Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

Operation Condor

Jackie Chan meets Indiana Jones —Andrea Birgers (review...)

Chan borrows from Raiders

" Failure is not quite so frightening as regret "
The Dish

MRQE Top Critic

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I think it’s my seventh year attending Sundance, but I’m not sure. I do know that it’s my second year attending the first five days of the festival instead of the last half. I prefer the first half because it’s more relaxed. People seem eager to watch just about any film. Blind dates are welcome. By comparison, the second half of the festival has a faster pace and the market aspects heat up. People get focused on watching the films with strong word of mouth or lucrative distribution deals in the works. They’re sick of blind dates. Folks who stay the full ten days start festering in their condos as fatigue and weariness set in and they readily opt to attend parties instead of movies.

The People Who Make it Happen — the Sundance Staff:

A truly impressive crew. The Sundance staff of volunteers and general workers, stationed at venues throughout Park City, were fun and courteous to an inhuman degree. They deal with a lot of demanding, pushy, rude, people - and they do it with aplomb. I’ve had to deal with adults throwing temper tantrums before and, if I had been their shoes, I’d have stuffed snow down some of these peoples pant fronts. So my hat is off to staff – they’re better than I could ever hope to be.

The Place Where it Happens — Park City.

Pedestrians walk in No Park CityThere’s a reason locals refer to it as No Park City. It’s also no place for pedestrians. Sidewalks don’t get shoveled and bipeds share icy roads with impatient drivers who can’t actually park anywhere. Add to this the fact that this year pre-Olympics activities are bringing in a lot of additional traffic, and construction, and you got one heck of a congested mess that, during rush hour, could easily translate into an hour to get from one film to the next if they were on opposite sides of town.

The Main Event — Celebrities!

I’m kidding, kind of. But when Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, and Robert Redford showed up at the Eccles Theater crowds congealed around them like a bathtub of aspic around moldy ham nuggets. John Malkovich couldn’t walk a few feet without a ring of lights and cameras documenting his every move. This is a place where you can feel people hungrily scanning your face, whether on the bus or on the street, just to double-check if you’re someone famous. In other words, it’s kind of like being in L.A.

The Reel Event – Films, Films, “Films?”

At last year’s festival, Memento blew me away. It was a clear favorite that I felt stood head-and-shoulders above the rest. This year, I saw a lot of good films but nothing that rocked me like Memento.

Even more disappointing was clear evidence of a growing trend at Sundance: digital features being projected on high definition projectors. I think digital video is great for documentaries and the occasional narrative film (especially when it gets transferred to a 35mm print anyway, like most of the Dogma films).

What rubs me the wrong way is how the catalogs do not inform the viewer as to what films are actually “on film” versus “on video.” Maybe the festival curators are trying to bypass film snobs, but I still feel like I’m being conned when I attend a film festival and end up watching a lot of projected video images, rather than film. I don’t care if the festival uses $350,000 high definition projectors. That beta-digi-high-def-whatever-video image still looks like, well, video.

Gone is the warm palette of colors that invite suspension of disbelief. Instead, there’s an all too here-and-now, Jerry Springer, MTV Real World, any- monkey-with- a-camcorder, “look.” The fact that many of these shot-on-digital-video projects now have stars attached, like Sigourney Weaver and Parker Posey, clearly illustrates that, ugly or not, here it comes. Rather than darkening the mood by complaining that 25% of what I screened was on video, let me instead cheer that 75% of films screened were, in fact, on “film” proper. But if that average continues to drop, in the future, I’m going to stay home.

As of this writing, an unusually high number of films, 13, have already been picked up for distribution – with a dozen other offers in the works. Only two of the films I saw won some kind of an award at Sundance. Both were shot and projected on video. The documentary, Blue Vinyl, is an excellent inquiry into the dangerous history of vinyl production, and people will be able to see it on HBO May 5th. Personal Velocity was a good character study of three different women who find themselves at emotional crossroads. Since United Artists picked up this feature, presumably they will pay to transfer the image to 35mm prints that can play soon at a theater near you.

If I were to give out awards to five films, from those that I personally screened, I would hand them over to the French Canadian Soft Shell Man, the Spanish Intacto, the Chinese Quitting, the avant-garde Decasia and, yes, Blue Vinyl. For more information on these, and other titles, please see the capsule reviews or interviews.