Sundance 2013 Dispatch, Days Four and Five: Parties Before Midnight


The Texas Party at SundanceA phrase often heard at the Sundance Film Festival is "how to fest," and lesson number one that I've learned is that being on time isn't good enough, be early. A few times I've had ample time before an event, and filled in the gap with the frivolity of eating a meal. What I've then found is that I miss a couple of small events that fill up -- nothing major, but not the ideal scenario. Thankfully Sundance has so much to experience that flexibility is key, as you never know who you may meet on the shuttle bus or in line at a screening.

A highlight of my Sunday: Day Four was the Texas Party, presented by the Austin Film Society and Texas Monthly, and crowded with Austin and Texas filmmakers such as the Arts + Labor crew (seen above) including cast and crew from Pit Stop, Hearts of Napalm and Black Metal. Pit Stop and Black Metal screened at Sundance, while short films Hearts of Napalm and Spark were shown at the concurrent Slamdance Film Festival here in Park City.

I spent a short time at the party so I could ride with the Arts+Labor crew out to the Redstone Cinema for the premiere of Black Metal as part of the Shorts Program 4. This particular program featured several high-caliber but darkly toned short films, including On Suffocation by writer/director Jenifer Malmqvist, whose films Peace Talk and Birthday have previously screened at Sundance. On Suffocation centers around the execution of two homosexual males in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, relying solely on visuals with no dialogue.

Poyan KarimiI spoke with lead actor Poyan Karimi (seen above) about On Suffocation, and he said, "It was probably my hardest project ever that I've done, since it's a difficult story to tell, but still it's a very important story to tell." In regards to working with Malmqvist with such discomforting content, Karimi told me, "She has an idea and she lets you as an actor be a part of developing your character and the story as a whole as well. She's really sensitive as a director, not all directors are and it is interesting to work with in that sense. We talked a lot about how are these guys were feeling ... we wanted our characters to not only be afraid, but be proud as well and die for the right cause."

The dark comedy The Captain offered some levity to the program, with the captain of a commercial flight waking up with a hangover amid a plane wreckage. I was quite pleased to discover that lead actor and co-writer Taika Waititi was there -- he also wrote/directed the funny and dramatic Boy, which screened at Sundance in 2010.

Slava Rubin of IndiegogoDay Five was another light day, culminating in a panel and party with Indiegogo founder Slava Rubin (seen above) and a viewing of Richard Linklater's Before Midnight. I started the day with Two Mothers, a narrative based on Doris Lessing's short story "The Grandmothers" and directed by Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel). Naomi Watts and Robin Wright star as best friends who fall for each other's sons, ill-fated affairs that suffer dire consequences.

I found conversation with the women sitting to me during the screening more interesting than Two Mothers itself, including a representative from the Danish Film Institute. We discussed my favorite foreign film of 2012, A Royal Affair, as well as other European favorites.

Later in the evening I watched Richard Linklater's Before Midnight. Despite not having watched Before Sunset or Before Sunrise recently, I thoroughly enjoyed the latest episode between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). The dialogue between their characters is so well written that it flows naturally to the point of feeling unscripted.

I should have let the night end on the positive note of a well-crafted Linklater film, but gave into the temptation of a late screening of Running from Crazy. I admire Mariel Hemingway for her willingness to open up the mental issues of her family and her personal life to the camera, but the movie came across more as a hybrid Lifetime Channel and home movie. This poorly edited film does very little to provide insight into the heart of the matter of mental illness and suicide, with a final scene of others affected by suicide seemingly added as an afterthought.

Next up: I watch movies filmed in rural Texas including Pit Stop and Prince Avalanche, as well as Shane Carruth's sophomore feature Upstream Color and Casey Wilson's Ass Backwards.

[Photo credit: "The Texas Party at Sundance," by Austin Culp, courtesy of Austin Film Society; all other photos by Debbie Cerda for Slackerwood.]