With more than 100 films set to screen at the Sundance Film Festival this year, festival-goers and watchers from afar can use all the help they can get in figuring out what’s headed their way. One highly useful tool is the series of interviews the website indieWIRE is rolling out in which directors whose films…
Interesting celebrity-sibling fact: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s younger sister, Elizabeth Olsen, is starring in not one but two films premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this month. In writer/director Sean Durkin’s MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, the 21-year-old actress (a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts and the Atlantic Theater Company Acting School in…
Those of you who haven’t had a bite of McDonald’s food – a sip of shake, a single fry, a morsel of McRib – since Morgan Spurlock’s SUPER SIZE ME permanently altered your perspective will be interested to learn that the filmmaker/provocateur is returning to the Sundance Film Festival this year with THE GREATEST MOVIE…
Dee Rees, Director or PARIAH You might think a young filmmaker talented enough to have her first feature film selected to make its worldwide debut at the Sundance Film Festival would have it made in the shade. But, for Dee Rees, whose PARIAH, a coming-of-age story about a Brooklyn teenager juggling disparate identities in a…
Among the intriguing films in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January is Goran Hugo Olsson’s powerful-looking THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975. The film combines audio interviews with contemporary figures with 16mm archival footage documenting the Black Power movement in America, shot by Swedish journalists between 1967 and 1975 and…
Ed Helms as a lovable loser, John C. Reilly as a lovable buffoon, Anne Heche as a lovable redhead, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as the lovable guy who gets the best lines. What’s not to look forward to in Miguel Arteta’s comedy about an insurance salesman (Helms) who learns about life beyond his small-town existence…
The recently released trailer for Kevin Smith’s new film, RED STATE, which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival next month, does more to evoke a mood than to reveal the plot. But it does make one thing perfectly clear: The film is a definite departure for the writer-director who made his reputation bringing to the screen slacker comedies like CLERKS and MALLRATS.
The efforts of Newark Mayor Cory Booker to clean up his city feature prominently in the Peabody-Award-winning Docu-Series BRICK CITY, the second season of which will premiere on Sundance Channel on January 30. Those efforts are also capturing major attention this week, thanks to Booker’s use of Twitter to come to the aid of Newark citizens trapped in the aftermath of the blizzard that brought the Northeast to a standstill.
Now here’s a trend we can get behind: Mainstream movie audiences are increasingly turning their backs on cleverly marketed but shoddily made movies in favor of higher quality films.
Citing disappointing box-office results from middle-brow movies on which the big studios had pinned blockbuster hopes – remakes like THE WOLFMAN and THE A-TEAM, star vehicles like KILLERS with Ashton Kutcher and THE TOURIST with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, and sequels like SEX AND THE CITY 2 – and the surprising success of more complicated pictures like INCEPTION and THE SOCIAL NETWORK – the New York Times’ Brooks Barnes asserts that “studios are finally and fully conceding that moviegoers, armed with Facebook and other networking tools and concerned about escalating ticket prices, are holding them to higher standards. The product has to be good.”
The shooting crew of Crude in the Ecuadorean Amazon with director Joe Berlinger (R).
Oral arguments begin today in the appeal of the Joe Berlinger/Chevron case, in which the oil behemoth is suing the filmmaker for all 600 hours of footage shot for his 2009 documentary CRUDE, about the company’s legal battle with a group of Ecuadorians who accuse it of contaminating their land and water. On the eve of the big hearing, in which Berlinger is seeking to have overturned an order that he hand over the footage, two more prominent entities stepped forward to express their support for the filmmaker, further proving that the David in this David-and-Goliath legal struggle represents the interests and sympathies of many and is not exactly fighting the giant alone.
Joe’s film CRUDE had its TV premiere on Sundance Channel and Joe continues to produce and direct the Sundance Channel Original Series ICONOCLASTS with his filmmaking partner Bruce Sinofsky.
More organizations have come forward to voice their support for documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger. The director was ordered by a judge earlier this month turn over 600-plus hours of footage shot for his film CRUDE to the oil giant Chevron, which hopes to use the footage to defend itself from the litigation efforts chronicled in the film. Berlinger’s lawyers have argued that the filmmaker’s material should be protected under journalistic privilege and that, by turning over the footage, he would be violating an understanding of confidentiality with his subjects.
