Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

The independent film envelope, please


2007 Sundance Film Festival winners are announced

Sundance founder Robert Redford is interviewed on the slopes. Photo: Mike Bradshaw, courtesy Sundance Channel
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What are your odds of getting your film into the Sundance Film Festival? By the account of the very precise festival bean-counters definitely better than winning the California Lottery, perhaps even better than crossing Market Street and living to tell the tale. At last count, of the 7,732 films offered the increasing picky Sundance judges, only 196 (125 features and 71 shorts) made the final cut.

Of those 196, only a handful get the brass ring of a distribution deal and/or a festival award. At last word, 19 features had been picked up for distribution, and a handful of fortunate filmmakers and actors were singled out for special jury or audience prizes.

As might be expected after the runaway success of the festival's surprise comedy hit Little Miss Sunshine, which has racked up a worldwide box office of $91 million, film-buyers were giving special attention to that rare commodity, the Sundance comedy. Buzz follows director David Wain's spoof of the Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Decalogue, a solemn series of 10 short films based on the 10 Commandments. Wain's approach can be assessed in this excerpt from a scene in which a once-married couple re-unite by chance in the park.

"How is Liz doing?"

"Oh, we broke up. She was too young. I caught her cooking the books. How's Jim?

"No, it didn't work out. His penis was too big. It was great for a while. God! So great! Sometimes I just think about him and I have a little orgasm."

Highlights of the Sundance Awards follow.

The Grand Jury Prize for Documentary went to Jason Kohn's Manda Bala (Send a Bullet ), about how corruption has come to define modern Brazil. Whole professions are devoted to catering to its side effects: the manufacture of bullet-proof limos is a big trade, as is the plastic-surgical specialty of fitting disfigured kidnap victims with replacement ears. The film also copped the cinematography award.

The Grand Jury Prize for Drama went to Christopher Zalla's Padre Nuestro, a unique tale of stolen identity and family ties. A cunning boy steals a fellow border-crosser's ID so he can pass himself off to the other boy's father as his son, missing since childhood.

The World Cinema Prize for Documentary went to Eva Mulvad and Ania Al Erhavem's Enemies of Happiness, which tells the improbable story of a female Afghan Parliamentary candidate who ran despite her well-documented opposition to the male power structure of corrupt warlords.

The World Cinema Drama Prize went to the bittersweet tale of an Israeli adolescent who rescues his mother abandoned by the elders of their Kibbutz, Dror Shaul's Sweet Mud, which reportedly depicts the downside of the fabled Israeli utopian institution.

The Audience Award for Documentary went to Irene Taylor Brodsky, who notes that "Here and Now turns out to be a love story about my parents, who had been deaf for 65 years, deciding to get surgical implants which allowed them to hear."

The Audience Award for drama went to James C. Strouse's Grace is Gone, which stars John Cusack as a newly widowed Iraq war survivor who decides to take his daughters to an amusement park prior to delivering the bad news about their mom. Strouse also received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Prize.

The World Cinema Award for Documentary went to David Sington's In the Shadow of the Moon, about the recollections of eight of the surviving astronauts who have walked on the moon, with rare footage freshly found in the NASA vaults.

The World Cinema Audience Award went to John Carney's Once, a unique Irish-produced musical brought into being by the chance meeting of an Irish busker and a Czech immigrant, in a shop where the former makes a living repairing vacuum cleaners.

The Directing Award for Documentary went to the husband/wife team of Sean and Andrea Fine, for their haunting portrait of a generation of Ugandan children abducted to be child soldiers in an ongoing, 20-year war. A mother takes her school-age son to his father's crudely marked grave. "This is where your father is buried." "Mommy, I want to lie down here with Daddy."

The Directing Award for Drama went to Jeffrey Blitz's Rocket Science, in which a high school boy gets a place on the debating team as a possible remedy for stuttering and other adolescent woes.

The Cinematography for Drama Award went to Benoit Debie for Joshua, George Ratilff's fantasy about a couple who have the world's worst child, a pre-adolescent demon seed who is obsessed with death.

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