Docs, Docs, Docs, The Gems of Sundance

written by Spencer Rodriguez

Procrastination = the action of delaying or postponing something, which is something Professors dislike in student academics. But during the chaotic week of what is known as the Sundance Film Festival, it’s no surprise that I found myself unable to stay fixed in one place in order to collect and post my thoughts/experiences/out look on the festival. In the 9 full days at the festival I filled up on free samples, discovered how exhausting sitting down and watching things can be, and had brief encounters with people I’ve only come to be familiar with from a screen. Going into the experience I knew I wanted to see a diverse set of films and strategically picked accordingly; to accomplish this I tried to see as many documentaries as I could. Documentaries try to inform audiences with a factual film that is dramatic; the docs The Wolfpack, Welcome to Leith, and Most Likely to Succeed stand out in doing this.

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Welcome to Leith followed the potential white supremacy uprising in a small North Dakota town. I, unlike most, have found myself in the state of North Dakota and know first hand why no right-minded person would care to live there. The questioning of why a town considers it to be a basic human right to have every large fast food corporation within a leisure 5-minute walk can sum up my experience of North Dakota. Anyway, this film accomplished the irritating nature of docs; I found myself becoming legitimately angry whenever the face or words of Craig Cobb appeared. To see how one intelligently ignorant person can influence the weak minds of those who look as if spelling “supremacy” would seem impossible is very difficult to stomach. Once the multiple violent ways of giving Cobb a taste of his own medicine passed from my consciousness, I was able to see the underlying message to the film. Breeding hate and violence in order to stop hate or violence only perpetuates this blemish of society. The townspeople were admirable for taking the better course of action in dealing with the supremacy that could have ended their town. They looked to the legal ways in going about ridding their town of Cobb and his fellow Skinhead partner. These white supremacists like to portray the image of being well intact and impenetrable but in reality they’re a part of a dying breed. They stand for something that calls for our country to travel 50 years backwards in order to be in line with something very unlikely to happen in the United States.

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Most Likely to Succeed was an unexpected favorite of mine. Discussing the structure of modern day education, this topic is a constantly debated subject in my friendship circle. Having a college degree is the symbol for all the information learned by the collegiate system…WRONG. We go to lectures to acquire the knowledge to pass the test, repeating this in 4 classes for each 8 semesters. How do we know if the curriculum best encompasses the set of things we must known before heading into the workforce? The doc recalls the first formation of the modern day school structure; 10 staple people originally created it in the early history of our country. They concocted core subjects thought to be critical in aiding the future worker of the industrial age. Fast-forward to now, we are no longer in an industrial age but a technological one. What was viewed as important skills for the average worker then has become obsolete in today’s world. Computers and robots have taken over many jobs that were designated for the people undergoing this school structure. So if our working culture has shifted, why has the infrastructure of education that equips said culture not shifted? We need to reevaluate what skills and subjects would best serve the work force of the 21st century. Using the previous one that favored obedience, not critical thinking, is outdated and only contributing to the common unequipped young worker looking to get a job. The doc seeks to show the silliness in today’s education in hopes it can spark a desire for reform.

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The Wolfpack was one of the films I looked forward to the most at Sundance. Attending a liberal arts college, I was familiar with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which is about the philosophy behind not missing what you never had. Short hand, the allegory is about people in a cave who are chained and fixed into a upright position where their only perception/knowledge of the outside world is through the shadows cast on the walls. They have never experienced the outside world and have no knowledge of it’s existence or possibilities, which makes then content with the sad life of only viewing shadows as they pass. So can people (who have full knowledge of the vastness of our world) be sad for these people since they don’t feel as though being chained is missing out? These people will only find their life displeasurable if they break their chains and escape the cave. The documentary The Wolfpack parallels this concept but with the real life story of the Angulo family. They reside in project housing located in the lower east side of New York City. Their father holds a very controlling role in the family, forbidding them to leave their apartment due to the looming encounter of danger in the outside world. At first, the children grow up never questioning or thinking their lifestyle to be weird. They fulfill their childhood fixes by reenacting many of their favorite movies. They create elaborate costumes and reenact movies in their entirety causing them to develop a full fledged love of film. They are engulfed by this desire for film and find it to be a satisfying substitution for the outside world until a brother randomly decides to leave the confines of the apartment. Once the first brother leaves the apartment, he can no longer respect or even look at his father the same; the son resents his father for never allowing the family to fully live life. There is a point in the film where one of the brothers mention how on average the family leaves their apartment 9 times a year; one year they didn’t leave their apartment once. Can you imagine never stepping outside for a whole year? How have these kids escaped the inevitability of becoming stir crazy like most people who have experienced this kind of restraint? Somehow, these kids have managed to stay normal and relatively well adjusted; this is mainly due to their socialization through movies. I couldn’t help but sit there and fall in love with this family and laugh at their awesome reenactments of films like: Reservoir Dogs, The Dark Knight, and Pulp Fiction. These kids show a promising future and it is truly remarkable how they didn’t let the paranoia of their father stop them from aspiring to higher life goals. The Angulo brothers broke out into the real world and longed for more, never looking back to the confinement of their jailhouse. I was very happy to hear this doc won the Grand Jury Prize for best U.S. Documentary; totally deserved.