Last week, as Berlinger sought to appeal the court’s decision, the Writers Guild of America, East, threw its support behind the director, just as the Independent Documentary Association and 20 Oscar-winning directors had done before it. “To accede to such a demand is tantamount to a reporter being told to turn over all of his or her notes and to violate confidentiality agreements with sources,” the Writers Guild wrote in an open letter. “As with the members of the IDA, our WGAE members working in the documentary field ‘hold ourselves to the highest of journalistic standards in the writing, producing, and editing of our films.’ Those standards include the protection of our outtakes, script drafts, research and sources.”
CRUDE director Joe Berlinger.
Earlier this month, when a judge ruled that documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger was to turn over all 600-plus hours of footage he shot for his film CRUDE to the oil giant Chevron, which is seeking the footage to help the company defend itself from the litigation efforts depicted in the film, several of Berlinger’s fellow directors immediately expressed dismay at the decision and support for their colleague.
“It makes me shudder to think that all that stuff would be turned over,” documentarian Ric Burns (who produced THE CIVIL WAR (1990) with his brother Ken Burns) told the New York Times, “not because of any secrets that are revealed, but because of the killer blow to the trust a filmmaker cultivated, deeply, over a very long period of time.”
Burns contended that the ruling, if upheld, could have long-term effects. “Next time, there won’t be a CRUDE. There won’t be a film,” he said. “That’ll be good for Chevron, I guess. Because the next time you go, you’re going to have a much leerier group of informants.”
Michael Moore (of FAHRENHEIT 9/11 and BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE) agreed. “The chilling effect of this is, someone like me, if something like this is upheld, the next whistle blower at the next corporation is going to think twice about showing me some documents if that information has to be turned over to the corporation that they’re working for,” Moore told the New York Times, suggesting that Berlinger resist turning over the footage “if he can.” He added, “I think that he’ll find that he’ll have the support of hundreds of filmmakers who will back him in this.”
While Moore has occasionally been accused of exaggerating for effect, in this case, his prediction proved to be spot-on.
As the world struggles to absorb the devastating implications of the oil spill currently glugging untold barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, while the companies involved point fingers at each other and decline to fully admit their mistakes, another oil-related drama has been playing out in a federal court in New York.
Chevron, the oil giant at the center of Joe Berlinger’s documentary CRUDE, which opened at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009, has petitioned the court to allow it to subpoena more than 600 hours of footage shot for his film. The film tells the story of a group of Ecuadoreans who are suing the oil company, contending that it poisoned their people by dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste into their rivers and onto their land in what has become known as “Amazon Chernobyl.”
Chevron is seeking a dismissal of the suit, which has dragged on for years, and believes that the footage may help its case. But Berlinger’s attorneys have argued that the director should be offered the same privileges that all investigative journalists receive, allowing them to protect confidential sources and information. They insist that forcing him to turn over the footage would violate his rights under the First Amendment and constitute a breech of the confidentiality agreements he’d established with the people who appear in the film.
A little more than a week ago, the ruling came back.
WINTER’S BONE, Grand Jury Prize Winner at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival
Now that Sundance is over, it’s time for a little perspective. And critics and industry watchers are only too happy to provide it.
Sure, since the awards were handed out on Saturday night and the festival wrapped on Sunday, there have been the requisite stories about which movies to watch out for and the reports on last-minute acquisitions. (Ten movies were acquired at the festival; in the past few days, Weinstein Co. snagged Derek Cianfrance’s BLUE VALENTINE, starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling; IFC Films scored the rights to Michael Winterbottom’s THE KILLER INSIDE ME; and Roadside scooped up Debra Granik’s WINTER’S BONE, which won the festival’s grand jury prize.)
But what lessons can we take away from Sundance 2010?
SMASH HIS CAMERS, directed by Leon Gast, Oscar-winning director of WHEN WE WERE KINGS
I suppose it’s a mark of where celebrity journalism and gossip are today that paparazzo Ron Galella is finally getting the star treatment.
