Sundance Report

Negotiating hail, high altitude, and movies galore

Winter weather at the Eccles Theatre in Park City
Winter weather at the Eccles Theatre in Park City (photo by Brandon Joseph Baker)

Today, at the near-halfway point of the festival, I took it as an indication that my brain was approaching overload when I stepped outdoors, looked at the precipitation hitting my parka, and said to my walking companion, “Oh look, it’s the bouncy stuff.”

The word “hail” momentarily escaped my vocabulary. Maybe it’s the altitude, or maybe it’s a sign of approaching senility, but I tend to think it’s merely the result of Sundance movie excess. So before the festival’s mountain of movies blur into one nonstop stream of images running steadily through my brain, here are some first impressions of various titles I have seen.

Catfish: Definitely one of the first breakout buzz titles, this lo-fi documentary is a Facebook cautionary tale. A savvy New York photographer falls down the rabbit hole when an 8-year-old girl in rural Michigan sends him a painting she made from one of his photographs published in The New York Times. A long-distance relationship develops among the photographer, the girl, her mother, and older sister, with whom he falls in love. Only after eight months do some of the details of this family’s story become suspicious and a surprise visit to Michigan corroborates the speciousness of their story. Yet instead of a gotcha moment, the filmmakers treat the situation with sensitivity and tact. Rather than a sordid ruse, the fabrication is an outgrowth of sad loneliness and frustration. Furthermore, the techniques used (GPS imaging, hand-held camerawork, computer-screen cross-cutting) show some new ways for film’s 20th century storytelling models to embrace the realities of 21st century culture. Still, you have to wonder about our gullibility as human beings.

Winter’s Bone: The last movie by filmmaker Debra Granik was the similarly titled Down to the Bone and its devastating story about addiction was the first place most people ever noticed actress Vera Farmiga. Granik, apparently, has done it again for actress Jennifer Lewis, who delivers a marvelous performance as a gritty 17-year-old who chooses to care for her two younger siblings and her catatonic mother when her dad’s behavior puts their welfare in jeopardy. Set in the Missouri Ozarks, the film is drenched in its stark economic atmosphere and backwoods clan mysteries. Former Austin actor John Hawkes also turns in a stunning performance as the girl’s uncle.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Sundance 2010, Winter's Bone, Catfish

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