| LETTER FROM UTAH |
by Lorri Rupard
The Montréal Review, February 2011
Park City Utah, 2011
The Sundance Institute has been bringing independent filmmakers to the forefront ever since Institute founder Sterling Van Wagenen took Sydney Pollack's advice, moving the US Film Festival to a ski town, and holding the annual revelry during the winter's snowiest month. Judiciously he also changed the name. The results of such measures? Highly desirable.
What began as a collective to draw filmmakers to Utah, has turned The Sundance Film Festival into a major mecca for independent film, Seattle, its only real American film festival rival. Every January since 1984, filmmakers, actors, industry giants, crew members, and legions of film fans, pilgrimage to Park City and paint the small town rhapsodic with film art--engaging and provoking, incidentally importing American indie couture channeled straight out of L.A.
Ask Quentin Tarantino who having read the fiction, knows the facts. The iconic director got his first break at Sundance. As did Steven Soderbergh along with low-budget success stories such as Garden State, The Blair Witch Project, Reservoir Dogs and Little Miss Sunshine.
As trendy and All-American as skiing Park City, late January might seem, an overwhelming number of film entries delineate global issues and often eventually reach eager audiences worldwide.
2011 Sundance screenings include Julia Ivanova's "Family Portrait in Black and White" an expertly human and touching documentary about a Ukranian woman named Olga Nenya and her 23 foster children-the majority of whom are bi-racial and who must endure persistent racism in their small Slavic community. Ivanova spent three years rolling footage alongside the family. As time passed, some of the children outgrew the comfort of the only home they've ever known and found they second-guess their foster mom. In the last half of the film, tension is clearly on the rise. During the post viewing Q&A, when asked whether Olga would get to see the finished documentary, Ivanova said that yes, Olga would definitely see it. Only a different (less painful) version.
"Deeper Than Yesterday" by Ariel Kleiman which wins the Jury Prize for International short filmmaking, depicts a submerged Russian crew running afoul with each other after 90 days undersea. Only one man aboard manages to maintain his dignity; to rise above himself and the retrogressive din. Kleiman reports that it was quite an arduous task-managing a fake submarine full of obstinate Russian men.
Director Areil Kleiman answers Q&A about "Deeper Than Yesterday"
Mike Cahill's "Another Earth" the story of an alternate planet like ours with parallel existences, wins the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize. Cherien Dabis walks away with the NHK International Filmmaker Award. Constance Mark's "Being Elmo" about the unlikely man behind the beloved Sesame Street muppet, is so popular, it was impossible for this reporter to view.
Almost 30 years established and rolling strong, Sundance continues to offer an annual panoply of indie-crafted delights. The Sundance Native American Initiative also supports and sponsors participation of Native and Indigenous artists through an outreach program for documentarians, theater artists and musicians.
Sundance Film Festival attendees stock up on snacks at midnight in Park City.