As Aristotle once explained, every story is either a tragedy or a comedy. This film is a tragedy – in the true sense of that word. It's very depressing, and sad, but depressing in a good way, if that's possible to imagine. I say that because it captures some very beautiful, intimate moments of connection among friends dealing with the hardship of young life. As You Are is the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, premiering at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and it will hopefully give Miles the break he needs to make more films - because he seems to be a very talented storyteller. While it's not the best film of the fest, it does show quite a bit of potential, and it's a powerful story about love and what it makes you do.
It's time to rise up, to revolt, and to inspire real change. The Birth of a Nation is the feature directorial debut of actor Nate Parker, who has been working on this project for the last seven years. Parker writes, directs, produces and stars in this cinematic story of Nat Turner, a real-life slave in the 1800s who leads an uprising in Virginia. His legacy is meant to inspire "change agents", and for years his story was covered up to prevent this from happening. But now the story has been told (again after being published in books), exquisitely, and Parker's take on Nat Turner is a triumph. It's a sensational, riveting film that spends less time on the revolt itself, more on the man that realizes he is the one who must passionately lead an uprising.
There's nothing like great music that makes you so happy you want to get up and dance. The latest film from John Carney, the Irish director who broke out with the musical Once at Sundance in 2007, is called Sing Street and it's utterly joyful. It's almost an Irish version of School of Rock amped up to 11, but there's such an unique, energetic, exciting vibe to it, I think it's time to proclaim Sing Street as the new winner of the Battle of the Bands. Sing Street so much fun to watch, but it's also genuinely passionate about encouraging the weirdos and oddballs to be whatever they want. Sing your heart out, fight against authority, be someone.
It's always exciting to see films at the Sundance Film Festival that mark the feature directorial debut of ambitious, talented storytellers. A majority of the films they program at the festival are small features made on extremely limited budgets that become the breakout project for many people. That is definitely the case for JD Dillard, director of the film Sleight, which is part of the NeXT category. Sleight is about a young street magician living in Los Angeles that must fight off a drug lord using his intelligence and natural talent in order to save his younger sister and win over a girl. It's a fairly simple story, but the film is still awesome.
Pretty much everyone who loves movies is a fan of the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series from Richard Linklater. They represent the pinnacle of love stories in cinema, and they're hard to top. The closest any film has come to feeling like this is Richard Tanne's Southside With You, a story about Barack Obama's first date with Michelle Robinson in Chicago in back in 1989, many years before he would become President of the United States. The film just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the same venue where I saw, and went head over heels crazy for just a few years ago, Linklater's Before Midnight. It's a very sweet, engaging, and inspiring love story that unfolds as Barack takes Michelle around the city over the course of one day.
This is the film I've been waiting for. And I don't just mean it's the film I was waiting for at Sundance, but perhaps this is the film I was waiting to come across in my life. Matt Ross' Captain Fantastic is one of the most inspiring, invigorating, and intelligent films I've ever seen at Sundance. I don't care if that sounds hyperbolic, this is one of those times when hyperbole is actually necessary. This film floored me, and I'm still on a high from it, with so much to say about it. It's brilliant, it's uplifting, it's encouraging, it's warm, it's touching, it's funny, it's endearing. All these adjectives are necessary because it's a film that has filled me with so much happiness and hopefulness that I can't help expressing my love for this film. It's everything.
Taika Waititi is back and better than ever! No seriously, this film is Taika's best yet, and I've been following him ever since I saw Eagle vs Shark premiered at Sundance 10 years ago. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the latest feature from Kiwi director Taika Waititi, who writes and directs and also has a small role in the film. Set mostly in the New Zealand "bush", the mostly uninhabited forested wilderness taking up some of the island, the story is about a troublemaker foster care kid named Ricky Baker who finds his true family when he's taken from the city to the countryside. I laughed my ass off, but the film actually has an immense amount of heart, too. By the end I was a fan of Ricky Baker and his "screw this" attitude and wanted more.
One of the first real gems of 2016 Sundance Film Festival is the film Morris From America, the latest feature from filmmaker Chad Hartigan (of This is Martin Bonner previously). Morris, played by Markees Christmas, is a 13-year-old African-American living with his single father, played by Craig Robinson, in the city of Heidelberg, Germany. It's a complete fish-out-of-water story about the "only two brothers" in the town, but it's also a magnificent coming-of-age story that proudly emphasizes a "be yourself" attitude. It has a great soundtrack utilizing a mix of American hip hop and European techno, with impressive performances from Christmas and Robinson, and an amusing, funky vibe that made me so happy I came across this film.
It brought a smile to my face to see Jon Stewart profess his love and great admiration for Norman Lear. The first film I screened on opening night at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival (my 10th year back) was the documentary Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, about the legendary TV writer/producer Norman Lear. Now 93 years old, he still seems full of life, so happy, and more than willing to tell stories and reflect back on his experiences. It's a delightful, amusing, engaging and very timely documentary that actually examines how much Lear pushed forward against stubborn conservative fears. More than anything, I hope this doc goes on to remind people that creativity and ingenuity can outsmart traditionalist values.
It all began in 2007. I drove 9 hours from Colorado across the Wyoming plains, down through the Wasatch Mountains into Park City. It took three days of begging the press office to get a press badge (we'd only been up and running for 7 months at that point), but I luckily had tickets to see films. Now I'm back, for my 10th year in a row, to attend and cover the Sundance Film Festival. (Thankfully I don't have to beg the press office for a badge anymore.) I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it - I love this festival. I feel like I grew up here, made so many friends here, saw so many of my favorite films here. To borrow a line from my friend Peter at /Film, "the Sundance Film Festival isn't just a film festival, but a look into the future of cinema."
Back to Sundance we go for another year of discovery. What's on the line-up this year? Out of the 120+ films showing at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, I've chosen 10 that I'm looking forward to seeing the most. To keep things well balanced, I've chosen 5 feature films and 5 documentaries from the line-up. There are so many films playing at the fest, and so many I'll end up seeing (30+), that this is a quick list to get everyone acquainted with some of the work premiering in 2016 (and why I'm so excited for these). From docs about tickling competitions, to features about Obama's first date. Nothing like seeing movies in the mountains.
Watch out - Netflix is already buying up all the great films! The digital distributor has acquired a film out of Sundance 2016 an entire week before the festival even starts. Variety reports that Netflix has already acquired "worldwide streaming video on-demand rights" to Tallulah, meaning they'll handle the digital release, leaving the theatrical rights up for grabs. If a Sundance premiere is bought this early it's usually a sign the film is very good, or that it has a strong audience they believe they can capitalize on via Netflix. Tallulah is the feature debut of writer/director Sian Heder, a drama starring Ellen Page as a woman who takes a baby from a wealthy, negligent mother and passes the baby off as her own in an effort to protect her.