For decades, Galella lurked in bushes and staked out buildings, hunkered down in taxis and emerged seemingly out of nowhere to get his shot of celebrities like Sinatra and Warhol, Sophia and Bianca, Michael Jackson, Elvis, and Sundance founder Robert Redford himself. Jackie O, whom he considered his “Mona Lisa,” took out a restraining order against him. Brando broke his jaw. Now, Leon Gast, the Oscar-winning director of WHEN WE WERE KINGS, has focused his own cameras on the infamous lensman in his new documentary, SMASH HIS CAMERA, currently showing at the Sundance Film Festival.
Until Thursday, Sundance Film Festival watchers from afar could have been forgiven for concluding that the increased emphasis on art, rather than on commerce, in the festival offerings this year may have worked all too well. Many of the films making their debuts were wowing critics, but the money people appeared to be unimpressed, or at least not impressed enough to open their wallets. Or at least opening them too often.
In his review of 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION, a documentary about the Mormon Church’s campaign to pass Prop. 8, the ballot initiative outlawing gay marriage in California, Variety’s Peter Debruge writes that the film is “mostly preaching to the converted.”
“Although controversy could spur interest, the pic hasn’t been as incendiary as one might expect playing just north of LDS HQ at the Sundance Film Festival,” Debruge asserts.
He may have spoken too soon.
What are the top trends emerging from the Sundance Film Festival this year? That really depends on whom you ask.
Los Angeles Times Film critic Betsy Sharkey thinks it’s punk saviors. “If there is a collective vision emerging out of the films in the Sundance dramatic competition it is this: The punks will save you,” she writes, citing WELCOME TO THE RILEYS, the debut film of director Jake Scott (son of Ridley); actor Mark Ruffalo’s directing debut SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS, in which he also stars; and Spencer Susser’s HESHER.
Sundance Film Festival attendees who are looking to unglue their eyes from screens and emerge from darkened movie theaters now and again just got a little added incentive. The Festival has announced a series of panels, roundtables and special events examining the powerfully transformative role of art and culture in society
Seems like James Franco has been all over the place in the last few days, talking about, among other things, HOWL, the new film by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman in which the actor stars as Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Here he is discussing his love of poetry with Vanity Fair. There he is explaining his love of soap operas to New York magazine. Here he is defending his tendency to play roles based on himself on screen in Movieline. And there he is getting rapped for his shabby grad-school duds by old-school gossipist Cindy Adams: “His black coat was littered with light brown hair,” she sniffed in her New York Post column on Wednesday.
Talk about pressure. Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper may have the entire independent film industry riding on him. So says New York Times writer Brooks Barnes, positing on Thursday, hours before the Festival kicked off, that “this might very well be the most important Sundance in years.”
Still from ODDSAC.
Music is surely a strong theme at this year’s Sundance Film Festival: In Sam Taylor Wood’s NOWHERE BOY, a teenage, pre-Beatles John Lennon finds an escape from his dysfunctional family through music (watch a clip here). The band Animal Collective will debut the film it has spent years collaborating on with Danny Perez, ODDSAC, a psychedelic mix of abstract music and visuals. TWILIGHT’s Kristen Stewart stars as rocker Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning plays Jett’s bandmate Cherie Currie in Floria Sigismondi’s rock-and-roll biopic THE RUNAWAYS. And that’s just for example.
One of the issues the Sundance Film Festival has set out to explore this year is the role of the arts today — how filmmaking and other art forms can not just stay relevant, but can actually be an agent for positive change in a world that surely needs all the help it can get. It’s hard to think of a better example of the transformative power of art than the efforts of the students at Cine Institute, Haiti’s only film school, located in the country’s cultural capital, a seaside city called Jacmel.
Those of us feeling sad about being stuck at home during the Sundance Film Festival yet again this year will be relieved to hear that our distance from Park City is a diminishing disadvantage. Today’s news? Audiences across the United States can view three Sundance feature films on their very own computers even before they screen for Festival audiences, thanks to a deal Sundance has forged with YouTube.