Part II Sundance Wrap Up (Scribe - Carol Coombes)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tinsel & Tine: As promised, here is the second installment of Carol's blog from Sundance 2010 featuring Documentary reviews. Check back next week for her narrative film reviews.

Documentaries, oftentimes considered the poor relative of the narrative fiction film, have in the last decade enjoyed a popular renaissance. Fueled by the runaway success of Micheal Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002) and followed by stand-out docs including Capturing the Friedmans (2003), Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) and March Of The Penquins (2005), film acquisition executives, distributors and educators have got the message – documentaries are riding high in the popular imagination.(photo by Carol Coombes)

The technological leaps of smart-phones, the access to lightweight video cameras and the lightening rod of youtube as the omni-present conduit digesting, filtering and exhibiting films has, it seems, made everyone a filmmaker. Specialist film festivals such as IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) and Canada’s HotDocs showcase the very best of international and domestic documentaries every year; and without doubt the programming staff at Sundance are exceptionally good at sniffing out extraordinary works of non-fiction. Super Size Me (2004) and An Inconvenient Truth (2006) both world premiered in Sundance and in 2009 the festival rolled out Food Inc and The Cove, both Oscar nominated in 2010 (my bet is on The Cove). The “twentyten” program, short-listed from 1,644 feature-length documentary submissions to a final tally of 28 films for the U.S. and International doc programming strands, once again excited and delivered some gems:

8:THE MORMON PROPOSTION Secretly, and for decades, the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ (LDS) based in Salt Lake City, Utah, has waged a decades-long campaign against lesbians and gays rights to marriage. Following their prophet’s call to action, Mormon’s waged spiritual warfare fueled by thousands of dollars in fund contributions to pass Proposition 8 in the State of California in November 2008. Director Reed Cowan, an articulate Emmy Award-winning journalist and a former Mormon missionary is angry, and rightly so. Why is a not-for-profit 501c tax exempt religious organization based in Utah meddling in politics in another State, and aren’t they in breach of their 501c non-political status? Setting out to humanize the “homosexuals” the Mormon Church has condemned, 8 covers ground that is familiar from news reports: the euphoria of same-sex marriages in San Francisco, the disappointments and the nationwide grass-roots opposition. What is missing is any analysis of other groups, for example the religious right or segments of the African-American community, who also supported Prop 8. That said, it’s appropriate that the world premiere took place in LSD’s backyard. Catch this at your nearest queer festival and hopefully the film’s premiere in Park City changed some Mormons hearts and minds. Rating: 2 Tines
(* Excellent - 4 Tines * Great - 3 Tines * Good - 2 Tines * Fair - 1 Tine * Poor - Tarnished)

A stand-out hit at Sundance, CATFISH (Filmmakers: Nev Schulman,Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost) a riveting documentary about social networking gone awry, unfolds like a classic detective story through the skillful on-screen utilization of Facebook, Google mapping, YouTube, and the immediate gratification of texting. Yaniv (Niv) Schulman, an attractive 24-year old dance photographer based in New York has developed a virtual relationship with 8-year old Abby Pierce. Niv sends photographs to Abby, and she in turn sends back astonishing paintings copied from his work. Through their Facebook pages, Niv has been introduced to Angela, Abby’s mother, and to Megan, Abby’s 19-year old half-sister. Intrigued by the prodigious talent of Abby, Ariel (Rel), Niv’s brother, and his friend Henry Joost, have been making a film about the young painter from Michigan and now, 8-months into their cyber interactions the film is about to take a leap into the realm of reality as Niv and Megan’s relationship has heated up and Niv wants to meet Megan in person. Of course Rel and Henry are invited to travel on the road with Niv, and from here the story goes somewhere I dare not mention! By far the most intriguing film for this writer at Sundance, CATFISH reminds us that though we do live in a digital age, nothing beats face-to-face interactions. Rating: 3 Tines

