Live from Sundance 2010: Day 2

January 23, 2010

The best performance I saw all day Friday at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival?


That would have to be the Park City shuttle bus driver who, in the midst of a heavy snowstorm and heavier 4:30 p.m. traffic, went from a bus stop at the curb across two lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic to make a left turn at a stoplight less than a block away. Now THAT deserved a standing ovation.


It’s not surprising that it snows in Park City during Sundance. After all, it’s the mountains, it’s a ski area, it’s winter.


But braving the elements on Friday at Sundance – an unrelenting downfall of snow that seemed to never want to stop – was a little like combining a film festival with the Iditarod. You could get from one end of the day to the other if you persevered, but not without getting a solid blast of winter weather and, probably, a set of wet feet (thanks to the treacherous slush puddles that seemed to lurk innocuously at many curbsides).


Still, if you chose your films wisely, the struggle was worth the effort. My day began early and, before the day was out, encompassed five fascinating films and an interview. I’ll have more about the interview – with actress-director Katie Aselton of “The Freebie” – tomorrow.


One of the most unique films is the one I’ll say the least about right now: Adrian Grenier’s “Teenage Paparazzo,” a documentary in which the “Entourage” star (who directed the extremely moving personal doc, “Shot in the Dark,” in 2002) explores the world of modern paparazzi through the experiences of a 14-year-old pap he met and befriended. I’m talking to Grenier on Sunday, the same day I’m seeing “Smash His Camera,” a documentary about another legendary sidewalk celeb snapper, Ron Galella. I’ll say more about both films after that.


It was actually a day of film highlights, led by the most surprising film of the festival for me, “Catfish.” Here’s the beauty of a festival like this: You can walk into a movie knowing virtually nothing about it – and come away with a startling and unexpected experience like “Catfish” that you just want to rave about.


A documentary by directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, this film charts an Internet relationship that Schulman’s brother, Yaniv, found himself drawn into, which the filmmakers began documenting with an array of video cameras, mostly of the low-rez variety. I won’t say much about the plot, other than it is a film whose emotional journey is wholly unexpected and which takes the viewer on a ride he can never anticipate. Visually, it’s as low-tech as a movie can be – but these filmmakers prove that, with the right story, the images are in service to something much, much larger.


I also found myself enraptured with Aaron Schneider’s “Get Low,” a backwoods tale set in a small, Depression-area town in the Midwest. It’s one of those movies whose humor sneaks up on you, thanks to finely etched performances by Robert Duvall (the wiliest actor around), Bill Murray (like a cinematic Rumpelstiltskin, spinning ordinary lines into comic gold), Sissy Spacek and Bill Cobb. The story of a hermit who decides to hold his own funeral party before he dies, it’s a film that manages to be both sly and soulful, without a bit of wasted motion.


I caught only the first hour of “Nowhere Boy” (which I left in order to see “Get Low”) and enjoyed this story of John Lennon as a teen, though it seemed a tad standard. Nothing, however, could prepare me for the tension that the Australian crime film, “Animal Kingdom,” generated in its low-key way. In its story of a teen who goes to live with his late mother’s family – a gang of armed robbers being sought by the police – director David Michod quietly builds an intensity with restraint and moments of unexpectedly brutal violence. Its family dynamics reminded me of James Foley’s little-remembered, tough-hearted 1986 gem, “At Close Range.”


Friday ended with me unearthing my car from a snowdrift. Hopefully my shoes will dry out before I venture forth on Saturday. More to come.



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