The Final Days

After becoming acquainted with Sundance, the first couple of days in Park City, sadly the festival has flown by so quickly. I have become increasingly surprised by all of the magnificent films I have been able to view. I would have to say I am becoming addicted to these Sundance movies and will probably go into a deep depression once I return home, especially when I return to boring normal classes.

On Thursday January 29th (Day 8), I began my day watching a Sundance at Midnight film in the afternoon! Turbo Kid was absolutely remarkable, a retro 80’s, action packed, gore-filled, post-apocalyptic, semi-love story, humorous film. I couldn’t get enough of Turbo Kid and I undeniably cannot wait to watch this film again. I’m sure the directors enjoyed making this film just as much as I enjoyed watching it. I was bummed out when the film ended, I certainly hope it comes out soon.

Shortly after Turbo Kid I watched yet another Sundance at Midnight film, at 2:30 in the afternoon. The Hallow  was definitely the scariest film I saw during the whole festival. I was so pleased to see that The Hallow wasn’t your typical, “a couple with a newborn decide to move to a creepy forest just because and end up being haunted by demons etc.” Instead, the doctor has an essential reason to move to this forest, to study a strange fungal disease spreading through the forest. The couple are somewhat stubborn, simply because they don’t believe in “ghost stories,” but they soon learn their lesson to be extra wary. Also the director left the film open for a potential sequel, which is getting me all excited for another scary movie.

On Friday January 30th (Day 9) I started my day with the movie Unexpected. This film was quite a heartwarming story about a teacher and one of her students who both end up getting pregnant at very inconvenient times. The student is conflicted about wanting to go to college, but not wanting to leave her baby behind.

Friday night I saw another Sundance at Midnight film, It Follows.  This movie was very entertaining, but not the scariest of the bunch. It is basically about an STD that involves a demon who constantly chases you, unless you are able to pass it on. For example, someone has sex with you and you catch the STD, you must have sex with someone else to pass on the demon, unless you want to be running for the rest of your life.

Saturday January 31st (Day 10). My second to last film… the Grand Jury Prize winner, Me and Earl and The Dying Girl… was more than incredible, by far the best film at the festival (that I viewed at least). No surprise it won the Audience award and Grand Jury prize. I don’t want to say much, because I think it is a film you certainly must see when the opportunity arises and to experience on your own. I will only say this film successfully captures the “feel,” just as the Sundance booklet says, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, will tickle your funny bone and tug at your heart.

To end my night, I watched The Experimenter. Jake and I arrived slightly late because we were watching the Grand Jury prize film just before. This film was very interesting, because it was about “The Experiment.” If you are not aware of the experiment, you should Google it because there is too much to explain to get my point across. The film does a swell job of showing the results of Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments.

Overall, Sundance Film Festival was probably the most exciting class I have taken yet. This class has made me appreciate movies on another level and I will definitely be attending Sundance sometime in the near future. Thank you Professor McCarthy for offering and teaching this class at St. Mary’s, it has been a wonderful journey.

Midway

I stand by the fact that I did not have ONE dull moment at Sundance during my entire stay so far (Thursday Jan. 29). The festival has been full of surprises since day one and only gets better each passing day. As week B or the second half of the festival arrived the amount of movies I watched each day increased dramatically.