Filmmaker Jeffrey Blitz (Spellbound 2002) is unlikely to reap box-office gold with LUCKY an assortment of different stories about the lucky few who have won multimillion-dollar prizes (in most cases more than $12 million), and a few who have dogged determination to win. Though Lucky is slick and features informative animation sequences about the history of the lottery in the U.S. it is clear that once the hoopla/media circus surrounding the win has dissipated, the subjects, who had character defects prior to their gigantic single-ticket win are those who are least able to cope with the attention the unexpected windfall brings. While Blitz avoids judgment, you have to be concerned about the future of the middle-aged woman who is shooting through her 401K happily spending $70 a day on tickets. More tragic is the ex-fireman who brought 400 pairs of identical pants, and spent his money so compulsively that he could not deliver on promises he made to his immediate and extended families who have clearly abandoned him. While two of the storylines are by coincidence, related to large pay-outs from the Pennsylvania lottery, you may come to the conclusion that it's best to go against the grain and avoid a $1 quick-pick, or vow if you do win to become a philanthropist and disperse the bulk of your winnings. Rating: 1 Tines
Forget Super bowl Sunday… my good friends in Miami are already zooming up the Florida coast excited about this weekends scheduled launch by NASA at the Kennedy Space Center. In the opening sequence to SPACE TOURISTS, a woman lands in a space capsule in a barren field somewhere in Kazakhstan in Russia. The woman, Anousheh Ansari, is a wealthy American, and we have just witnessed her arrival on earth as the first female space tourist. Though the documentary never really reveals how Anousheh amassed her fortune, we do learn that a vacation in space aboard the International Space Station, and all the rigorous advance training at the Russian space centre in Star City, cost a whooping $20 million. While space may be the final frontier for those who can afford it, Director Christian Frei is keen to document the irony of the rush to space. While powerful booster rockets from expeditions launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida fall into the Atlantic, in landlocked Russia poor rural villagers stake out the fields where they anticipate the debris will fall so they can beat the metal down and sell it as scrap to China. Though Space Tourists feels slightly too long, you will learn interesting facts. For example Google has sponsored a competition for private sector engineers to see if any of them could create a cheap, efficient way to get man back to the moon (yes no women in this race!!). Russia might once have led the world in space travel, but those dreams are rusty edifices today and clearly in hard times, why not invest in the dreams of those who can afford it. Rating: 2 Tines

Though I could not see the following documentaries, there was tremendous buzz about them at Sundance:

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP - French shopkeeper who tries to meet and film elusive and renowned graffiti artist Banksy, but doesn't quite succeed. Director: Banksy,Writer: Banksy,Cast: Banksy

GASLAND (winner of the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize) When filmmaker
Josh Fox discovers that Natural Gas drilling is coming to his area—the Catskillls/Poconos region of Upstate New York and Pennsylvania, he sets off on a 24 state journey to uncover the deep consequences of the United States’ natural gas drilling boom.

FOUR LIONS A "Spinal Tap"-style sendup of British jihadists, filmmaker Chris Morris has hilariously lampooned young men who confuse their ideology and religion with video games and set out to blast themselves into martyrdom.

Here is a list of the winning Documentary Films Sundance 2010:

Grand Jury Prize: Documentary –
Sebastien Junger
and Tim Hetherington, Restrepo

World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary –
Mads Brügger,
The Red Chapel

Audience Award: U.S. Documentary –
Davis Guggenheim
, Waiting for Superman

World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary –
Lucy Walker
, Waste Land

U.S. Directing Award: Documentary –
Leon Gast
, Smash His Camera

World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary –
Christian Frei, Space Tourists

U.S. Documentary Editing Award –
Penelope Falk, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

World Cinema Documentary Editing Award –
Joëlle Alexis,
A Film Unfinished

Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary –
Kirsten Johnson
, Laura Poitras, The Oath

World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary –
Kate McCullough
and Michael Lavelle, His & Her

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize –
Josh Fox
, Gasland

Stay tuned for Part III
Carol Coombes/January 2010

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About This Blog

is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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