Sundance Film Festival: Kevin Smith Disappoints, Miranda July Inspires

The Sundance Film Festival, which began January 20 and ends January 30, self-identifies as a "discovery festival," meaning that it embraces its own legend of being a place where, over the course of a single screening, an unknown can transform into an industry-redefining star--even as that fantasy seems increasingly out of date in a world in which video is eminently demandable and filmmakers are their own best marketers.

As Kevin Smith put it during a 30-minute lecture on the evolution and inner workings of indie-film distribution following the premiere of Red State, his amateurish and largely unsatisfying extremist religion vs. extremist politics parable, "I came here 17 years ago, and all I wanted to do was sell my movie, and my life changed in an evening. And now I can't think of anything fucking worse than selling my movie to someone who doesn't get it."

Smith managed to turn the premiere of his 10th film--his follow-up to the

much maligned Cop Out, and his first since Clerks to be produced

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without a distributor--into the hottest ticket of Sundance's first

weekend by first refusing to book a separate screening for the press,

and then announcing via Twitter his intention to auction the film off to

the highest bidder immediately after the closing credits.

Instead, with

a captive audience full of journalists and executives, he proceeded to

explain at length his decision to embrace "indie film 2.0" and release

Red State himself. The best part? When Smith started essentially

eulogizing his first distributor, Harvey Weinstein: "Harvey was very,

very good. He was a genius." The Miramax co-founder is not dead--he was

in the room.

Smith was merely the highest-profile prodigal child in a weekend defined

by Sundance discoveries, from both the last decade and the last

century. The hot topics of conversation over the past few days have been

new works by filmmakers like Miguel Arteta, Azazel Jacobs, Miranda

July, James Marsh, Jesse Peretz, and Morgan Spurlock, all of whom broke

out here years ago and, in grand Park City tradition, have come back to

unveil new product--all too literally in the case of Spurlock's

reprehensible (but crowd-pleasing!) exercise in advertainment, The

Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

Of that pack, the highlight for me was July's The Future, a structurally

adventurous, dryly surreal anti-romance in which a thirtysomething

couple's decision to adopt a stray cat touches off desperate

interventions to deal with--or delay--the inevitable. Closer in tone,

theme, and sensibility to July's early video art than to her 2005

Sundance breakout, Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Future sees the

writer/director/actress creating space to explore imagery and ideas more

akin to performance art than traditional acting within a

character-based drama. Much like July's latest, Terri, an episodic

portrait of the social stratification of high school freaks directed by

Jacobs (whose Momma's Man debuted at Sundance in 2008), displays the

thrilling results of a filmmaker making formal advances without

abandoning his unique voice.

While returning champs may have dominated the weekend, there was one

potential overnight- sensation-style discovery: Bellflower, a brazen,

bloody noir-mance written, directed, edited by, and starring Evan

Glodell. A hyper-indulgent, apocalyptic adolescent revenge fantasy,

Bellflower is bloated and inconsistent, but it's also a gorgeously shot

evisceration of the young male ego. It's exactly the kind of film

Sundance should be discovering--and that will probably require the

filmmaker's aggressive "indie 2.0" savvy to make it further out into the

world.

-- Karina Longworth


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