Sundance 2013 Dispatch, Day Three: From Chess Nerds to Austen Romantics

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Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, and Jeff Nichols at Mud red carpetI hit the ground running on Saturday, my third day of Sundance, which isn't as easy at it sounds with early morning temperatures below zero and lungs still acclimating to 6900-foot elevation. Lots of water and rest plus a well-researched press and industry screening schedule allowed me to catch several films before my top priority -- the Mud red carpet with stars Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan, as well as writer/director Jeff Nichols (pictured above).

First up in the morning was the documentary I'd missed the previous night, Pussy Riot -- A Punk Prayer. Directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin present a well-balanced and intimate view of the three young women who were arrested for performing at Saint Basil's Cathedral. Friday's premiere at Sundance was sold out, and it was announced the next day that HBO Documentary Films acquired U.S. television rights.

Next on my schedule was Andrew Bujalski's locally filmed Computer Chess, a black-and-white mockumentary set around a man-versus-computer chess tournament in the 80s. Several familiar faces as well as real computer programmers are featured in this slow-paced dry oddity, including Wiley Wiggins, who effortlessly portrays experimental psychologist Martin Beuscher. I also caught a glimpse of fellow Slackerwood contributor Rod Paddock as an extra.

I decided to recharge with some eye candy, and opted for Austenland after 90 minutes of computer geekdom. Any single male looking for love should have been in that screening with what seemed a 10-to-1 ratio of women in attendance. Austenland is a bit untidy at times, but refreshingly non-formulaic with a strong lead character portrayed by Keri Russell ... even if she is a hopeless Austen romantic. Jennifer Coolidge steals almost every scene she's in.

In the evening, I made my way to the North American premiere of Mud. Despite the private separated tent for the "step and repeat" interviews, there were people three deep to get a photo and words with star McConaughey. I was pleased to speak briefly with filmmaker Jeff Nichols -- check back later for his comments on the state of the Texas film industry.

IMG_6284Although traffic can delay the often-crowded shuttle buses quite significantly, I was able to fit in a final press screening: Mother of George, directed by Andrew Dosunmu, who's pictured above with Boneshaker filmmaker Frances Bodomo. The sometimes out-of-focus and off-center cinematography was difficult to watch at first, but gradually drew me into the characters' body language and reactions. Mother of George brings to light intimate traditions of the Nigerian culture and their impact on immigrants adapting to modern America.

Next on my agenda -- Texas Monthly and Austin Film Society's Texas Party, short film program, and the Park City premiere of Austin short film Black Metal.