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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
If you’re not a skier, the fact that the Sundance Film Festival takes place near the slopes of Park City, Utah is not a problem. In fact, not having to buy a lift ticket or wait on line for the ski lift gives one more time to watch films. Which, yes, you could do anywhere.
But if you want to watch the first batch of new American Indie films (the second batch is cultivated in Austin, Texas at SXSW later in the season), you better go to Park City and fight for a seat on the shuttle bus with the skiers (who will also be fighting with you for tickets to screenings). For those who do both, the Sundance Film Festival in Park City is a winter paradise of sport and culture, of indoor and outdoor activities.
As for me, I’m not a skier, and so the more time I have to watch films, the better. All of the films screening at Sundance are organized according to sections (all the better for award-giving), which include both US films and the so-called World Cinema sections for both narrative, or dramatic, features and documentaries. Or we can call those films non-fiction, a better appellation for much moving image these days. Of course, the Next and New Frontiers sections take care of many of these hybrid-like films.
The competition films vied for some prize or another. Needless to say, the Sundance Film Festival attracts an impressive roster of jurors, who, in addition to the four competitive sections mentioned above, also populate juries for short films and the jury for the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, a science award.
After ten days of intense viewing from the current crop of contendors in the U.S. dramatic competition, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon won the Grand Prize for U.S. dramatic films for his feature Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, beating out 16 other American films for the honor. The film also took the audience award, who don’t need a jury to tell them what they like.
But the other films were not totally cut out of the action. The Stanford Prison Experiment writer Tim Talbott won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, an annual prize. The film, about an infamous psychology experiement at the fabled institution, also won the Alfred P. Sloan prize for its emphasis on science. Robert Eggers won the directing award for his creepily unsettling The Witch, while Director of Photography Brandon Trost won the cinematography prize for his work on The Diary of a Teenage Girl.
Rounding out the U.S. dramatic competition honors, Lee Haugen won for his editing of Rick Famuylwa’s feature Dope, and screenwriter Jacqueline Kim and screenwriter/director Jennifer Phang shared a special jury prize for “collaborative vision” for their film Advantageous. Not in the competition, Josh Mond’s first directorial effort, James White, won the Next section’s audience award, giving edgier work an opportunity to shine.
As much as I am a glutton for the movies, it is imperative, when at Sundance, to nourish oneself. Park City does not lack for fine dining establishments, many of them lining Main Street, which looks like a set from a Hollywood western, but it must be real, since 64 of the Victorian buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places (Park City was, in its day, a silver mining town, and according to Wikipedia is one of the wealthiest towns in the U.S.).
It can be difficult to get reservations: these hip eateries are venues for the many parties that take place during the festival. But if you can squeeze in, there are some worth waiting for. Most are expensive, but it is Park City, after all, and it’s in the middle of the Sundance Film Festival to boot.
A short list of Main Street restos have to include Zoom. Owned by Robert Redford and located in a converted train station at the bottom of Main Street, Zoom serves hearty American cuisine that has a slightly urban taste to it. Moving up the hill (this is when you realize how high up you are!), Café Terigo serves contemporary Italian in a café setting; there’s an outdoor terrace for visitors during the warmer months. As its name suggests, Purple Sage’s menu is American West with a contemporary spin. The rooms (one upstairs, one downstairs) are small and intimate.
Chimayo is a high-end Southwestern restaurant; pricey, but well worth it. Not on Main Street but a block away on Park Avenue is High West Distillery and Saloon. They call themselves the first ski-in distillery in the country. I’ve never seen that part of this gastro-pub in action, but the idea of skiing in for a few drinks and then going back on the slopes makes me a bit nervous. An all-organic American menu, though, is pretty much on point for any meal.
Movies, good food, and good skiing are winning combinations in the hills of Utah.
The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s ambitious retrospective, Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist, is a near complete survey of the great filmmaker's work, including all of the theatrical features that he directed, along with many of television films, as well as films influenced by him or featuring him as an actor. The series concludes with the works of the second half of Fassbinder’s career — these screen from November 7th through the 26th — a phase which contains several of his most impressive masterpieces.
One of the most remarkable and underrated films of this period is the rarely screened, well-written tele-film, the 1975 Fear of Fear, a study of the mental discrimination of a beautiful housewife, played by the fascinating Fassbinder muse, Margit Carstensen. The director’s mise-en-scène here — despite a few infelicities involving zooms — is at its most sophisticated, stylistically alluding to the baroque flourishes of Hollywood melodramas and films noir from the 1950s and late 1940s (Fear of Fear was photographed by the distinguished Jürgen Jürges, one of Fassbinder’s frequent collaborators).
The excellent supporting cast is drawn from the panoply of the director’s celebrated stock company, featuring Brigitte Mira, Irm Hermann, Adrian Hoven, Armin Meier, Kurt Raab, Ingrid Caven, Lilo Pempeit, and Hark Bohm, among others. Fassbinder’s regular composer, Peer Raben contributed a score that memorably evokes the neo-Romantic soundtracks of the American films that inspired Fear of Fear.
The 35-millimeter print being screened by the Film Society, despite some dirt and wear, still has much of the attractive gleam of a new copy, but blown up from the original 16-millimeter format, it is much too grainy.
Fear of Fear screens twice on Thursday, November 13th and once on Sunday, November 16th.
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