Utah is a state commonly known as the home of Mormonism and for its national parks. Yet every January, as soon as spring settles into the canyons, flocks of tourists and avid film-goers descend to witness what’s new in the independent cinema circuit.
The Sundance Film Festival, held this year from Jan. 17 to 27, included films from 39 countries and 51 first-time filmmakers, all hoping to impress the expert panels.
Director Steve Hoover’s “Blood Brother” won big at this year’s Sundance, taking home the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for a U.S. documentary. “Blood Brothers” chronicles a wandering American as he finds himself in an Indian orphanage for HIV-positive children.
This year has become known as the year of ‘the feature’ in Park City, as feature-length films dominated the show bill.
After a meeting with Apple aficionados to discuss the film’s release, “jOBS” starring Ashton Kutcher as the late Steve Jobs, has set the rumor mill on fire. Though criticized for romanticizing Jobs and his process, Kutcher has received acclaim for his dedication to nailing his portrayal as the man who transformed technology.
Another film that created a stir at Sundance was John Krokidas’ “Kill Your Darlings,” starring Daniel Radcliffe who meanders away from the schoolboy role of Harry Potter, as gay Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg. Krokidas explores the roots of Beat culture, with Radcliffe, Jack Huston and Ben Foster stealing the screen as Columbia University students in the midst of a murder scandal. As Guardian film writer Damon Wise explains, “Kill your Darlings” portrays onscreen the “underground big bang that sent Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs off to their respective parts of the literary universe.”
On the back of the trend at this year’s Sundance for biopics, Amanda Seyfried stars as Linda Lovelace in “Lovelace”, which also stars Peter Sarsgaard. Focusing on the relationship between Linda and her abusive husband, ”Lovelace” is apparently not as risqué as its focus on a porn star lifestyle may suggest, with the film acting more as a catalyst for Seyfried to break out of her dainty roles in “Les Miserables” and “Letters to Juliet” into more talented performances.
Besides from biopics, some actors brought their own work to Utah. Joseph Gordon-Levitt showcased his directorial debut, “Don Jon’s Addiction,” a story of a porn-addicted womanizer who meets his match in Scarlett Johansson. With favorable reviews, it seems Levitt’s career has skyrocketed since he first hit Sundance in the 2004 film “Mysterious Skin”.
James Franco also brought his own creations to the film festival, with “Interior. Leather Bar” and “Kink” both predominately exploring the diverse world of BDSM on the Internet, a controversial move for the film star.
Barbara Kopple’s documentary “Running From Crazy” follows Mariel Hemingway, star of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” as she explores her grandfather Ernest Hemingway’s downfall and the subsequent family curse, bringing heart failure, sexual abuse and suicide. This eye-opening film seeks to be a retelling of the dynasty of the Lost Generation’s prominent member.
The festival began in 1979 as the U.S. Film Festival and has been a place to showcase strictly American-made films, providing a stomping ground for independent filmmakers and increasing Utah’s reputation as a place for film-making. The likes of “The Blair Witch Project,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Garden State” and “Napoleon Dynamite” have all found publicity through their Sundance debuts, later setting the box office alight or finding a cult following outside of Utah.
The festival has relentlessly grown from a low-profile gathering for those outside of Hollywood’s elite, into somewhat of a magnet for celebrities and paparazzi thanks to companies invading Park City, Utah, to give away freebies. Despite this, Sundance still retains its dedication to gripping, gritty and downright incredible independent cinema. With the original Sundance Kid (the namesake of the festival) at the helm, it’s no wonder the festival has truly placed Utah on the map.
The Sundance Film Festival represents a refreshing change of scenery from the plasticity of Hollywood with dark documentaries and enigmatic features breathing fresh life into the nature of cinema. There is no doubt Sundance will continue to grow, especially with its increasing influence on the box office. Let’s hope the freebie-hungry celebrities craze will subside so that the films can truly take precedence once again.
Jenny Rae can be contacted at [email protected]