Sundance Days 2, 3 and 4.

by Laurie Henzel

Well, I was so busy running around to screenings that I did not have time to post every day like planned, so here are my 3 days squished into one report.

Sundance is a great festival, it’s filled with people passionate about telling stories, and I met so many smart and creative folks, it really was worth driving in a blizzard and white knuckling it down a mountain to be here (more on that later!

Saturday started off with an invite to see the premiere of a documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom (any relation to Joanna I wonder?) called Miss Representation. It’s about the awful depiction of women in American media and the unattainable standard of thin, young, beautiful and sexy, and it was very heavy, I cried for most of it. Newsom, a new mother of a daughter, took an in-depth look at how we portray women in the media, from beauty pageants, (both toddler and grown up) to reality shows, to violent video games as well as a hard look at how mainstream media treats the few female politicians we do have (ie. Palin is a hot milf, while Hilary is an old dog). Sprinkled with statistics about how bad we’re doing, and heart wrenching testimonials from tween girls who have low self esteem, or eating disorders or cut themselves: it was an 89 minute barrage of depressing. The few shining lights were interviews with Gena Davis and Rachel Maddow, but the call to action to become a mentor did not feel like enough to me.  I felt so angry and worked up, I wanted to start a riot right then and there on the streets of Park City! As someone in the media working hard everyday to present women in a positive light, I know that  this is a film that everyone needs to see, especially young people, and hopefully it will open our society’s eyes to what is right in front of us every single day, yet many continue to ignore.

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I immediately had to high tail it over to another theater to get in line for The Future, Miranda July’s stunning new feature. I could not miss it as I had an appointment the next day to interview July, and will post that soon here. Lets just say it was a HUGE relief to see an extremely artful movie directed by a feminist that was pretty much the opposite of what I had just came out of. Phew, I needed that!

Then it was off for a dinner at an old timey western restaurant, The Grub, and back to another doc, This one was called If a Tree Falls: A Story of The Earth Liberation Front, about the “environmental-terrorists” who got angry and radical up in Portland and burned a bunch of mill buildings down. It’s a fascinating subject, as part of me really identifies with the protesters, but one can easily see how it can turn into something much too dangerous. This film followed one activist guy in particular, Daniel McGowan, and showed him under house arrest while awaiting his trail.  It raises the very important question, should someone who burns property (the ELF have never harmed people, just property) be labeled a terrorist by law? Lot’s to think about.
After the movie I met up with indie film producer, Mike Ryan, (who is very passionate about indies!) and we discussed movies and he told me about Kelly Reichardts latest Meeks Cutoff, (starring Michelle Williams and Zoe Kazan) which unfortunately I missed, but can’t wait to see in April when it’s released in theaters. You can check out Mike’s blog Hammer to Nail here.

Sunday morning, Bek and I headed over to the Marriott for our interview and mini photo-shoot with Miranda, who is so smart and thoughtful, I felt lucky to get to ask some burning questions I had about the film. Then it was off to another screening. We watched the slightly disappointing The Off Hours, directed by Megan Griffiths, about a small town waitress with a fairly boring life, although beautifully shot, the pace was too slow for me, and the story fizzled.

Luckily I ended the night on a high note, with the astonishing Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut Higher Ground. I was pretty blown away by the acting and story that traces Corrine’s (played by Farmiga) life and relationship to her religious (slightly culty Christian fundamentalist) community, her family and a crisis of faith that rocks her world, Her acting is superb here, I think it was one of my favorites of the festival.

Monday. On my last day, I started off with Little Birds, directed by Elgin James and starring Juno Temple (Lily) and Kay Panabaker (Alison) as 15 year old  best friends in a small town. Lily is a troubled teen and when the girls meet some baaaad boys from LA and decide to run away to hang out with them, all hell breaks loose. I really felt they “got” the teen girl friendship down to a tee. The friendship is tested when the selfish bad girl archetype leads the good girl into trouble, and ultimately is saved by her. I felt their dialogue and portrayal was really spot on. I liked this film.

My 2nd movie of the day was a documentary about the feminist art movement in the 60’s and 70’s called !Women Art Revolution, Directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson, it chronicles the actions of a handful of women trying to be heard in the male dominated art world in the 60’s. Having culled her own video archives for 42 years, Hershman includes interviews with people like Judy Chicago, Nancy Speero, and the Guerilla Girls, and shows just how crazy it was that there were literally NO women in museums or shown in galleries back then. While it does not cover the vast array of female artists of the time it does show how these women paved the way for contemporary artists today. You can check out more info about the film here at which includes an open source website that allows artists to add their own work to a large  community database of contemporary art. PS. Soundtrack is by Carrie Brownstein- yeah!

Another Earth was the last feature of my night, and is a compelling story about a young woman Rhonda (played by Brit Marlin) who causes a terrible car accident (when she looks up in the sky to see a new planet that has recently been discovered), and kills a man’s wife and child. After doing jail time, she seeks out the bereaved man who’s family she has destroyed. The back story is that this planet is actually a 2nd earth that is supposedly a mirror to our earth, and she wonders if this earth has a Rhoda too, and if the same awful thing has happened. The story is ostensibly a romance, with a sci fi twist, and is nicely played by Marlin, looking forward to seeing more of her work.

I squeezed in one last short before the night ended, and so glad I did. Lou Reed (who sat a few rows ahead of me!) was there to present his first documentary, Red Shirley, a short about his 100 year old cousin, Shirley, who’s family were murdered in the Holocaust but who escaped to North America in 1928. Shirley is an adorable, feisty lady, and Reed lovingly asks her questions about her fascinating life, first as a garment worker in NYC, and then as a union organizer. I love the elderly, and this was a really sweet one. PS. Shirley is still kicking at 102 and living in Chelsea!

Dean and Jenny at the popcorn stand

On my way out, I bumped into the lovely Jenny Slate, and her boyfriend Dean Fleisher-Camp as they were waiting to answer questions after a shorts program that included Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. I just love Jenny, she is so funny and sweet and I can’t wait to do something with her in the magazine.

I’m now on a plane (after a hairy escape in a blizzard!) and while Sundance will rage on for 5 more days, it’s time for me to get home. There were SO many movies I didn’t get to see, but hopefully the good ones will be picked up, and hopefully there will be great female characters, and stories, and directors to watch in the coming year. See ya later Park City!

Day one report here.

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