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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

A Peek at the Sundance US and World Dramatic Competition Slates

It’s beginning to look a lot like Sundance … well, maybe not quite yet, let’s get through Christmas first before we start packing for Park City. But Sundance has announced its competition entries for 2011, and there are some things that immediately caught my eye:

US Dramatic Competition

The American dramatic competition films offer up an interesting mix of films that look (on the surface at least) to fit the mold of the “Sundance film” and some more diverse storyline options, with both new and familiar names. Inevitably, no matter which films I pick from the narrative feature competitions, I end up missing something that pops at the fest as really great, and then scrambling to find a late screening so I can catch it before the fest ends. But you have to narrow down your screening list one way or another, so here are some films from this slate that look promising:

William Mapother, who was so excellent as the bad guy in In the Bedroom way back in 2001, is in U.S. Dramatic Competition entry Another Earth, which is about a duplicate Earth, a horrible tragedy and a love affair. Mapother’s presence makes this one infinitely more interesting.

Vera Farmiga makes her directorial debut with Higher Ground, about a woman’s struggle with her faith. Farmiga also stars in the film, and cast also includes John Hawkes (who played Teardrop in Winter’s Bone) and Josh Leonard (Humpday). Hawkes’ presence alone would put this one on my want-to-see list.

Little Birds, about two teenage girls who run away to Los Angeles and get into trouble, caught my attention because it stars Juno Temple, who was fantastic as Dani in Dirty Girl (she’s also set to star in the long-awaited teen-lesbian-werewolf film Jack and Diane, which according to IMDb is actually filming at long last, but I won’t believe that until I see it). This one also stars Kate Bosworth, who I think has been a bit underrated; she strikes me as an actress who could actually go “serious” ala Charlize Theron if she could get the right roles. Maybe this is one of them.

Another film with John Hawkes (what, is he aiming to be this Sundance’s Zooey Deschanel?), Martha Marcy May Marlene (say that four times fast) is about a woman trying to re-assimilate with her family after leaving a cult. See above for the John Hawkes Factor being enough to make this one worth catching.

Azazel Jacobs, who wrote and directed the excellent Momma’s Man, which played Sundance in 2008, is back in 2011 with Terri, a comedy about a teenage boy in a small town and the high school VP who takes him under his wing. Stars John C. Reilly, which would make me want to see it even if I wasn’t already intrigued to see what kind of film Jacobs made after the moody, darkly funny Momma’s Man.

Lastly for this section, I’m curious about the film listed as Untitled Sam Levinson Project on the Sundance schedule and The Reasonable Bunch on IMDb. Whatever its real title is, it’s a comedy about a chaotic family wedding. That alone doesn’t make it particularly interesting — chaotic weddings/funerals/holidays are pretty overdone — but the cast does: Demi Moore, Kate Bosworth (that’s two for her, she’s keeping pace with Hawkes), Ellen Barkin, Ellen Burstyn, and Thomas Haden Church.

World Cinema Dramatic Competition

The World Cinema Dramatic Competition slate tends to be one of my favorite categories at Sundance … one of these years, I might just front-load my schedule with every single film in this competition and work everything else around them, because I always seem to miss one or two films that I’m kicking myself later for not seeing. This year, these are some of the films that I’d like to find room for on my sched:

Abraxas (Japan) is about a depressed Zen Buddhist monk with a “heavy metal past” who latches onto music as a means of reviving his spirit. Okay, okay … they had me at “monk” and “heavy metal.”

It’s been a while since I saw a Columbian film, but All Your Dead Ones (Todos Tus Muertos) looks like a good possibility. It’s about a peasant who finds a pile of dead bodies in his crops, and then finds the authorities want nothing to do with them. Dark comedy? Drama? Thriller? Not sure, but I want to check it out.

Heading over to Algeria, we have A Few Days of Respite (Quelque Jours de Repit), about a couple of gay men from Iran who find safe harbor in a village in France. Not familiar with the cast, but the director won a couple of awards for his 2008 film, The Yellow House.

Apart from the presence of Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson on the cast list, the Sundance description of The Guard (Ireland) got me to read it three times:

A small-town cop in Ireland has a confrontational personality, a subversive sense of humor, a fondness for prostitutes and absolutely no interest whatsoever in the international drug-smuggling ring that has brought a straight-laced FBI agent to his door.

