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Eric Lurio

On The Park City Trail... Sundance 2010 and more: Jan. 28

Here’s something novel, I have a three-hour break between screenings. The press screenings are over, and with four public screenings scheduled for tomorrow and none today, it’s back to the wait-list before the Slamdance Awards ceremony.

So while we’re waiting, let’s discuss something that’s very important for anyone who’s a habitué of film festivals. What exactly is an “Independent film” anyway? There are lots of things that have been showing here in Park City that claim to be independent films but aren’t.

You want to know what an independent film really is? Okay. Two guys, Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, received a call from a friend of theirs, a third person who would have his hands on an empty office in New Orleans in a few weeks and $10,000 so could they write a script to utilize it? They got together with their friends Amber Benson and Adam Busch, found a bunch of out-of-work actors to volunteer for a three-day shoot, and wound up with a film called Drones, which is a cross between Star Wars and The Office, and rather funny. Independent funding. No studios, no taxpayer Euros. No nothing. 

On the other hand, take the Duplass Brothers’ latest project, Cyrus, for example. There is no way in Hell this is an independent film. It’s being released by FoxSearchlight, features a cast of movie stars, a moderately large budget, and is getting a rather wide release. What’s there that isn’t Hollywood?

The Duplasses started out doing cheap, independent films that had microscopic releases, such as The Puffy Chair back in ’05, but they have graduated into the big time, and while their next attempt might be a tiny little comedy, this most certainly is not. It’s a standard issue Hollywood movie.

Another film that isn’t independent is Sam Taylor Wood’s Nowhere Boy. This early life of John Lennon biopic, produced by the Weinsteins and the British Lottery, and it is most certainly not independent. It was created as part of the British film industry and is being distributed by Icon films, an international “mini-major” outside the US.

There are plenty of documentaries that aren’t independent either. TV stations finance most of them like WBGO or PBS. HBO does a lot of them. RCN Television has financed them or they are produced by some major foreign network, such as Sins of My Father, which was made by the Colombian equivalent of CBS.  This is not an independent film. It’s not made in Hollywood, but is an establishment production. There’s nothing wrong with that and it’s an excellent film, but it’s not independent.

Yeah, there are some “independent “films that are basically vanity productions like Mark Ruffalo’s Sympathy for Delicious. It doesn’t have a distributor yet, but a lot of it is done through the Hollywood system… And they’re kicking everyone out of the room.

More later…

On The Park City Trail... Sundance 2010 and more: Jan. 27

Half way through the festival and I’m already bushed. I went to six screenings yesterday, and my mind is already turning to mush. Most of the day was spent at the Holiday Multiplex, where I saw a screening, immediately went back on line and then took in another screening. I think my prostate is allergic to all this and… But I'd better not to go into that.

The Park City transit system is getting the better of me, too. I know that I’ve been focusing on the fact that the buses tend to change routes without notice, but I was listening to other people bitching about the same thing and it’s really nice to know that it’s not just me being paranoid.

The schedule is pretty much the same. Go to the headquarters, then get back to the main venue, get on line, see the film, get back on line, get a seat, grab some grub, then finish another film, and repeat until your brain implodes.

Today was slightly different.

When going to public screenings, there are two ways of getting in: the first is go two hours early and get on a wait-list line, and the second is to go at the last minute and see if there are seats left. I tried the latter twice today, and lucked out. This changed my schedule quite a bit, which is okay.

With only a couple of press screenings left tomorrow, I’m going to be spending more time on the bus than I expected.

The press screenings end tomorrow, which means that I won’t be spending as much time at the Holiday as I have been. I haven’t been to most of the other venues, and I had no idea that the Prospector Square Theater, which is somewhere around Prospector Square, had seating next to the concession stand. This is important! Park City is small in population, but very spread out; it takes forever to get from one place to another, which means lots of time is wasted.

On The Park City Trail... Sundance 2010 and more: Jan. 25

Near the bottom of the hill that is Main Street is the Kimball Art Center, but during the festival it is known as Sundance House. By comparison to other places used during the fest it is a large structure; they serve expensive coffee and have panels there. I've attended a third of them.

James Franco in HowlOne panel was on 3D cinematography and was rather technical. But what was most interesting was the use of the giant screen in the room. They didn’t use it at all, instead using several tiny screens on either side of the room. Why they did this is a bit of a mystery. It certainly was a waste of a huge TV screen.

Besides that, most of the last day-and-a-half was spent going from one screening to another This is harder than it seems because at one point, bus driver pretended to have a breakdown, threw everyone out, and then drove off.

My mind is still discombobulated from getting up at 5AM. Four screenings yesterday and five today. While most were good, it’s hard to process all the data.

Two films —  one at Sundance, the other at Slamdance — focus on the Beat Generation and two of its most seminal figures: William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. As the progenitors of the movement, they have had films made about them before, but none like the following:


Directed by: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

Starring: James Franco, Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Treat Williams and Bob Balaban
Sundance Film Festival World Premiere

Allen Ginsberg’s "Howl" is one of the most important poems of the 20th century, and as far as I can tell, the last one to be put on trial for obscenity. That the words and not pictures were on trial makes this portrait of the proceedings see entirely absurd.

So how do you film the unfilmable? The movie goes back and forth between the 1957 San Francisco trial and the tumultuous life events that led a young Ginsberg to find his true voice as an artist, and to the mind-expanding animation that is used here to echo the startling originality of the poem itself. All three coalesce in a genre-bending hybrid that is the only way that "Howl" can possibly be turned into a movie.

