There was a secret festival favorite at Sundance 2017. That film was Columbus. This quiet drama is Korean director Kogonada's first venture into the feature length realm. He is most known for his video essays on Vimeo, and damn did all of that study of film pay off. Kogonada's Columbus covers a lot of ground in the most elegant gestures and proves Kogonada knows his craft inside and out. From the absolutely exquisite cinematography by Elisha Christian, to the subtle yet powerful performances from lead actors Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho: this quiet film finds its way right into your soul.
I just returned from my third straight Sundance Film Festival. Set up against the backdrop of snowy Park City, Utah, this is a place where film, inspiration, new connections, and sleep deprivation run deep. This is my favorite festival for a variety of reasons. There's truly a contagious energy and pride there that's felt by its patrons, organizers, volunteers and artists alike. The programming, much like its attendees, is diverse and eclectic, offering a little something for everyone. The theaters are spread out across the city, so you're battling crowds, weather, time, and malnourishment, in order to cram in as many films as possible.
The 2017 Sundance Film Festival has finally come to an end and to put a wrap on things and finalize our nearly two weeks of coverage, it's time to present our Best of the Fest list. I was able to see a total of 36 films across 10 days, but I couldn't catch everything and missed a few films getting lots of buzz (Novitiate, Where is Kyra?, Thoroughbred). I saw a total of 8 documentaries, so instead of separating docs and features this year, I decided to present one big list of my 7 favorite films (in honor of it being 2017). My #1 by a mile is Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name, I love this film so much. It will likely end up on my Top 10 of the year, but many other films from this fest are worth seeing when they come your way. Let's get into it.
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.
Yo, this film is dope. Patti Cake$ (yes, the title is actually spelled with the $ sign) is an original comedy about a chubby white girl in New Jersey who dreams of being a famous rapper. Australian actress Danielle Macdonald plays Patti, a young, impoverished, overweight woman living with her mom and grandmom in "Dirty Jersey". Her best friend is an Indian man, played by newcomer Siddharth Dhananjay, who works as a pharmacist. Together they spend their nights spitting rhymes, catching shows, and strolling the streets of New Jersey with the skyscrapers of Manhattan taunting them in the distance. When they meet a musician known as "Basterd", played by Mamoudou Athie, they realize this might be their chance to make it big.
The power of people. But who is the leader that can inspire people to actually get out and protest? Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower is a documentary about the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014, as well as the story of Joshua Wong, the young activist who lead the movement. I've been excited to see a documentary about this specific moment in Hong Kong's history, and this film covers that event and much more. This really shook up something deep inside of me. Joshua Wong is now my idol, I'm totally inspired and invigorated by him and his endless passion for democracy through peaceful protest - power in numbers. I admire this kid so much, and this doc is a fantastic introduction to who he is and what he helped achieve.
The official awards for the 2017 Sundance Film Festival were announced tonight at a ceremony in Park City. We've been patiently waiting to see who won the awards at Sundance this year, and now we know - it's a solid mix of winners across the board, and no double Audience Award & Grand Jury winners (as has been the case the past few years). The big Audience Award winners are: Chasing Coral, the documentary about coral bleaching from Jeff Orlowski; and Crown Heights from Matt Ruskin, the feature film telling the true story of an innocent man being locked up for 20 years for a murder he did not commit. The documentary Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower also won an Audience Award. Read on for the full list from 2017.
After working with Jessica Williams in his 2015 film People, Place, Things, writer/director Jim Strouse (of Grace is Gone, The Winning Season) recruited her for a lead role and wrote an entire film around her. The Incredible Jessica James stars Jessica Williams as a struggling playwright living in New York City, dealing with a break up. Strouse makes light, amusing, charming films that have fun stories based on real situations. The Incredible Jessica James is no exception, and might just be Jim's best film to date. It's full of so much life and passion and love and, most importantly, optimism. In these troubling, tumultuous times, where depression and frustration are all too prevalent, a little bit of refreshing optimism goes a long way.
The snow first started falling in Park City on Thursday, and it didn't stop until Tuesday. I was hoping for a snowy Sundance this year, but not this much snow. The 2017 Sundance Film Festival has been one of the snowiest Sundances in a long time. I've been attending for 11 years, and I can't remember it being as snowy and wet and cold as this year. Everyone is talking about it, even Sundance Director John Cooper, and pretty much every last attendee who has to trudge through the piles of snow and slippery sidewalks to get to screenings around Park City, Utah. But, of course, it's the snow that makes this a magical festival unlike any other and no matter what, the show must go on. So we bundle up, throw on some boots, and head back out.
What a weird film this is. Ingrid Goes West is an indie comedy from director Matt Spicer, making his feature directorial debut. It's about a self-centered, vain woman obsessed with Instagram who moves to Los Angeles to chase down, mimic and befriend another Instagram celebrity. Aubrey Plaza plays the deranged woman who has nothing to live for in life except "Likes", so she takes some inheritance money and starts replicating the lifestyle of an internet-famous person living a "perfect" life. While this sounds like it could be a good drama, it's actually a comedy with some wild laughs, even though they're at the expense of people who live obsessive, narcissistic lives. The film is enjoyable overall, but has a few problems that hold it back.
This film is awesome. Band Aid has a fun concept: a married couple struggling to stay together decides to start a band and write songs about their fights. Written by, directed by, and starring Zoe Lister-Jones, along with an all-female crew, the film is a funny, heartfelt, thoroughly enjoyable look at relationships and love. Band Aid features a few original songs that were performed live on set while shooting, as well as with fantastic performances by the husband and wife in the relationship. Adam Pally co-stars with Zoe, and the two feel completely authentic in their depiction of a married couple stuck at a rough spot in their lives trying to figure out where to go. I very much enjoyed watching this film, and I hope audiences give it a look as well.
I didn't think watching amazing footage of coral dying would make me so emotional, but it did. I was wiping away tears through this fantastic documentary, Chasing Coral, the follow-up to Jeff Orlowski's Chasing Ice. Orlowski is a very passionate, extremely talented filmmaker who not only dives deep into his projects, but knows how to make an engaging and encouraging documentary. Chasing Coral documents Orlowski's mission to capture time-lapse footage of coral in the ocean being bleached due to rising water temperature, which is caused by the excessive amount of fossil fuels we're burning. Not only does he get the footage, he crafts a gripping narrative around chasing coral and ends with a enthusiastic call for action. Go see this doc.