Monday January 26th (Day 5): I viewed my first Midnight film today, The Nightmare, a documentary based horror film about “Sleep Paralysis.” It is said that if someone who suffers from sleep paralysis tells someone else about their experience then the “enchantment” will be passed on. I’d like to think I had some sort of nightmare that night, but ended up waking up with ease. I am very fortunate to not be burdened with this curse.

Tuesday January 27th (Day 6): I watched three films this day. One U.S. Documentary, one NEXT and a midnight film. To start my day off I watched Call Me Lucky, a documentary about Barry Crimmins who became known as a peace activist and a political satirist. Crimmins brought serious matters to “comedy,” I put quotations around comedy because Barry was not exactly the typical comedian you are imagining right now. He would get outrageously pissed during his shows, because all the horrible stories he talks about only made him angrier because of how wrong things were in the 80’s.

My second film of the day was called “H.”.  My expectations were significantly low because of all the buzz the film was getting from the majority of viewers. However, I did not find the film horrible at all, I have to admit the story was a bit strange because so many situations and elements were not fully answered and were left open for us to imagine, which I partially enjoyed. In addition the acting was magnificent.

I ended my day with another midnight film, Reversal.  This film was similar to the stereotypical abduction horror film. Except this time, the tables were turned. An opportunity arises for one of the abducted ladies and she takes advantage of one of her kidnappers. She sets off on a journey to rescue the other abducted girls, instead of getting the cops involved of course, but then what would the point of the film be?

Wednesday January 28th (Day 7) I saw a couple films today. My day started at 8 am.  Advantageous was an interesting and great film to watch. The only down side was it was slow at times and watching the movie so early in the morning after a midnight film the night before caused me to doze off at times. Other than that, the film does a swell job of portraying the importance of appearance for a certain women in the future, if she wants to keep her well paying job, she must take extreme risks to secure the future for her and her daughter.

In the afternoon I watched the movie Dope, my older brother (outside of Sundance) told me Dope sold to Sony for 7 million and has been getting excellent reviews. I was getting excited to see the film, but did not know what to fully expect. I was thoroughly surprised, Dope became my favorite film of the whole festival. Acting, music, story, everything about the film was excellent and inspirational. Highly recommend watching this film ASAP.

I ended my Wednesday night with a midnight film, Hellions, I was not entirely satisfied with this film. The plot had potential but it was taken to a strange and uncomfortable level.  There were an overwhelming amount of demon children and it took place during Halloween, but the plot certainly became confusing. However, the sets were splendid and I greatly enjoyed watching them progress throughout the movie. There has been so much to do, I wouldn’t be surprised if I sleep for a week straight when I get back home for break.

The Sundance Experience By: Kristina Slavich

Looking back at the festival, it’s sort of crazy to think that I saw so many films in such a short amount of time. But I am so glad that I was able to have this experience. There were so many films that I really enjoyed watching and truly was amazed by the acting and cinematography. It was one of the coolest experiences and I am so glad I was able to take this class.

One of the films that I had really wanted to see throughout the festival was Me, Earl, And the Dying Girl. I had heard such great things about the film and was anxious to see if I could try and get a ticket. After a few failed waitlist attempts, I was really excited to learn that the film won in the US Dramatic competition and would therefore be screening on Saturday night. Megan, Devin, and I arrived early, excited that this was the film that had won. Not to my surprise, Me, Earl, And the Dying Girl was nothing short of incredible. The movie was about a high school boy who by the request of his mom, befriends a fellow classmate with leukemia. A friendship between the two quickly develops and they become inseparable. The touching story looks at a high schooler’s perspective on life and the meaning of friendship. The cast was great and the film itself was quite funny at times but also really moving. In addition, the storyline was executed flawlessly with the audience laughing at every joke and crying at the pivotal moments. It was the last film that I saw at the festival and was definitely my favorite as well. I feel so grateful that I was able to attend the festival and definitely want to try and go back sometime in the future.photo 1 photo 2

Now That Its Over by Jake Derian

To loosely Quote Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (and Dickens), “Sundance was the best of times and the worst of times.” This statement is only half true though, because I don’t think there was any point in of my time at Sundance that could be put under the category of “the worst of times.”10965659_10152829736986704_1749710428_n

The past ten days at Sundance has been nothing short of phenomenal. I have done soo much, I’m surprised that I was able to  fit everything into only ten days. I saw 28 movies, went to multiple Sundance events, met some famous people, ate at restaurants around Park City, and was also able to just chill in the condo.

