Sundance: A Good Start
By Marjorie Baumgarten, 3:39PM, Mon. Jan. 21, 2008
My first few film picks all turned out to be winners. The Black List, which just received word as the festival opened of a sale to HBO, is a collaboration between filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and interviewer Elvis Mitchell. The documentary offers clips from interviews with some 20 influential African-American figures on a variety of subjects. Collectively, their abbreviated dialogues demonstrate many of the commonalities but, moreover, the differences among them regarding individual and racial identity. Pretty fascinating stuff and trenchant as can be in this moment in time when the campaign for the presidency is inciting a closer examination of identity politics.
Taken as a whole, the speakers underscore the notion that there is no one definition of black identity or how it has changed over the decades along with the transformation of racism into more subtle manifestations. As Chris Rock points out, equality will not be achieved until black people have the freedom to suck equally with whites. The only problem with the film is that you’ll find yourself wishing that some of the interviews went on at greater length, while others seem more disposable.
Frozen River, a feature in the dramatic competition, is the first feature film from Courtney Hunt. It’s a thoughtful story about two women in upstate New York near the Canadian border. Melissa Leo applies her consummate naturalism to this role of a mother of two kids whose husband disappears a week before Christmas with all their money due to his gambling addiction. Her job at the Dollar General can’t keep the kids fed or cover the down payment on the double-wide trailer, which has to be sent back to the factory. By chance she meets up with Lila (Misty Upham), a Mohawk woman who picks up cash by transporting aliens across the border, which lies over the Mohawk reservation where white law officers are forbidden to follow. The film details the tentative and rocky relationship between the women and their interactions with their families. Until an ending that’s a bit too pat, the film is an engrossing story about working women making do.
The Wave is the newest film from the German director Dennis Gansel, whose last film was the award-winning Before the Fall. The film continues his look at Nazism and impressionable youth, this time from a contemporary perspective. In a modern high school, a teacher conducts an experiment in small-scale autocracy when his apathetic students profess to already know everything about the Nazi era. Of course, things escalate and quickly grow out of hand. It’s a cautionary tale that seems all too possible. In many ways Gansel reminds me of a German Gus Van Sant with his perceptive focus on the pitfalls of youth.