SUNDANCE Film Festival 2009


Getting tickets for Sundance is rather complex. I probably don't have this exactly right but its something like this: For each of the following items (Festival Credentials, A Ticket Package, B Ticket Package) you sign up online for a lottery that will tell you whether you can get one. If you win that lottery you are assigned a time when you can purchase online. For the ticket packages you get about a half hour to buy 20 tickets per package though a clunky web site. Tickets are $20 each. You have to have a pretty solid plan to get through it in the time allotted. If your assigned time slot happens to be late in the overall sale (ie, other people have gone before you), you will find that some of the movies you want to attend are sold out and so you'll have to adapt your plan.

Once all that is done however you have your tickets in hand and can rest assured that you'll be getting into the movies you've selected. Well, almost. As with all festivals there are 'Patrons'. These are people who made a sizable donation so they get to go to the front of the line (actually a different line entirely). At this year's festival there were a couple of occasions where a large number of patrons showed up when most of the seats had already been filled. The official rules would say that the Patrons have to suffer the consequences of their tardiness but in these cases the festival volunteers offered to buy out some of the people who were already seated with free tickets to other movies.

Sundance 2009

None of this should scare you off though. The 'Patron Buy Out' activity was only something I heard about, it didn't happen at any of the movies I attended. And, it seems like most of the movies have tickets available at the theater or someone selling extras outside the theater. Walkup tickets  are only $15.
Here are the movies we saw at 2009 Sundance. We also attended most of the shorts programs: live action, animated and documentary. Shorts are one of the real reasons to go to film festivals, for the most part they seem better than those nominated for Oscars.

Sundance 2009

Lulu and Jimi (Germany)

Seemingly a Romeo and Juliet story, the setting for this movie conveys as much about the director's intention as does the romance. Set in post war Germany, Jimi's father, an African American soldier is damaged from the war while Lulu's mother dominates and destroys any possibility for joy in Lulu's home. You can watch this movie for the Romeo and Juliet aspects and it's enjoyable in that context. But the movie is trying to tell us something about the wounds to the German culture and psyche and how to heal them.

Director Oscar Roehler's style is like that of Canadian film maker Guy Madden.  Artful sets, lighting and camera work are paramount. And that too is enough reason to see this, especially if you appreciate Guy Madden. The part of Lulu is played by French actress Jenifer Decker but her voice is dubbed over by another actress for lines in English and German. While most of the film is in English there are subtitles for the parts that are in German. Meanwhile, in Germany where they detest subtitles, both Lulu and Jimi have their lines dubbed in German. Confusing indeed but as I said this is a film with gorgeous visuals and perhaps that is what was important to the director.  It was great to see this one at a festival as leading man Ray Fearon stayed afterwards for an extended Q&A.

Victoria Day (Canada)

Victoria Day is a Canadian holiday in honor of Queen Victoria. In common usage it's the three day weekend that marks the start of summer. This movie is centered on the lives of some Toronto high schoolers on Victoria Day 1988. But, it's about as far as you can get from a typical teen movie. Director  David Bezmozgis was present at the screening and he stated that his goal was to show a genuine teenage experience and as a former teenager I'd say he has succeeded. He also stated that the movie was eight years in the making. A labor of love for sure and it shows with adept camera work and editing and a collection of excellent performances from a large set of actors.

This movie is so unlike whatever may come to mind when you hear the phrase 'teen movie' that I hesitate to talk about any of the plot points because they might trigger the wrong idea. This movie is more akin to Miranda July's 'You and Me and Everyone You Know' than it is to even 'Dazed and Confused'  (a movie I love and have watched repeatedly). If you get the chance to see this movie and I hope you do, the standard blurbs will tell you that part of the story is that a teenager goes missing. That event sets the tone for all the other characters. What really sets this movie apart in my mind is the utterly realistic portrayal of these kids' middle class parents, you just don't see that in movies, be they 'teen movies' or not.

Sin Nombre (USA/Mexico)
Another of the amazing feature films from first time directors at this year's Sundance. Filmed primarily around Mexico City, Sin Nombre tells the tale of a small family attempting to make the journey from Honduras, through Mexico and into the United States. The term 'Sin Nombre' refers to 'the nameless' or 'the unknown' and is found graffitied on makeshift grave markers near borders as a tribute to those who have lost their life trying to reach for something better. That struggle is clearly in evidence here, as if sneaking on board a freight train with hundreds of other émigrés and running around checkpoints to dodge authorities wasn't hard enough, the families journey becomes intertwined with a boy trying to escape a Mexican drug gang. The brutality of the gang life is intensely portrayed and is difficult to watch.

This film won an award for cinematography (as well as Directing) at this year's Sundance. The Directing and Cinematography reminded me of John Sales (especially Lone Star).  There are some amazing scenes shot on the top of moving train cars in Sin Nombre but most amazing is the slew of great performances from unknown and first time actors. I think it may have been these performances more than anything else that made the Sundance jury give the Director's award here. This movie is well worth seeing.