New American Realism?


While many acquisition execs, journalists, and film goers were often confused by what to make of the tangled mess of films at this year’s Sundance Festival, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis seems to have already named this year as a movement. In “New American Realism Emerges Amid Grousing and Hummers [],” Dargis identifies a certain perspective that permeates the better films this year:

One theme of that discussion will be the emergence of a new American realism. Although my favorite fiction films at Sundance were different in theme and tone, they were united by stylistic commonalities, a feel for the still moment — and, importantly, for beauty — a grounded sense of place and some obvious influences, including the Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. What was missing from even the most intimate of these works was the solipsism that characterizes one Sundance mainstay, the kind with anguished young men who yearn to break free of their families and towns so they can run away to film school (or a Sundance Institute lab) and turn their suffering into entertainment.

Dargis points to three films that define this tendency: Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s SUGAR [], Azazel Jacobs’s MOMMA’S MAN [], and Lance Hammer’s BALLAST []. SUGAR, which was directed by same team that created HALF NELSON, follows the career arc of baseball player from the Dominican Republic. MOMMA’S MAN, created by the son of celebrated experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs [], is focus drama of man whose life starts to untangle during a visit with his parents. And Ballast dramatizes the bitter weight of life for a family in the Mississippi Delta. What links all these films for Dargis is an embrace of the world as it is: “Much like “Sugar” (in the dramatic competition), both “Ballast” (also in competition) and “Momma’s Man” (playing in a section called Spectrum) make artful use of the real world.”


Peter Bowen