Retrospectively, some of my favorite movies were The Witch, Don Verdean, The Strongest Man, Bob and the Trees, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Stanford Prison Experiment, The End of the Tour, The Hallow, People Places Things, It Follows, and The Experimenter.

Also some of my favorite experiences were going to the Diary of a Teenage Girl after party, going to the hot tub late at night when it was like 15 degrees out, walking around main street, and obviously seeing all the movies. The after party was really fun because I got to meet a bunch of different people who worked in the industry and got to see the stars of the movie.

Despite having so much fun, Sundance has also been a great learning experience. I believe that at the very least my small talking skills have increased exponentially. I also see movies much more critically. Before this class started, reviewing films was a much harder task than it is now. I can now easily and objectively pinpoint the parts of a film that I like or dislike and explain why.

It is sad to think that Sundance is truly over. Looking back, it was more than just watching movies and meeting people, Sundance 2015 was not an experience that could be described by things I did and things that I liked, but that could only be accurately described by being there and experiencing it.  That being said, I am already planning on returning in the coming years to experience the next Sundances.

Note to Self- James Franco is NOT the Goal By: Grace Osborne

unnamed-2The night before I headed off to Sundance, my friends/suitemates made it very clear that I had to meet James Franco and take a photo with him at all costs… or I wouldn’t be let back into our suite (a joke, I hope).  They even took the liberty to put his name all over sticky notes on my door [see left] to remind me that I was destined to meet him and absolutely had to find a way to be in his presence.  In all fairness, I was the one to tell them that meeting James Franco was my ultimate goal at Sundance, and I just had this feeling that he would spot me in a crowd and would want to buy me dinner.  Looking back, I laugh at my naiveté.  First off, James Franco is 36 and I am 19 (a 17 year age difference… try bringing him home to meet mom & dad).  Second, those lights on stage are blinding… how would he even see me all the way in the 27th row?!  And third, when and why did Opening-Credits-James-Franco-freaks-and-geeks-17545180-800-600James Franco suddenly become my goal for achieving ultimate Sundance happiness?

If you ever make someone or something the determining factor for a trip such as Sundance, it is inevitable that you are going to overlook all the other amazing encounters and only focus on the one that didn’t happen.  I have been lucky to come across several actors, directors, and screenwriters that I have been inspired by during my time at Sundance.  Jacqueline Kim (Advantageous), Avan Jogia (Ten Thousand Saints), Tobey Maguire, Ken Jeung (Advantageous), David Arquette, Emory Cohen (Brooklyn), and RJ Mitte had unnamed-4been some of the actors I came across while walking up Main Street or after having watched their film.  I agree, one should not be celebrity-hungry and only go to places to find celebrities in order to take a photo with them.  It is a human reaction to want to do this, to want to make other people jealous on social media that you were the one lucky enough to be in the presence of a well-known celebrity.  However, I view meeting celebrities as a special occurrence where you can see someone that has been put up on a pedestal by society and relate to them as normal human beings.  It is even more special when they are people that you appreciate and look up to, such as when I met Kris Swanberg, director of the Sundance film Unexpected.

Kris received many unnamed-5compliments during the Q&A about her film and you could tell she was truly a genuine person that was humbled by such praise.  After the Q&A, I told Kris off-stage that I had really enjoyed her film and was wondering if she, as a young female director, had any words of advice for me as I am an aspiring filmmaker.  “You are nineteen?  Wow.  Well, I guess I would say to just start now.  Make something that is true and honest to yourself.”  Her words of advice resembled what my professor, Virginia had told me when we sat and talked on a bench on Main Street as well as what Patrick Gilfillan (screenwriter of Lila & Eve) told me as we both walked to the bus stop after Mass on Sunday.  If 3 different people tell me the same thing, then I should treasure that piece of advice and follow through with it.  Thank you Kris, Virginia, and Patrick.