James Franco stars as Ginsberg but the animators are stars as well. Everyone else, including Jon Hamm and David Strathairn as the opposing attorneys, are mere window dressing. Even though this cannot possibly be considered a one-man show, it definitely feels like it.

William S. Burroughs: A Man Within
Directed by: Tony Leyser
Slamdance Premiere

Some say William S. Burroughs would not have become a great writer had he not murdered his wife in 1951. He shot her in the head while playing like the archer William Tell — whom legend says shot an arrow off his child's head — and got away with it. They said it was an accident.

Burroughs fled to Morocco’s now extinct InterZone, and went on to write countless magazine articles, Naked Lunch and several other dense novels, and went on to inspire entire generations of miscreants. This feature-length independent documentary deals with the man and his career in an fascinating way. 

Going by subject rather than chronologically, Layser goes over the depraved lifestyle Burroughs had lived line by line, from his sex life to the murder of his wife, the books he wrote and his drug addictions. This is dynamite stuff and shows what a repellent bastard he really could be. He could write, and that’s why he was loved but he wasn't necessarily lovable otherwise.

On The Park City Trail... Sundance 2010 and more: Jan. 22

After two bowls of generic Froot Loops substitute and a couple of cups of coffee, the first day of the festival begins with a trip to headquarters to get a ticket to one of the shorts programs.

Getting the ticket poses no problem, but then things go wrong. The bus is slow and I wind up ten minutes late. That's less of an issue with shorts, where you can still see whole films if you miss the first part of the program, than it is with features, obviously, but still. Most of them were rather good, but  I missed Cordell Barker's latest cartoon, Runaway, which I'm going to see on a screener DVD. Following this, I saw a documentary on  our boys in Afghanistan and fell asleep, I'm sorry to say.

When that was finished, I took the bus to Slamdance, where I discovered that I had missed the film by a half hour. The day went like that. I'm not sure exactly why. I ended up being late to two other films.

So, for the next few days, I'm just going to go from screening room to screening room, hoping I'll get there on time, which I've only managed once today. After that, I'll be writing my reviews, which we'll begin here:

7 Les 7 Jours du Talion / 7 Days
Director - Daniel Grou (a.k.a. Podz)
Writer - Patrick Senecal
Starring - Rémy Girard, Claude Legault , Fanny Mallette, Martin Dubreuil, Rose-Marie Coallier
Park City at Midnight
World Premiere
Why there was a Lewis Carroll reference in this film, I'm clueless, since there's nothing here to do with Wonderland. Maybe since the main characters' names come from the title of Carroll's obscure, two-volume Sylvie and Bruno (1889 & 1893), it's an in-joke for those of us who came across it in some anthology.

Sylvie (Mallette) and Bruno (Legault) are a middle-class suburban couple living somewhere in Quebec with their daughter Jasmine (Coallier), who's going to be nine in slightly over a week. They are happy and boring. Bruno, a surgeon, has been working at all night and is too tired to take Jasmine around the neighborhood to deliver invitations to her birthday party. Sylvie is busy, too, so Jasmine goes out by herself — and is tragically, horrifyingly raped and murdered.

The police, led by Sergeant Hervé Mercure (Girard), are remarkably efficient, finding the little girl and her murderer (Dubreuil) all within the first 15 minutes of the movie. But Bruno works out a fiendish plan to get justice, and we're stuck with a dramatized discussion on the nature of crime and punishment with a bit of torture-porn added into the mix, while Sgt. Mercure tries to get his hands on Bruno and save our villain before he's due to be executed on what would have been Jasmine's birthday.

There's remarkably little gore in this film. Director Grou, a.k.a. Podz, treats the corpses and torture of the villain with a matter-of-factness  calculated to make what ick there is all the more disgusting. Legault's Bruno does a slow burn while the world goes on around him and the media has a field day with the whole mess. This is one of the more cerebral horror films of late, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing.

The Shock Doctrine
Directors: Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross
North American Premiere
Based on the book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein, this film originally aired on the digital television channel More4 in the United Kingdom on Sept 1, 2009. Klein's 2007 best-selling book hypothesizes that Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman's theories of free-market capitalism created incentives for making crises in order to reap profit. British filmmakers Winterbottom (whose movies include the 1997 fiction feature Welcome to Sarjevo and the music documentary 24 Hour Party People, both nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival) and Whitecross (who'd teamed with Winterbottom on the 2006 fiction/documentary hybrid The Road to Guantanamo) transformed it into this filmic polemic.

Klein herself removed her name from the project, explaining on her Web site that, "I don’t have a credit on The Shock Doctrine documentary made by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross because it is not my film. As often happens in collaborations, we had different ideas about how to tell this story a nd build the argument. We all agreed to this compromise and the film's credits and format reflect that. I have been as involved in this project as I can be, watching cuts and making suggestions and corrections, which the directors were free to accept or reject."

From my perspective, Klein's thesis is primarily guilty of sins of omission. For instance, when talking about Chile, the filmmakers neglect to mention that President Salvador Allende only received 36.2 percent of the vote. Granted, he won by plurality (the other candidates garnered 34.9 percent and a  27.8 percent, respectively), just like Bill Clinton (who won the 1992 U.S. presidential election with 43 percent of the vote versus George H. W. Bush's 37.4 percent and Ross Perot's 18.9 percent), but the documentary still should have mentioned that Allende wasn't elected by the majority.

Things like that are commonplace throughout the film, and intimations of prosperity in places where there was economic collapse (like the Eastern Bloc in the 1980s and Britain in 1979) give a false view of history. The film's shrill tone won't convince anyone except the already converted.

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