Sundance 2015: Day 6

Morning View

Director of Programming James McNally is attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival from January 20th to February 1st.

Festival Day 4

Even though my boss, FOC (Film Office Coordinator) Kevin had offered to cover off the morning office shift, I was still up pretty early. Today it warmed up into the 50s Fahrenheit (not even sure what it is in Celsius, but it was nice) and I didn’t mind getting out early for a walk and some coffee. That’s my morning view in the picture above. I had my first success with the eWaitlist, grabbing number 61 for a noon screening (the premiere, actually!) of Bill and Turner Ross’s new documentary Western. It was out (up?) at the Temple Theatre which is on only one shuttle line so I made sure to get there in plenty of time. And then I found out I could line up for a volunteer ticket and the line only had four people ahead of me, so I cancelled my eWaitlist number as advised, and had no trouble getting a ticket. The volunteer handing out the tickets said they haven’t used up their allotment for any screening so far, so it might be worth taking the slightly inconvenient trip out there more often.

Western is as beautiful and immersive as you’d expect from the filmmakers behind Tchoupitoulas (2012). Nobody can immerse you in the “placeness” of a place as wonderfully as the Ross Brothers, and they deftly capture the spirit of a border region in southwest Texas. But I think the film frustrated me a little bit, and will likely frustrate mainstream audiences even more. Their previous films were patient observations of people in specific places, and the new film is no exception. But in this case, there are a lot of external forces at work, from Mexican drug cartels to anti-immigration Texas “Minutemen” and with only the barest of contexts, the characters in the film (a border town mayor and a cattle broker) remain a little too mysterious. I’m hoping to watch it again (hopefully at Hot Docs) and maybe my opinion will change. It’s certainly a worthwhile addition to their oeuvre, and the goodwill displayed between the people of Piedras Negras and Eagle Pass may put the US immigration debate in a different light. I just wish I knew a little bit more about all the political currents that were buffeting our characters. Now that I’ve used that word, I’m reminded of the many scenes of ominous lightning and then finally a storm in the film. Perhaps the forces I’m trying to understand are just as mysterious and unknowable as the lightning and the floods. In that case, I’m sure the film will creep up on me as time goes by.

Ross Brothers and Baby

I’m disappointed to have had to miss the Q&A to rush to work my next screening. I’m curious as to what the audience thought. But I was already on my way back to the Yarrow Hotel Theatre, where we were premiering Doc Shorts Program 1. I recognized one of the producers for Polish short Object and it turned out that I had met Katya at Hot Docs last spring, when she was the producer of The Supreme, another great short film from Poland. I also recognized Joe Callander from the same Hot Docs, where he brought his feature doc Life After Death. This time he was presenting a short called Midnight, Three & Six. And we had yet another Hot Docs alumna in Kitty Green (Ukraine is Not a Brothel, 2014) here with her short The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul.

After our screening got underway, we went back to the Film Office to be available for any filmmaker requests, but I was able to leave before 5:00pm to get to a Press & Industry screening of another documentary, The Russian Woodpecker, directed by Chad Gracia. This is one wild magic carpet ride of a film. Its protagonist is an eccentric Ukrainian artist and theatre director, and when he comes up with a rather outlandish conspiracy theory about the cause of the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, the film takes a real theatrical turn. Placing this in the context of recent protests and war in Ukraine makes it even more surreal. It’s a fantastic film, but it’s difficult to know how much “truth” there is in it. It’s a bit like seeing a 9/11 “truther” narrative in a more volatile setting. It’s unsettling and extremely compelling.

I’m back at the condo I’m sharing with the team from the Montclair Film Festival. It’s just 9:00pm but I have to go back out to the Library Theatre at 11:00pm since we’re presenting a short film in front of a Midnight section film. Luckily, the Library Theatre is less than five minutes walk away. Luckier still, the feature is Hellions, by Canadian legend Bruce McDonald. I’m doubtful I’ll get to stay and see it, but it will be nice to meet him in the green room beforehand.

Also, for the next two days, I have the early shift (8:00am onward) at the Film Office and so I’ll want to get to bed as soon as I can tonight. So glad I’ve finally been able to see some films, and tomorrow I’m looking forward to a lunch put on by Telefilm Canada. Lots of people I know will be there and it’s being held at the nicest restaurant in Park City.

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