15522-1-1100Now, back to Franco.  I had received word that he was still at Sundance during the second week while many people had left to go back home to warm, sunny Hollywood.  I was thrilled to hear this, because I just so happened to have a ticket to I Am Michael, a film James Franco starred in.  I was also convinced he was going to arrive at the screening for the Q&A, like most of the actors had done for their newly-premiered films.  The film was at 9:30AM, so you know I was at the bus stop by 7:45.  I am kind of embarrassed at how early I got up, too… but let’s not talk about it.  So I got second row seats, perfect to jump up after the Q&A and wave Franco down for a picture.  Even the random tumblr_lwb5tpYbVS1qbrk2to1_500strangers in front of me knew I wanted to meet him, so they suggested that they would help me get his attention and would take the photo for me.  Let’s also not talk about that.  Anyway, I couldn’t truly enjoy the last 5 minutes of his film because I was nervous and anxious at the following events that would occur once Franco would walk on stage.  This was it, this was why I got up at (insert ridiculously early time) to get ready. Today was the day I was going to meet James Franco!

*Insert turntable scratching noise*

Yeah, he didn’t show up.

Okay, so to say I was bummed would be an understatement.  I could have slept in, I could have just sat in the 27th row, and most importantly, I could have gotten a picture with James Franco.  I felt defeated, as if my efforts to meet one of my favorite actors were not good enough james-franco-as-alienand therefore led me to be sitting in the second row by myself, listening to only the director at the Q&A, with the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” playing in my head.  It took me a couple of days to shake off the disappointment and to focus on the people that I did meet while at Sundance, many who may have been more inspiring and exciting to talk to than simply saying “Hi” and “Bye” to James Franco.  Sure, meeting James Franco would have been such a memorable moment for me, and getting a picture with him would have been awesome… but that’s life.  At the end of the day, even though James Franco didn’t show up to his movie, I did.  I stood in line, I watched his film, I stayed for the Q&A, and that’s what matters more.  My time at Sundance cannot be measured by how many celebrities I saw or how many films I watched, but rather how I grew as a person and how my passion for film matured.  In just 10 days, I went from wanting to see every movie and meet every celebrity to embracing the random moments of spontaneity that came from simply crossing paths with some amazing filmmakers and writers.

My experience of Sundance transcends any meeting of celebrities or viewing of films; it has truly been a whirlwind of emotion mixed with exciting encounters and profound memories that I will take with me wherever I may go.  The people I met both on the street and in the classroom have also impacted my time at Sundance, and for that I am grateful.  Maybe one day I will randomly meet James Franco in the true-Sundance fashion, with no planning or preparation but instead by circumstance.  And that is when I will tell James Franco that although I appreciate his work and look forward to his future projects, I may not be able to ever forgive him for making me go through all that trouble to wake up at 5:50AM on that cold, Thursday morning at Sundance 2015 🙂

Note to Self- James Franco is NOT the Goal.

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Waking up at 8:30 in the morning on Friday was rough. After having multiple days of staying up late and waking up early I was finally completely exhausted. I struggled to get out of bed and stumble to the MARC’s theater. But somehow I arrived on time to see my final movie People, Places, Things. It was a cute little film staring Jemaine Clement. Since I arrived on time I was able to throw in a quick nap in my seat before the movie started. Thank goodness I did because I was able to awake enough for the movie. I enjoyed People, Places, Things for how different it was from all the rest of the films I had seen. It was a lot less dark and raunchy then the movies I had seen before. It was more of just a feel good movie. I thought it was a great change of pace. I would love to watch the movie again when I am not fighting back sleep to see how much more I like it. After the movie I went home and took a three hour nap knowing that I still had a long day ahead of me. I was lucky enough for Zane to ask me to join him at the award ceremony and party since he was able to obtain extra tickets from his moms childhood friend David. I knew that this event was somewhat exclusive and felt very lucky to be able to attend. But I didn’t realize how special it was until we first got there and the people taking tickets were surprised that we had them. They questioned where we got them and what we were doing there. After they were done questioning they just exclaimed that we were some “lucky ducks”. Once we got in I just tried to enjoy myself and not be intimidated by the people who surrounded me (except Edgar Wright my favorite director who I was very Intimated by). Overall it was an amazing experience, I was able to meet some great, creative, and kind people. I have already began talks of returning next year.