Sundance 2014 Blog: Wrapping Up Another Year After 32 Screenings
by Alex Billington
January 26, 2014
I've reached the end. After 10 days of films, screenings and indie cinema mania, I've finished up and arrived home from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. In total I saw 32 films at screenings during the festival held in Park City, Utah. While it never actually snowed once the whole fest this year, it was still cold and it was yet another wonderful year of discoveries, great films, thought-provoking art and insightful experiences. This was my eighth year in a row returning to Sundance, and after hitting an even 30 last year I decided to set my goal to hit the same this year, but ended up somehow fitting in an extra two along the way. Excellent.
It is indeed a challenge to fit in 32 films, but I also must tip my hat to the likes of friend and colleague Dor Dotson, who just saw her 52nd film of the festival today, on the very final day. That is true dedication. To strive to see 30+ films at Sundance means you must dedicate fully to the day-to-day schedules of Sundance, fitting in a few four or five-film days to keep the count high enough. I had one perfectly successful day with five films back-to-back this year, where everything worked out. I caught Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, Kate Barker-Froyland's Song One with Anne Hathaway, the Nick Cave doc 20,000 Days on Earth, Gregg Araki's White Bird in a Blizzard and midnight sci-fi film The Signal at 11:45PM to end my night.
That five-film day occurred on Day 5 of Sundance 2014, which was already quite far into the fest. As I've written about in the past, I'm one of those people that really loves festivals and will stick all the way to the end. Surprisingly, or maybe I was just caught off guard, I saw some stand out films in the second half: I finally caught the Somali pirate drama Fishing Without Nets late one night and loved it, same with the dramedy The Skeleton Twins with Bill Hader & Kristen Wiig that was fantastic, and it grows on me the more I think about it. Even on my last full day I saw three exceptional films: the comedy Land Ho!, The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz doc, and Adam Wingard's kick ass film The Guest.
While I didn't love everything (my least favorite: White Bird in a Blizzard, it was terrible) there's always silver linings to be found. Some of the best cinematography in any film was in David Zellner's Kumiko the Treasure Hunter (Director of Photography: Sean Porter), but the film is a bit oddly depressing and zany and, I hate to say it, almost pointless, despite looking gorgeous. It also has a very mesmerizing atmospheric score, which won the Best Score Jury Award and introduced me to the band The Octopus Project. I also keep thinking back to Locke, with Tom Hardy in a car, and the stellar baseball doc The Battered Bastards of Baseball introducing us to a story I'd never heard before about the Portland Mavericks team.
Some of my favorite films of Sundance 2014 were extraordinarily original and unique in every way, one-of-a-kind creations. That must be what Sundance is looking for - the truly unique and first-time concepts in storytelling and filmmaking. One of those films is Frank directed by Lenny Abrahamson, starring Michael Fassbender wearing a giant fake head mask over his real head the entire movie. But it's very sweet and has fun music, it made me think of seeing Napoleon Dynamite for the first time after it premiered at the fest. Another one was 20,000 Days on Earth, the Nick Cave doc unlike any music doc I've watched. Plus there's The Voices with Ryan Reynolds from the original mind of Marjane Satrapi, another killer creation.
This is also what makes the festival such an exciting place to see films. Sometimes you get to stumble across one-of-a-kind creations and, as I wrote about earlier at the fest, it's exhilarating to catch these films and realize you're part of the first group to ever tell the world about it. That's what Sundance is all about - diving headfirst into indie cinema galore and finding the best out of whatever you discover, experiencing the finest storytelling from veteran & up-and-coming filmmakers, and learning more about yourself, ourselves, love, and our world, along the way. I love this festival with all my heart and everything it offers, year after year.
For more photos from Sundance, see my Instagram @abillington. I covered the festival mostly via Twitter @firstshowing and also posted a few Vines like this one of The MARC, the Egyptian marquee, and this one:
A special thank you to all the publicists who helped me get tickets and to Greg in the press office for always helping us out. I prefer to see films at Sundance at the public screenings and I was lucky to get about 28 tickets to actual public showings, with real audiences. The most walk outs happened during The Raid 2 and The Voices more than any other films I went to, and I remember distinctly standing ovations at Boyhood, the Ebert doc Life Itself and The Raid 2. There's nothing like that first hand experience at a premiere and going along with an audience that is truly caught up in the excitement of seeing these films for the first time.
