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Real and Almost Real: Storytelling at Sundance 2016


One way or another, all films are telling stories. Narrative features, sure, but also from strict documentary to, yes, experimental film. The beauty is in the tale, the art in the telling of the tale. At Sundance, one can take a number of films and find the creative storytelling aspects without and within.

Newtown directed by Kim Snyder is a heart wrenching and also rage inducing (for this writer) documentary about the families of the children and teachers killed at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012. There is too much sadness in the needless deaths of these children and their teachers. And one cannot even gauge the anger in the inability of Congress to stop the senseless gun violence. If the deaths of 20 six and seven year olds cannot move our lawmakers to action, we really are lost as a society.

tallulahSian Heder’s Tallulah reunites Allison Janney and Ellen Page from 2007’s Juno. The story once again involves a baby, but this time there are many levels to the emotional lives of many characters. A disturbed Page takes a baby from its mother but the child’s mother is negligent. So in some ways Page’s character can’t be blamed. But she does take advantage of Janney’s emotional problems to try to construct a family, albeit not a real one.

weinerDirected by Josh Kriegman and Elyse SteinbergWeiner is a testament (if that’s the correct word!) to the inability of certain psyches to reign in their libidos. At the very least. Though in the case of Anthony Weiner, he seems to have gone totally off the rails as he tries to recapture his political magic, making a run for mayor of New York. Some things really never change.

Wild is not the Reese Witherspoon film that has her hiking the trails of California. But there is an extremely feral aspect to this urban tale of loneliness and desire. Ania, a young office worker in a small German city, takes in a wolf she finds on the outskirts of town. An outsider who can’t seem to connect with family, coworkers or friends, Ania finds solace with the wild animal she lures into her apartment. The closer she gets to the wolf, the more her own life falls apart. Director Nicolette Krebitz makes a love story out of a transgressive subject, painting the story in neutral gray tones.

fits holmerAt the same time that Margaret discovers that the child she abandoned almost 20 years before has died, she takes in a neighborhood homeless boy. The two events mirror one another in Margaret’s psyche, if not in life. This is one downer of a film, but director Rebecca Daly has always had a quiet, subtle touch to her films, and Mammal is no exception. The story of Margaret’s past and present unfold side by side in an eloquent story of grief.

Inspired by community dancing troupes in Cincinnati, and making indie stars out of a couple of the members of a community dance team there, Anna Rose Holmer tackles coming of age specifics in The Fits – making the leap into almost-adulthood with the interior life that uses its “outside” voice. These young women see something amiss when other girls faint, swoon and collapse during practice. They may be afraid that something is wrong with them, but they are brave enough to find their way to the other side of the “fits.”

camera person

Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson has been helping to shape the narrative of dozens of social issue films, working with A-list documentary filmmakers such as Michael Moore and Laura Poitras. Here she directs Cameraperson, using her own footage from masterful non-fiction, including outtakes, to tell her own story, but she tells her family story as part of her work, and her work as part of the world family. A beautiful and moving work.

There are so many ways to tell stories on film, and Sundance gives a showcase to modes classic and neo. If the story is genuine and the filmmaker a good one, any style can move us and perhaps change us.

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