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.

welcome-to-leith

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.

most-likely-to-succeed

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.

the-wolfpack

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.

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THE BRONZE is Golden!

by Virginia Saenz McCarthy

After a long travel day from Oakland, CA to Park City, UT, my fabulous 18 Saint Mary’s College students and I finally settled into our condos eagerly anticipating our first full day at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.  I managed to get to bed at 2:30am and awoke at 7:30am.  I knew a few of my students had scored wait list numbers – tickets not guaranteed – to the 9:00AM screening of THE BRONZE.  At 8:25am – without a wait list number – I impulsively decided to head to the Eccles Theater to see if I could get into the film.

Time is of the essence at Sundance, and the obstacles I had to face trying to make it to the Eccles in time to even have a chance of getting to the wait list line were slim to none.  Long wait for the shuttle bus. Tick Tock.  Once on the bus, decided to try a “hail mary” short cut maneuver, so jumped off the bus at Sundance headquarters – halfway to Eccles, but a long ride on the bus – and headed off on foot. Tick Tock Tick Tock.  Having attended the festival for 21 years now – bringing students for 18 years – I knew a short cut that involved crossing a parking lot (Tick), walking around the side of a commercial business building over a frozen, slippery pathway worn by sneaks like me (Tock), and then skittering through a small break in a residential wooden fence that surrounds an apartment complex (Tick).  Through the fence, still had to traverse a slick, frozen over pathway along the fence line (Tock), then up a freshly created footpath in the snow over a small hill to get to a sidewalk (Tick), then a parking lot and driveway (Tock), then to the pedestrian light in front of the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Seminary (Tick), then to Park City high school where the Eccles is located.  Tick Tock. Tick Tock.  Finally, the light changed after what felt like 2 minutes and I crossed the street, and hustled across yards and yards of concrete to finally get to the coveted wait list chamber door.  I stepped inside the dark, cavernous  holding area and was immediately greeted by a Sundance volunteer who told me that they would no longer be letting anyone into the theater.  However, across the room, I could see that there were 4 people in the line where 3 other volunteers were standing, so I asked if he would mind if I went over and joined them in case a seat came available.  He said:  “Sure, go ahead.”  Off I sped, and just as I reached them, the young woman in charge said: “We have 5 seats available.”  Yes!!!!  I was the 5th of the last 5 people who made it into the screening!!!!  My first Sundance miracle!!

Within the first moments of the THE BRONZE, I realized that what I had thought would be a dramatic film was in fact a side-splitting, comedy shocker.  Tonally, think DODGE BALL meets GROUNDHOG DAY meets a teaspoon of NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE and a dash of TEETH.  This is a squirm in your seat, crack a rib laughing, “I can’t believe she said “THAT”! comedypallooza.  Hope Ann Greggory – age 25-ish and a former Olympic bronze medalist on the women’s gymnastics team, is stuck in her past glory, embittered and living in her overly indulgent father’s basement.  Hope, played brilliantly by co-writer of the film Melissa Rauch, is a girl you just want to back slap and throw over your knee for a good long spankfest.  She is a BRAT!!  A completely narcissistic, selfish, offensive little hater AND the hometown hero and only celebrity of tiny little Amherst, Ohio.  So, unfortunately, not only does Hope’s daddy indulge her every selfish whim, but the whole town indulges Hope.  Like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, Hope is in for a long overdue personality makeover…. or death and destruction, and that is the tension that drives the plot and keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.  The trial of fire comes in the form of an unwanted opportunity for Hope to train the Bambi-sweet and adorable character of Olympic hopeful Maggie Townsend, a high schooler and super talented gymnast.  Of course, Hope sets out immediately to crush and sabotage the guileless and gullible Maggie’s dreams in order to protect her coveted status as the town’s local hero.  The script is brilliant with unexpected twists and gut-wrenching turns, smart, crass, in-your-face dialogue, and biting humor, and one of the most hysterical sex scenes I have ever seen.   I left the theater feeling that THE BRONZE deserves a Gold Medal and – if it has not already found a distributor – I am sure it will be one of the first films to sell at the festival and will be a huge audience pleaser among indie comedy fans.