Sundance Film Festival: Duh, Hot Girls Make Difficult Films More Marketable
In Mike Cahill's Another Earth--a multiple prize-winner at this year's Sundance Film Festival and one of two titles co-written by and starring the festival's biggest break-out, Brit Marling--both hope and anxiety follow the discovery of Earth 2, a planet on which each resident of our globe has a doppelgänger living a parallel life.
The atmosphere at this year's festival sometimes felt like its own alternate universe, inspiring similarly mixed feelings. Though economic disaster is still a fresh memory in the real world, up in Park City, studios and their subsidiaries threw big money at small movies with a velocity not seen in half a decade. A cause for celebration? Sure. But the thing about bubbles is that they burst.
With a number of Sundance 2010 alumni nominated for Academy Awards last
week (Blue Valentine, The Kids Are All Right, Winter's Bone), buyers may
have wanted to hitch their wagons to the next
arthouse-hit-turned-Oscar-nominee--or, at least, snap up the next
Jennifer Lawrence. Ingenue Fever seemed to motivate the acquisition of a
number of long, slow, serious films with high-art aspirations,
evidently made for very little money, and all built around the siren
call of a gorgeous, previously unknown starlet.
British actress Felicity Jones's heartbreaking turn almost redeems
Like Crazy, the slight, trite romance that unexpectedly won the Dramatic
Grand Jury prize and was acquired by Paramount. Mary-Kate and Ashley
Olsen's little sister, Elizabeth, starred in Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy
May Marlene, a nonlinear thriller about a traumatized, voluptuous
escapee from a Manson-esque sex cult. It was picked up by Fox
Searchlight, which also bought Another Earth, one of two Sundance films
in which the lithe and sultry Marling plays a morally slippery criminal
aiming to redeem herself through love.
The boom-time mania on the ground was matched by a different kind of
collective madness on screen. Cults and other spiritual rebellions were a
big theme this year--not only in Martha and the Lost-like Sound but
also in Vera Farmiga's crowd-pleasing women's picture Higher Ground,
Kevin Smith's scattered genre-fuck Red State, and Miranda July's
spacey-comic The Future, which, like Jeff Nichols's humorless Take
Shelter, turns the angst of frustrated 35-year-olds into fodder for
While the dramatic sections were dominated by one kind of
bait-and-switch (hot girls making difficult films more marketable),
Sundance dangled a different kind of carrot to lure visitors to this
year's New Frontiers section, which showcases non-traditional film and
video work. The marquee attraction was James Franco's Three's Company:
The Drama, a video-installation deconstruction of the '70s sex-com
narrated by the ac-tor/Oscar host/pansexual tease. Franco may contain
multitudes, but as is the case with most of his prolific crea-tive
output, TC:TD is most interesting for merely existing on the same résumé
as both Howl and General Hospital.
In terms of more traditional nonfiction programming, highlights
included James Marsh's intimate exposé Project Nim and Page One, Andrew Rossi's fly-on-the-wall
portrait of the New York Times media desk.
But no film at Sundance explored the tension between old and new media,
fixed history and the uncertain future wired life is hurtling toward as
powerfully as Braden King's highly experimental romance HERE. Will (Ben
Foster) is an American cartographer contracted to gather ground data for
satellite maps in rural Armenia; he meets native Armenian photographer
Gadarine (Lubna Azabal) by chance when she returns from travels abroad.
As King alternates between naturalistic but sensual snapshots of their
ensuing road trip and non-narrative, pure-cinematic montages, HERE
encompasses themes of distance and intimacy and the moral gradi-ents of
recording fact and creating art/fiction. The couple's common obsession
with the lonely road brings them together (as does their physical
chemistry), but it doesn't change who they are or their complicated
engagement with both the romantic nature of travel and its darker
This vital, gorgeous, cerebral, and deeply passionate film was the only
great thing I saw at Sundance that remains without a U.S. distributor as
of press time--proving, perhaps, that sex can only sell so much.
-- Karina Longworth
See scenes from HERE and interview with King and the cast:
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