Sundance Blog: Another 34 Films in 2017 - Dancing Through Cinema
by Alex Billington
January 30, 2017
Another 34 films screened. Lots of tacos (hat tip to El Chubasco). Tons and tons of snow. Good friends. Fun interviews. One blogger party. I love Sundance so much. I just wrapped up my 11th year at the Sundance Film Festival, Robert Redford's snowy film festival in Park City, Utah. January is a tough month for most people. After the joys of the holidays in December, the first month of the year is so cold and quiet and depressing. But I'm lucky to be able to attend Sundance, which helps me get through January quickly. I get to watch some of the best films made by some of the most passionate, dedicated, ingenious filmmakers, and spend 10 days romping through the snow, catching up with some of my best friends and freezing my ass off.
Last year at Sundance, I caught 34 films at the festival (read my 2016 recap). This year I pulled off another 34, sleep-deprived and sick with a cold, but happy nonetheless. As I walked into my final screening at the Eccles Theatre (a high school auditorium converted into a world class cinema) and handed my ticket to the volunteer checking tickets, I told them this was my 34th and final film. "Oh my goodness!!" she exclaimed. Film festivals are my jam, I love them with all my heart and keep coming back because I can't help it - I'm addicted. No matter what, I have to be there watching films all day, every day, and I always prefer to stay to the very end (a full 10 days) because that gives me a chance to catch as many films as I can before leaving.
The other thing I love about film festivals is that I feel like a different person after the festival. They're a grueling experience - festivals are mentally and physically challenging (especially if you stay all 10 days). To wake up every morning, see maybe 5 or sometimes 6 films in one day, trek through blizzards to get from one venue to the next, and somehow not lose your mind in the process is not easy. Food and sleep only come when there's time, but they're aren't really the top priority - seeing films is my priority. And these aren't just any forgettable films - they're some of the most thoughtful, heartfelt, emotional, eye-opening, exhilarating, disgusting, heartbreaking, inspiring films being made. These aren't cheesy Hollywood comedies or mindless action movies, they're films made by true storytellers, and each one has something very meaningful to say.
What I love about film festivals: They always make me feel like a changed person in the end.
— Tomris Laffly (@TomiLaffly) January 27, 2017
Here's an example. In one day this year, I start the morning watching Before I Fall - a time loop film about a teenage girl who learns lessons about treating others with respect and taking advantage of the time you have now. I followed that up by catching the world premiere of Chasing Coral - a heartbreaking, urgent documentary about how burning fossil fuels is causing the coral in the ocean's to die, and we need to stop or it's all going to be gone before we know it. After that, I see a film called Walking Out - a father-son story set in Montana, where the boy has to carry his father on his back to safety through snowy wilderness after a hunting accident. Next is a film titled The Hero - starring Sam Elliott as an aging actor who learns he has cancer and hooks up with a young stand up comic. Finally, at midnight, I catch a film titled Bushwick - an action thriller about a woman who emerges from a subway in Brooklyn to discover America is under attack.
Each film I see teaches me some important lesson, each film reminds me of the beauty in this world, each film makes me think about my own life and choices I've made and the people who have left an impression on me. Even the bad ones leave a mark, teaching me lessons about storytelling and how to connect with others. Combine this deeply emotional exhilaration with the experience of seeing old friends, making new ones, and arguing about why I love/hate each movie, and you should be able to understand how film festivals change me. I revel in this experience, and I look forward to growing as a person each year. Its also exciting to meet cinephiles from all over, and make new friends. This is the thrill of film festivals and why I keep going back.
One of the best experiences at Sundance this year was seeing the world premiere of Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name on Sunday night. I was lucky to get a ticket, but honestly had no idea what I was about to watch. The film is a stunning masterpiece, easily the best of the festival. My friend Jessica sat with me, and by the end we were both completely drunk on cinema, drifting out of the theater with big smiles, talking non-stop through dinner about how wonderful it was. I felt like dancing around the snowy streets of Park City, I was so in love with this film, and we were both high on the feeling of awe that we had been there to experience this gorgeous cinematic achievement at its very first screening. These are the moments I live for.
I'm on a cinematic high from Call Me By Your Name still. Dancing around the streets, can't stop thinking about it. This film. THIS FILM.
