The 2012 Sundance Film Festival starts next Thursday, January 19, and it feels like the festival has been going on for a month already. While the films were announced over five weeks ago, it feels that I’ve been working on this year’s festival since titles were announced and I haven’t stopped working on my congested and tight Sundance schedule since.
It is that time of the year when I make the journey to gorgeous Park City, Utah as the 2012 film festival begins with over 100 features, most of which are world and North American premieres. I’ve also been fortunate enough to come here for each of the past four years and make friends with the volunteers and staff members who work at Sundance; they have been nothing but helpful and accommodating—and believe it or not, many of them have ties to the Twin Cities, which always makes for a pleasant surprise.
Once the films are announced, it becomes a fascination of mine to imagine every scenario for the six days I’ll be at Sundance: where and what screenings I’ll be at (do I hold seats for someone, or is that at the next screening?) and where do I need to be for a scheduled interview (will I be on time?) and when do I squeeze in some lunch (meaning a PowerBar or an apple) and how do I make a screening two miles away with only ten minutes to spare?
Sundance has nine categories into which most of its programming falls: U.S. Dramatic Competition, U.S. Documentary Competition, World Cinema Dramatic Competition, World Cinema Documentary Competition, Premieres, Documentary Premieres, Spotlight (films that premiered at other 2011 film festivals), NEXT (low-budget and innovative storytelling) and Park City at Midnight. This doesn’t even include the seven shorts programs, the New Frontier program (multimedia, live art installations, panel discussions and new media technologies presentations) and the New Frontier films, not to mention two special screenings of films “From the Collection”: Julie Dash’s documentary Daughters of the Dust and Ben Stiller’s Generation X comedy Reality Bites. Thinking about what to see at Sundance (and Slamdance, which I’ll write about next week) is always a challenge and can make or break your day, especially if you see something rather disappointing to start the day.
Last year, there was a plethora of brilliant and provocative films I saw at Sundance including Sean Durkis’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, Jeff Nichols’s Take Shelter, Miranda July’s The Future, Kim Ji-woon’s I Saw the Devil, and Athina Rachel Tsangari’s soon-to-be-released Greek dramedy ATTENBERG. So the big question is: what am I looking forward to seeing this year?
From all the categories I mentioned above, I usually gravitate toward the Premieres and U.S. Documentary Competition. The one title that jumped out at me in the Premieres section is Rodrigo Cortez’s Red Lights (synopsis provided by Sundance Film Festival): “Two investigators of paranormal hoaxes, study the most varied metaphysical phenomena with the aim of proving their fraudulent origins.” Cortez’s previous film, Buried, stunned Sundance in 2010, and his new film sounds rather intriguing. Red Lights stars Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen, Sigourney Weaver and Robert DeNiro.
The one film in the U.S Documentary Competition that seems to be one not to miss is Lauren Greenfield’s opening night documentary The Queen of Versailles. The Queen of Versailles (again, synopsis provided by Sundance Film Festival) “follows billionaires Jackie and David’s rags-to-riches story to innate virtues and flaws of the American dream and their sprawling 90,000 square foot mansion inspired by Versailles. Since a booming time-share business built on the real-estate bubble is financing it, the economic crisis brings progress to a halt and seals the fate of its owners.”
Other titles that have piqued my interest is Katie Aselton’s second directorial outing, midnight selection Black Rock, written by her husband Mark Duplass (the upcoming Jeff, Who Lives at Home and FX’s The League) about a group of friends on a reunion trip to Maine—the film turns into a dangerous thriller. Another midnight selection is Dylan Southern’s and Will Lovelace’s LCD Soundsystem music documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits. There’s also the documentary Love Free or Die, directed by Macky Alston, about the first Episcopal Church in New Hampshire to elect an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson; Antonio Campos’s sophomore film in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, Simon Killer, about an American graduate who goes to Paris and falls for a mysterious prostitute; and another in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, Colin Trevorrow’s sci-fi adventure Safety Not Guaranteed about someone placing a personal ad looking for partner to time travel with; and writer/director Nadine Labaki’s Spotlight musical comedy, 2011 Toronto audience award winner and Lebanon’s Foreign Language Oscar submission Where Do We Go Now?, which has its U.S. premiere at Sundance.
Image: Safety Not Guaranteed, courtesy Benjamin Kasulke/Sundance Film Festival