that stories get told". "I am a big fan of television...It's part of the fabric of storytelling, as is film...it's becoming harder and harder for artists to find their footing in film...television provides them more opportunities"  In his opinion, "Television is advancing faster than filmmaking".

The big buzz on performances tonight are on John Legend, who is scheduled to perform after a screening  of the Nine Simone documentary piece.

Sundance Institute Executive Director, Keri Putnam is really excited about the Power Stories panels, Serious Ladies with Mindy Kalin and a panel later in the week with Redford and George Lucas.

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Putnam also stated, "As money comes into the equation...diversity steps out.  Continuing the theme regarding the ongoing subject of diversity,  Festival Executive Director John Cooper reiterated, "...Ava DuVernay did in fact win Best Director at Sundance (for Middle of Nowhere)"  further proving the Sundance Film Festival's commitment to diversity.

When asked if Sundance has moved away from it's original intention, Redford  responded that he feels Sundance fills in the gap from big budget films, youth driven Hollywood and all the cable/VOD  players as a means to keep alive the idea of diversity in more independent type filmmaking..

The Sundance Film Festival runs from now through February 1.  Keep tuned here for the latest on the festival as yours truly will be reporting from there LIVE for www.UBNRadio.com/tonysweet.

 

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!!!