Sundance 2015 Wrap-Up Blog: Great Films Have Taught Me So Much

February 2, 2015

Sundance 2015

"Good films make your life better." We smile. We cry. We laugh. We shudder. Here I am, at the end of another Sundance Film Festival, 10 days and 30 films later. What did we discover this year? What films left us in awe? Maybe it's festival fatigue and intense exhaustion, but every year by the end I feel like I've grown–or evolved–as a person while at Sundance. I feel like I return home a completely different person, wiser perhaps or maybe just rejuvenated, but nonetheless changed. It's these films, it's the power of cinema, the potential it has to inform us and shape us and guide us that always leaves lasting impressions upon me. I am happy to return, but even happier that I spent another year surrounded by the glory of film in Park City.

Maybe it has something to do with the content of these films, and the way they show us so many different stories, different people, different lives, different cultures that exist on this planet. My final film (#30) was a documentary about the lively 1968 debates on TV between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, titled Best of Enemies, and considering I wasn't alive in the 60s it was a rather eye-opening introduction to a very key moment in our country's political history. Other documentaries I saw involved a mayor in China, rape on college campuses, outspoken comedian Barry Crimmins, a hypothetical alien arrival, the life of musician Kurt Cobain, sleep paralysis, an amputated leg (this was a fun one), charming autistic kids from Ohio, and seven movie-loving siblings locked in their apartment in New York City who remake their favorite movies.

I feel like every film I see, especially films at festivals, helps me grow and appreciate more about this world and the many people on it. As the late Roger Ebert once said, "the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us." While we are capable of empathy, I simply cannot know what it's like to be in another person's mind, and therefore look to cinema as one way of providing further insight and understanding into the differences between us. Movies have taught me so much, from the idea that we're all the same, to learning that I must respect other opinions and feelings even if I don't agree with them myself. It's revitalizing to reflect on how much I've evolved after these festivals.

At Sundance this year (my ninth year back), the feature films were just as diverse. I saw films with stories about finding happiness even with cancer (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), the struggles of addiction (I Smile Back), transgender women in Los Angeles (Tangerine), post-apocalyptic love triangles (Z for Zachariah), a teenage girl's sexual awakening (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), relationships between interviewer and interviewee (End of the Tour, True Story), washed up Olympians (The Bronze), two kids who go for a joy ride (Cop Car), psychological studies (The Stanford Prison Experiment), lesbian lovers coming-of-age (The Summer of Sangaile), being a single parent (People, Places, Things), and geeky kids learning how to grow up (Dope). No matter what it was, there was something intriguing to learn.

That's why I keep coming back, that's why I feel such a rush of energy every time I think about film festivals. I've found so many films, and have seen so many over the years, that have taught me that this world is a big, beautiful place. It's full of people of all kinds, every one struggling to find a place in this world, whether it's finding comfort in a partner or shaking up the world being courageous and bold. These are the stories that move us, that inspire us. We get to see passion in the filmmaking and the storytelling; in the characters and in the work that went into crafting these characters. Every time I see a film that floors me, that leaves me amazed, I think of that quote: "Good films make your life better." Because it's so damn true, they really do.

As expected, you can't catch everything at a festival, there are just too many films playing and scheduling can be a nightmare (this year in particular was pretty rough). My big list of didn't-see-yet shame includes: John Crowley's Brooklyn, Noah Baumbach's Mistress America, Robert Eggers' The Witch, Patrick Brice's The Overnight, Josh Mond's James White, Leslye Headland's Sleeping with Other People, Jennifer Phang's sci-fi Advantageous, the docs Going Clear (on Scientology) and Dark Horse, plus Ariel Kleiman's Partisan featuring Vincent Cassel. I've heard good things about all of these. Still plenty more to see the rest of 2015.

