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MCN Columnists
Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

On Predicting Sundance Bests

Predicting film festival bests isn’t my game. But I am hopeful for surprises like a couple years back when, toward the end of Sundance, Robert Koehler is urgently telling me to run, don’t think, go directly to an end-of-festival presser for Man On Wire. (Thank you, Bob.) I’d gotten the same pleasure from being at the very first press showing of Once and then gabbling to anyone I hoped would listen. Go! Discover! In the week’s run up to Sundance 2011, I’ve liked posts by programmers and reviewers and filmmakers that aren’t about impressing a 140-character opinion in one sharp tweet of the cheeks. For instance, Toronto’s Cameron Bailey (@cameron_tiff) hits the ground happy: “Sunshine, snow, SUVs, excessive cheer. Hello Park City!” A keen reminder to get out of doors and read those tweets while waiting for the shuttle to get to headquarters for that badge…

This afternoon, Movieline solicited from attendees three films they wouldn’t dream of leaving Sundance without seeing, and sleep-deprived that I am already, fished out three sincere replies. Top of mind is the premiere I’m seeing in six hours about three miles out to the far edge of town at the Temple Theater, Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz‘s The Interrupters. James is a consummate observer and collaborator, and his work with nonfiction ace Kotlowitz holds promise. Its 161-minute running time suggests the Kartemquin crew is going for the same kind of observational, longitudinal work looking at superficially troubled communities, such as Hoop Dreams, to name but one fine film James has made. Braden King‘s earlier work, including Dutch Harbor, builds off rhythmic accretion, a sense of the land, a drenching sonic texture. Why not make a movie like HERE, about a geolocator gone astray in Armenia? (Plus, it’s shot by Lol Crawley, whose credits include Ballast.) Two years ago, one of the co-directors of The Redemption Of General Butt Naked [pictured, top] told me the story at a Sundance event in 2008. My reaction was physical: I leapt up and looked around the room for people to introduce her to, someone who might know someone who could get this amazing story brought to completion. The title is provocative, but the tale, well, if it matches what I heard…

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“The core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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