Sundance and Slamdance: A 2009 primer


The 2009 Sundance Film Festival starts Thursday in Park City, Utah and features some of the best new American independent documentaries and narrative films, along with a wide variety of undiscovered films from across the globe. For the next week, I’ll be reporting from the festival for the Daily Planet—trying to get as many interviews, photos, and, not to mention, films as I can cram into my five-day schedule.

While Sundance is the main attraction in Park City, I’ll also venture down Main Street to see a few films at the Slamdance Film Festival, which takes place concurrently with Sundance. Slamdance features a nice mixture of narrative films, documentaries, and short films with cheaper and more accessible tickets as well as smaller crowds to deal with at its two screens at the Treasure Mountain Inn hotel—so there are no worries when it comes to transportation, whereas Sundance screenings are at six different theaters throughout Park City, along with screenings in Salt Lake City, which is 45 miles away.

There are over 100 films screening at Sundance (not including short films); this is a short preview of a few of the films I’m most anticipating seeing at Sundance and Slamdance.

In Sundance’s Spectrum section, The Missing Person is a modern-day film noir, with Michael Shannon playing a private detective on the trail of a middle-age man who is traveling with a young Mexican boy from Chicago to L.A. Shannon, who shined in a supporting role in Revolutionary Road, gets his chance at a breakout role.

In the U.S. Documentary competition, there’s The September Issue. Director R. J. Cutler followed Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue for 20 years, for nine months culminating in the big annual fall fashion preview issue. We can hope for a few memorable shouting matches!

In the Premiere section, The Informers is based on the 1994 Bret Easton Ellis novel (Ellis co-wrote the film) about mayhem in L.A. It features perhaps the most interesting cast of any film at Sundance, including comeback kid Mickey Rourke, Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder, Billy Bob Thornton, and the late Brad Renfro in his final film performance.

Also in the Premiere section Rudo y Cursi reunites Y Tu Mama Tambien stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna as brothers who become rivals on two opposing soccer teams. This comedy is directed by Carlos Cuaron, brother of Alfonso Cuaron (director of Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien).

In what looks to be the strongest competition, the World Cinema Documentary Competition offers Big Man River, which follows an overweight man who drinks two bottles of wine a day and still swims the length of the Amazon River; The End of the Line, which explores the devastating effect of overfishing and the health of our oceans; Afghan Star, a take on American Idol in Afghanistan, where over one-third of the country watches the show; and, from Austria, Let’s Make Money, which analyzes the global financial system.

Finally at Slamdance, there are two films that have sparked my interest. Zombie Girl: The Movie is a documentary that follows a 12-year-old girl who is directing a horror film in Austin, Texas; and the world premiere of the new comedy by the comedy group Broken Lizard (among its five members is Minnesota native Erik Stolhanske) has the gang working at a seafood restaurant called The Slammin’ Salmon.

Jim Brunzell III ( writes on film for the Daily Planet and hosts KFAI’s Movie Talk.