By the time the Sundance

by francine Hardaway on January 28, 2003

By the time the Sundance Film Festival was over, I was rejuvenated enough to understand why people went to so many movies during the Depression. What a fantastic escape. By Sunday, I had no clue what my problems were. I know the Festival is over-commercialized, and that the presence of all the celebs is a distraction from the Indie film atmosphere, but once the lights go down you forget whether you are seeing an indie film or a studio film: the only thing that matters is if the film itself is engaging.

On that score, Sundance had everything from soup to nuts. There’s a real difference between the films that win prizes at Sundance and those that do not. The last two films I saw, “Thirteen” and “Capturing the Friedmans”, were head and shoulders above even the movies I had previously liked the best. “Thirteen” was about a thirteen-year-old girl from a rather loving and caring family who befriends the sexiest girl in the middle school. The plot was about the peer pressure girls this age exert on one another, how powerful it can be, and what incredible cruelty these innocent looking kids are capable of. At the end, I felt as though it would be impossible to have a child in middle school today; I thought it was difficult fifteen years ago, but the drugs have gotten more deadly, the crimes more heinous, and the family less influential than when I was bringing up my own children. These kids sniff glue, smoke pot, drink beer, have sex with strangers, shoplift, sell drugs to each other, pierce their bodies, tattoo themselves, lie to their parents, betray each other, –all without understanding what they are doing or what it means in “real life.”

“Thirteen” made me look at Jerry and Amanda, my foster kids, and see that they haven’t turned out badly at all, given all the givens.

“Capturing the Friedmans” is a documentary about a family torn apart when the father is accused of molesting children in the afterschool computer class he teaches. It deals with several big themes: trust, truth, love, and loss. It also deals with the role of government in our lives, and with the role of media. Arnold Friedman, computer teacher of the year, orders some child porn through the mail. The FBI starts a file on him, and later his house is searched and he is forced to confess to being a fan of kiddie porn. He is then assumed to be a pedophile, and to have molested every child he ever came in contact with. One of this three sons, the youngest, is accused alongside Arnold because he helped out in the after school class. While the three sons stick by their father, the mother is disgusted and unable to deal with the social stigma attached to Arnold’s alleged crimes. Between the police, the investigators, and the media, the case spirals down (or accelerates up) to something that could probably never have happened.

Arnold, the consummate father, kills himself in prison, but not before he takes out a $250,000 insurance policy on his life and makes his youngest son the beneficiary. The insurance money allows Jesse to start over in life after serving a six year prison sentence for something he definitely didn’t do, and his father probably didn’t do either. Arnold’s act was the last desperate move on the part of this former model citizen on behalf of his family. The case was being tried at the same time the McMartin pre-school case was in the news, so the Friedmans didn’t have a chance.So sad.

Let’s talk for a minute about the jury’s perspective on these films. This year’s dramatic jury consisted of Steve Buscemi, Emanuel Levy, David O. Russell, Tilda Swinton, and Forest Whitaker. (It’s always three actors, a professor/critic and a director.) I believe “Thirteen” won the Dramatic Director’s award because it is so incredibly difficult to coax convincing performances out of young actresses, and also because the film had hundreds of scenes that had to be set up and taken down, making the film a project management nightmare. “Capturing the Friedmans” won the Documentary Grand Prize, I believe, because it interwove Friedman family videos, news footage, and current interviews so masterfully.

Now that I’m home, I realize how much I’ve learned from Sundance, just by attending.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: