Festival Director James McNally is attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival from January 21st to February 2nd.
Festival Day 11
With all my work completed, this last day of Sundance always turns out to be the day I actually get to see movies, and this year was no different. I was up early and out of my festival lodgings by about 9:15am. I was able to store my suitcase at the Park Avenue Hotel (formerly the Yarrow) and grab a coffee at Starbucks before heading back to HQ one last time to drop off my key and say some goodbyes. The poor AR staff had to be in the office at 8am today (no mercy at all, considering there was a party last night). I gave Terry a hug goodbye and waved to the rest of the sleepy Sundancers before heading to the Park Avenue Cinema for my first film of the day. Sunday is when they show all the award winners so it’s a good way to catch up on stuff that might have been sold out or difficult to get to earlier in the festival.
My 11:00am screening was of Josephine Decker’s Shirley, an eerie and impressionistic story based on the life of author Shirley Jackson (who wrote some haunting short stories, including “The Lottery”). As played by Elisabeth Moss, Jackson was eccentric at best and was often deeply depressed and unable to write. Her husband Stanley Hyman (an excellent Michael Stuhlbarg) was often bullying and manipulating her, and their relationship seems to have been both codependent and sexless. When a young couple move in (the young man to assist the professor at school, and his pregnant wife to help keep up the house), the dynamics grow even stranger. I loved the performances, the script, and the visual style, but the ending confused me a bit. Still, an interesting film that I’d like to revisit sometime.
From there it was a short walk to the Holiday Village Cinemas to catch Maïmouna Doucouré’s Cuties. I’d loved her short film Maman(s), which we showed at Sundance back in 2015. Her feature debut borrows quite a lot from the short, and both are based on events in her own life. 11 year-old Amy joins a group of girls in a dance competition while dealing with the news that her father has taken a second wife and will be bringing her back from Senegal soon. Amy’s navigation of two cultures, one religious and traditional, and the other modern and secular, forms the core of the story. Watching this group of tweens dance in an exaggeratedly sexy style is often disturbing, even as we recognize the talent. Amy’s desire to fit in leads her to some extreme behaviour that puts her at odds with her mother, but in the end, she finds a middle ground and the final shot, of Amy dressed simply as an 11 year old girl and jumping rope until she rises into the sky, is profoundly moving. In fact, several magic realist touches in the film add splashes of humour, menace, and joy. Doucouré has more than delivered on her early promise, and in addition, the central performance of Fathia Youssouf is simply astounding. I believe this will be making its way to Netflix soon, so hopefully it will be seen by a lot of people all over the world.
After a quick lunch at Burger King, it was over to The Ray at 3:30pm for I Carry You With Me, the dramatic feature debut of Heidi Ewing (half of the duo, with Rachel Grady, who made such outstanding documentary features as Jesus Camp, The Boys of Baraka, and 12th and Delaware). The film tells the true story of the romance between Ivan and Gerardo, two Mexican men who meet in the 1990s. Ivan dreams of becoming a chef, and decides to cross the border into the US to achieve his dream, leaving not only Gerardo but his young son, too. The early part of the film uses actors to recreate the couple’s meeting and Ivan’s journey to America. When it comes into the present, the film becomes a documentary, using the real Ivan and Gerardo to tell us the rest of the story. It’s a lovely and often heartbreaking tale, and the actors are excellent, but the mixture of styles didn’t completely work for me. Still worthy of your time, and I look forward to seeing where Heidi Ewing’s filmmaking goes next.
After that it was time to be picked up once again by Susan’s shuttle. I’m staying at the Comfort Suites near the airport and was able to catch the last few minutes of the Super Bowl, which was very entertaining. The weather this festival has been exceedingly mild, but they’re calling for a storm overnight, which might delay my flight. Crossing my fingers that it won’t. I’m looking forward to getting home. Our festival submissions open tomorrow and Sundance has me excited to see what’s in store.
P.S. This morning at HQ I ran into James, another volunteer I’ve seen over the past few years. It seems that we always end up seeing films together on the last day and getting the shuttle to SLC together, and that was the case again this year, except that he chose to see Minari at the Eccles at 3:30pm. Everyone is raving about that one, so I hope to catch up with it soon.