Both Cheadle and Gleeson are proven performers, and I’m hoping they chose well when they signed onto this project.

Kinyarwanda (Rwanda) is about Rwandans during the 1994 genocide who made refuges of mosques without regard for tribe or religion. I realize that some folks are about as tired of “genocide in Africa” films as I am of anything to do with the war in Iraq/Afghanistan, but I have not yet hit my saturation point for this topic.

You gotta love the Australians, especially when the entry from Down Under in the world competition category is titled Mad Bastards, is about an “urban street warrior” facing off with a local cop, and features the Pigram Brothers, a country/folk rock Aussie band. If you’ve never heard them, take the time to check them out before Sundance. I’m curious to see how well their music is used in this film.

From Israel we have a film I’m really interested in seeing,
Restoration (Boker Tov Adon Fidelman). This one’s about an antique furniture restorer, his mysterious apprentice, and the estranged son who’s trying to shut his father’s business down. An unhappy family film that appears not to involve either a holiday or a road trip? Worth catching to me.

Lastly, I definitely want to make room on my schedule for UK entry
Tyrannosaur, just because it stars Eddie Marsan, who was a riot as the uptight, nutty driving instructor in Happy-Go-Lucky. That’s pretty much all I need to make it worth seeing.

I said lastly, but then the final film on the world cinema list caught my eye: Vampire, which stars Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider). The description on this one says it’s about a seemingly nice guy who teaches and cares for his ailing mother, who trolls message boards seeking “the perfect girl who will ensure his own survival.” A movie presumably about a vampire, but it’s showing in world cinema, not midnight? Interesting. Okay, I’ll bite (sorry, sorry).

One Response to “A Peek at the Sundance US and World Dramatic Competition Slates”

  1. That’s good idea…

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Dear Irene Cho, I will miss your energy and passion; your optimism and joy; your kindness towards friends, colleagues, strangers, struggling filmmakers, or anyone who randomly crossed your path and needed a hand. My brothers and I have long considered you another sibling in our family. Our holiday photos – both western and eastern – have you among all the cousins, in-laws, and kids… in the snow, sun, opening presents, at large dinner gatherings, playing Monopoly, breaking out pomegranate seeds and teaching us all how to dance Gangnam style. Your friendship and loyalty meant a great deal to me: you were the loudest cheerleader when I experienced victories and you were always ready with sushi when I had disappointments. You had endless crazy ideas which always seemed impossible but you would will them into existence. (Like that time you called me and suggested that we host a brunch for newly elected mayor of LA, Eric Garcetti because “he is going to president one day.” We didn’t have enough time or funding, of course, only your desire to do it. So you did, and I followed.) You created The Daily Buzz from nothing and it survived on your steam in spite of many setbacks because you believed in a platform for emerging filmmakers from all nations. Most of all, you were a wonderful mother to your son, Ethan, a devoted wife to your husband, and a wonderful sibling and daughter to your family. We will all miss how your wonderful smile and energy lit up the room and our lives. Rest in peace, Irene.
~ Rose Kuo Remembers Irene Cho on Facebook

“You know, I was never a critic. I never considered myself as a film critic. I started doing short films, writing screenplays and then for awhile, for a few years I wrote some film theory, including some film criticism because I had to, but I was never… I never had the desire to be a film critic. I never envisioned myself as a film critic, but I did that at a period of my life when I thought I kind of needed to understand things about cinema, understand things about film theory, understand the world map of cinema, and writing about movies gave me that, and also the opportunity to meet filmmakers I admired.

“To me, it was the best possible film school. The way it changed my perspective I suppose is that I believe in this connection between theory and practice. I think that you also make movies with ideas and you need to have ideas about filmmaking to achieve whatever you’re trying to achieve through your movies, but then I started making features in 1986 — a while ago — and I left all that behind.

“For the last three decades I’ve been making movies, I’ve been living, I’ve been observing the world. You become a different person, so basically my perspective on the world in general is very different and I hope that with every movie I make a step forward. I kind of hope I’m a better person, and hopefully a better filmmaker and hopefully try to… It’s very hard for me to go back to a different time when I would have different values in my relationship to filmmaking. I had a stiffer notion of cinema.”
~ Olivier Assayas