— Alex Billington (@firstshowing) January 23, 2017
Even after 11 years at Sundance, the festival can still have this kind of effect on me. After the first weekend, I ended up in a few heated arguments with my colleagues about whether or not 2017 was a "good year". They hadn't seen any films yet that had blown them away, or made them feel like this was a memorable year, but that all changed Sunday night. From there it was smooth sailing, and other films like Brigsby Bear and Band Aid and Columbus made me feel better about 2017's selections. There's always gems to be found, you just have to know where to look. And you can't give up. Thank you to Sundance, and all the volunteers and all the programmers, for always reminding me why I love films. Thank you to my friends, and everyone else I met along the way, for being so kind and so open and so honest. I'll be back again next year. As always.
One final note - my roommate in Park City this year was a young, passionate cinephile named Jason Osaison (follow him @jasonosia). I convinced him a few months ago to join me at the festival, and I'm glad he came. It was his first time at Sundance, and I'm always nervous about people attending their first time. He ended up seeing over 40 films across all 10 days (without a press badge), and had a fantastic time at the festival. I always hope that Sundance is as memorable and as exciting of an experience for everyone else as it is for me. Hearing that Jason enjoyed his time at Sundance was a relief, and I hope that I can encourage other movie lovers to make it out to Park City in the future. It's not about the number of films, it's about the experience.
Up next I'm headed to the Berlin Film Festival starting February 9th. Until then, my full list of films that I screened at Sundance 2017 is included below - in the order in which I saw them during the fest. Bis später!
Here's my final list of all the films I saw at the 2017 festival with quick reaction. Links go to reviews/tweets.
Alex's Sundance 2017 Films:
1. An Inconvenient Sequel (dirs. Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk) - Just Okay
2. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (dir. Macon Blair) - Liked It
3. Icarus (dir. Bryan Fogel) - Loved It
4. The Big Sick (dir. Michael Showalter) - Liked It
5. The Discovery (dir. Charlie McDowell) - Loved It
6. Before I Fall (dir. Ry Russo-Young) - Loved It
7. Chasing Coral (dir. Jeff Orlowski) - LOVED It
8. Walking Out (dirs. Alex Smith & Andrew J. Smith) - Liked It
9. The Hero (dir. Brett Haley) - Liked It
10. Bushwick (dirs. Cary Murnion & Jonathan Milott) - Hated It
11. Wind River (dir. Taylor Sheridan) - Loved It
12. A Ghost Story (dir. David Lowery) - Loved It
13. Wilson (dir. Craig Johnson) - Hated It
14. Call Me By Your Name (dir. Luca Guadagnino) - LOVED It
15. XX (dirs. Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin, Jovanka Vuckovic) - Hated It
16. Patti Cake$ (dir. Geremy Jasper) - Liked It
17. Brigsby Bear (dir. Dave McCary) - Loved It
18. Marjorie Prime (dir. Michael Almereyda) - Just Okay
19. Crown Heights (dir. Matt Ruskin) - Liked It
20. Band Aid (dir. Zoe Lister-Jones) - Loved It
21. Nobody Speak (dir. Brian Knappenberger) - Loved It
22. The Last Word (dir. Mark Pellington) - Just Okay
23. Ingrid Goes West (dir. Matt Spicer) - Liked It
24. Sidney Hall (dir. Shawn Christensen) - Just Okay
25. Newness (dir. Drake Doremus) - Liked It
26. L.A. Times (dir. Michelle Morgan) - Just Okay
27. City of Ghosts (dir. Matthew Heineman) - Liked It
28. To the Bone (dir. Marti Noxon) - Liked It
29. Dina (dirs. Antonio Santini & Dan Sickles) - Loved It
30. Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower (dir. Joe Piscatella) - LOVED It
31. The Incredible Jessica James (dir. Jim Strouse) - Loved It
32. Columbus (dir. Kogonada) - Loved It
33. Step (dir. Amanda Lipitz) - Loved It
34. Mudbound (dir. Dee Rees) - Liked It
(I also screened the following films below either before the festival or via screener so I don't count them.)
0. Berlin Syndrome (dir. Cate Shortland) - Liked It
0. Pop Aye (dir. Kirsten Tan) - Liked It
Those are the
34 36 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 great year.