Three days and ten films

by francine Hardaway on January 31, 2005

Three days and ten films later, I’m not sure if Sundance was as good this year as it has been in the past. There were more parties (to which I didn’t go) than usual, and Motorola had a late night suite at Deer Valley that Paris Hilton attended. I think no one �in the industry� really has to attend the screenings anymore, because all the movies are on DVD and can be delivered to their rooms with breakfast.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t crowded. Several times we stood in line for things we didn’t get to see.

We did, however, see a good sample of different categories. But although just about everything I saw was interesting, nothing was truly memorable.

It turns out we walked out of �The Joy of Life’ before the filmmaker got to her point about the Golden Gate Bridge and how it needs better security barriers. We thought it was about lesbians trying to find themselves in love, and we left after about forty minutes. Only later did we learn what the movie was truly �about.� Can that be a successful piece of art?

Although �Lonesome Jim� seemed good at the time, and was directed by Steve Buscemi, but now all I remember is a disaffected guy trying to figure out why he didn’t succeed in New York.

Steve Buscemi also appeared in another film we saw, �Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/12�, a movie about making movies. Its director, Walter Greaves, made a move that was never released, and a sequel 35 years later. This was one of those movies only real movie buffs found of interest. I liked it.

The next day, we saw one of the Festival’s favorites: �Me and You and Everyone We Know.� Miranda July, a performance artist turned filmmaker, starred in her own love story. The high point of it was a cute little boy telling his older brother what to write to a girl in a chat room. It really laid bare the world kids are brought up in today with no real childhood.

Several films explored this same theme, especially �The Squid and the Whale,� another one of the winners. In this film, a couple divorces, and their kids get to see all the new girlfriends, boyfriends, and adult angst as the kids desperately try to hang on to the way it was and the adults desperately try to put it behind them.

�The Brothers,� a Danish film, also had child characters who had to deal with the disintegration of their families, although in this case the problem was a father who went off to Afghanistan and suffered damaging post-traumatic stress syndrome when he came home. I liked the movie because it avoided all the potential clich� endings, choosing to finish with an uncertainty I have come to know as real.

The other foreign film I saw was �Odessa, Odessa,� the story of Russian Jews who left during World War II and found themselves in the United States or Israel. In the United States, they still feel alienated because they are Jews; in Israel, they feel alienated because they are Russians. They have a profound sense of home, but the film also showed what’s left of Odessa’s Jewish community today, mostly elderly women, and how little the ones who stayed at home have to enjoy. The grass, as we know, is always greener.

The Jews were again the subject of �The Protocols of Zion,� a modern day exploration of an old anti-Semitic document that purports to explain why the Jews rule the world. Mark Levin, the director, took a journey through these protocols with his father Al Levin, also a filmmaker. In this film, too, the family theme played against the external subject: not sure whether this was a film about Levin getting to know his father better, or about real threats to or by the Jews.

Two highlights of the documentary series were �The Devil and Daniel Johnston,� about a bipolar Austin musician who was so ill that he could not live by himself; at the end of the movie, he’s better because medications have improved, but he is still living with his aged parents, and the documentary Grand Prize Winner, �Why We Fight.�

�Why We Fight� is an intellectual and thoughtful history of the rise of the military-industrial complex since the Eisenhower era. Although I was a child when Ike was president, I never realized that he was against the military buildup, because he realized that as corporations made money by building weapons, we’d be more and more tempted to go to war. I learned a lot from this film. I remember an old New Yorker cartoon in which the military industrial complex was depicted by a pier, on which a parade of tanks were driving off the edge into the ocean. I also remember thinking what a waste of resources, to build all those tanks we’ll never use. Now we use it, and I long for the good old days when the tanks were built, supporting the economy, and then rolled into the drink.

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