As expected, you can't catch everything at a film festival, there are just too many films playing. That actually became the motto for a few of us at the festival: "you can't see everything." Unfortunately. Sundance had 121 films in the line-up this year, and I was only able to see a total of about 35 of them, even though there were many more I skipped outright (A Most Wanted Man, Camp X-Ray) there were a number of others that I began to add to a growing list of "I need to see these" based on recommendations and praise from friends.
My list of didn't-see-yet shame includes: Eskil Vogt's Blind that everyone raved about, Brendan Gleeson's Calvary which Fox Searchlight picked up, German drama Wetlands, Jake Paltrow's sci-fi western Young Ones, Jim Mickle's Cold in July, bedtime horror The Babadook that some said is the best of the fest, Mark Duplass & Elisabeth Moss in The One I Love, Jenny Slate in Obvious Child, A.J. Edwards' Lincoln film The Better Angels, plus the highly praised closing night film They Came Together, not to mention the Audience Award winning doc Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory. I also missed Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here. I'll be at Berlinale next, plus there's New Directors/New Films. Still more to see.
For now that wraps up my eighth year back to Sundance, recapping the 32 films I did get to see, plus the few others I've fit in as well. I believe there are quite a few gems coming out of the 2014 fest, Whiplash leading the way as one of them, between the awards and all the critical acclaim. I can't wait to see it again. I also have a feeling Blind will get lots of attention after the fest, and of course Boyhood will continue to play at other fests around the world. Then there's The Raid 2, which could blow up big if the rest of the public seems to love it as much as me, and Germain, and Quint, but that's yet to be seen. I'm just relieved I've been able to enjoy another excellent year at Sundance, see this many films, and return so invigorated for more.
Here's my final list of all the films I saw at the 2014 festival with quick reaction. Links go to reviews/tweets.
Alex's Sundance 2014 Films:
1. Whiplash (dir. Damien Chazelle) - LOVED It
2. Dinosaur 13 (dir. Todd Douglas Miller) - Just Okay
3. Locke (dir. Steven Knight) - Liked It
4. God's Pocket (dir. John Slattery) - Hated It
5. Laggies (dir. Lynn Shelton) - Just Okay
6. Frank (dir. Lenny Abrahamson) - Loved It
7. Ping Pong Summer (dir. Michael Tully) - Loved It
8. I Origins (dir. Mike Cahill) - LOVED It
9. Love is Strange (dir. Ira Sachs) - Loved It
10. Infinitely Polar Bear (dir. Maya Forbes) - Liked It
11. Fed Up (dir. Stephanie Soechtig) - Liked It
12. Life Itself (dir. Steve James) - Loved It
13. Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater) - Loved It
14. Kumiko the Treasure Hunter (dir. David Zellner) - Liked It
15. Song One (dir. Kate Barker-Froyland) - Just Okay
16. 20,000 Days on Earth (dirs. Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard) - Liked It
17. White Bird in a Blizzard (dir. Gregg Araki) - Hated It
18. The Signal (dir. William Eubank) - Liked It
19. Battered Bastards of Baseball (dirs. Chapman Way & Maclain Way) - Loved It
20. Hits (dir. David Cross) - Just Okay
21. The Raid 2 (dir. Gareth Evans) - LOVED It
22. The Skeleton Twins (dir. Craig Johnson) - Loved It
23. Happy Christmas (dir. Joe Swanberg) - Liked It
24. Little Accidents (dir. Sara Colangelo) - Liked It
25. The Voices (dir. Marjane Satrapi) - Loved It
26. Web Junkie (dirs. Hilla Medalia & Shosh Shlam) - Just Okay
27. Life After Beth (dir. Jeff Baena) - Just Okay
28. Dear White People (dir. Justin Simien) - Just Okay
29. Fishing Without Nets (dir. Cutter Hodierne) - Loved It
30. Land Ho! (dirs. Aaron Katz & Martha Stephens) - Liked It
31. The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (dir. Brian Knappenberger) - LOVED It
32. The Guest (dir. Adam Wingard) - Loved It
Those are the 32 films I saw this year. If you're interested in any, ask me for more thoughts on a specific film, as there were so many I watched and I can discuss more pretty much any of them. Another solid year.