For now that wraps up my ninth year back to Sundance, recapping the 30 films I did get to see while in Park City, plus the few others I've fit in as well. Maybe it is just the way I've changed, but the documentaries this year were phenomenal. I feel like the docs coming out of 2015 are stronger than years previous, or at least they seem to be getting better and better (though I still adore The Overnighters from last year, which should've been nominated for an Oscar). 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 also need to say thank you to all my friends and colleagues, those who keep me motivated and happy and competitive. Film festivals hold a special place in my heart, especially Sundance, and I will never forget these experiences (though I might forget some films).

Here's my final list of all the films I saw at the 2015 festival with quick reaction. Links go to reviews/tweets.

Alex's Sundance 2015 Films:

1. The Summer of Sangaile (dir. Alanté Kavaïté) - Liked It
2. The Bronze (dir. Bryan Buckley) - Just Okay
3. The Hunting Ground (dir. Kirby Dick) - Loved It
4. The End of the Tour (dir. James Ponsoldt) - LOVED It
5. Chuck Norris vs Communism (dir. Ilinca Calugareanu) - Just Okay
6. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir. Marielle Heller) - Loved It
7. Dope (dir. Rick Famuyiwa) - LOVED It
8. Z for Zachariah (dir. Craig Zobel) - Loved It
9. Cop Car (dir. Jon Watts) - Liked It
10. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead (dir. Douglas Tirola) - Liked It
11. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon) - LOVED It
12. The Visit (dir. Michael Madsen) - Liked It
13. People, Places, Things (dir. James C. Strouse) - Liked It
14. The Stanford Prison Experiment (dir. Kyle Patrick Alvarez) - Liked It
15. Digging for Fire (dir. Joe Swanberg) - Just Okay
16. The Nightmare (dir. Rodney Ascher) - Liked It
17. Results (dir. Andrew Bujalski) - Hated It
18. The Chinese Mayor (dir. Hao Zhou) - Loved It
19. Finders Keepers (dirs. Bryan Carberry & J. Clay Tweel) - LOVED It
20. Call Me Lucky (dir. Bobcat Goldthwait) - Loved It
21. The D Train (dirs. Andrew Mogel & Jarrad Paul) - Hated It
22. Don Verdean (dir. Jared Hess) - Liked It
23. True Story (dir. Rupert Goold) - Liked It
24. The Wolfpack (dir. Crystal Moselle) - Hated It
25. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (dir. Brett Morgen) - Loved It
26. Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker) - Just Okay
27. How to Dance in Ohio (dir. Alexandra Shiva) - LOVED It
28. I Smile Back (dir. Adam Salky) - Liked It
29. Seoul Searching (dir. Benson Lee) - Just Okay
30. Best of Enemies (dirs. Robert Gordon & Morgan Neville) - Loved It
00. The Forbidden Room (dir. Guy Maddin) - Hated It
00. Western (dirs. Bill Ross IV & Turner Ross) - Loved It

Those are the 30 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 great year.

Find more posts: Editorial, Indies, Sundance 15



It's too bad you didn't see Entertainment. I would have loved to hear your thoughts on that one.

emceegreg on Feb 2, 2015


Yes! I heard about it. I really want to see that one... I actually haven't even seen The Comedian yet. Maybe I should do a double feature and watch both later this year once Entertainment is out.

Alex Billington on Feb 2, 2015


Glad to see you enjoyed Dope, the trailer itself makes it look phenomenal. Little disappointed though seeing you didn't like The D-Train, was hoping the Jack Black/Jame Marsden combo connected. Different opinions obviously, but Ethan seemed to enjoy it, any specific reason why you thought differently?

Justin R on Feb 2, 2015


Yea, you know... It was one of my least favorite films of the fest. I found it frustrating because the main character is someone who lies the entire film (non-stop!) all in pursuit of hollow fame and success (I knew from the start where it was going), just the worst kind of person. And the humor wasn't good enough to make up for how despicable he was, and how much we were supposed to enjoy following him. I found it upsetting most of the time, but I guess Ethan found it enjoyable. To each his own. 🙂

Alex Billington on Feb 4, 2015


Nice. Sundance is on my bucket list. Would love to experience what you described up there.

liyanc on Feb 3, 2015

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