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Sundance.org is dispatching its writers to daily screenings and events to capture the 10 days of festivities during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Check back each morning for roundups from the previous day's events.

It's All Falling Apart for Wendi McLendon-Covey in Imaginary Order

Veteran comic actress Wendi McLendon-Covey (Bridesmaids, The Goldbergs) switches gears to create a moving portrait of a middle-aged housewife at a crossroads.

Imaginary Order

By Jeremy Kinser

Imaginary Order, a comedic character study from Debra Eisenstadt, focuses on a woman at a crossroads, beginning to feel useless as she finds herself in the middle of a series of unwanted events that threaten to unravel her family.

Veteran comic actress Wendi McLendon-Covey (known for more ribald work in Bridesmaids and TV’s The Goldbergs) gets the chance to create a funny, moving portrait of Cathy, a middle-aged housewife and mother who increasingly feels her comfortable existence is slipping away—and she scores. Cathy’s teenaged daughter is becoming increasingly remote, and she fears her husband is having an affair. She begins to spy on an eccentric family, and each member works their way into her life, especially the teenaged son Xander (Max Burkholder), whose fascination with her threatens to unravel everything—including her marriage, the innocence of her daughter, and her own increasingly wavering sanity.

The writer/director, who wrote the script over a period of eight years, said she drew upon events in her own life but insisted the film is not autobiographical. “When I had my first child, I joined a parenting group and over time we all bonded and then life happens, and I witnessed a lot of marriages and lives falling apart firsthand,” she shared. “I was afraid of becoming a Stepford wife. This is about a woman who abandoned her career for motherhood. I was in that realm. A lot of this is just me self-evading my fears into the script. It was a fun thing to write and it took a long time to write.”

She added further insight into Cathy and her unusual relationship with Xander: “As a mother, you become almost addicted to being needed,” she said. “If you’ve done your job right, your kid does not need you. When you get to that point when your kid is individuating, it’s really difficult, especially if you’ve given a lot up to be someone who nurtures and spends time with their kid. I think she needs to be needed and she sees this boy as an opportunity to return to being needed.”

Eisenstadt also explained the meaning of her movie’s title. “Imaginary order is also a psychological term [about] when a baby notices himself in the mirror for the first time as an other,” she said. “Suburbia to me is this imaginary order with manicured lawns—I thought the phrase had a double meaning. I think everything is imaginary order. There’s so much dysfunction in everyone’s family that’s so undeniable but we try to put on this façade.”

The film marks the Sundance Film Festival directing debut for Eisenstadt, who also co-produced, and she opened up about the challenges she faced while filming an independent feature. “I guess the biggest challenge was shooting 200 scenes in 15 days without overtime,” she admitted. “I honestly thought it would be my last film.”

Abe

By Dana Kendall

Director Fernando Grostein Andrade doesn’t think he’s going to “solve the Middle Eastern crisis by hummus,” but his film Abe does explore the belief that food can bring people together on a smaller scale.

Noah Schnapp of Stranger Things fame plays the titular character, a 12-year-old in New York who is half Israeli Jewish and half Palestinian Muslim and loves to cook. As Abe confronts pressures from his constantly at-odds Muslim and Jewish family members to embrace each of their religions, along with equal pressure from his atheist parents to choose neither (not to mention the struggle of fitting in with his peers), Abe finds an escape through his passion for cooking. Along the way, he meets a chef named Chico, who takes Abe under his wing as he attempts to bring his family together through food.

Regarding the inspiration for the film, Brazilian director Fernando Grostein Andrade says that it came in part from his own life experience as someone from a mixed-religion family (Catholic and Jewish). And though the movie is not exactly like his own story, he does infuse nods to his background into the film, with Chico, played by Brazilian singer Seu Jorge, providing a spotlight for his home country’s fare.

Noah Schnapp at the premiere of "Abe." © 2019 Sundance Institute | Lauren Wester

After a failed attempt to write the script himself, Andrade approached Palestinian screenwriter Lameece Issaq to do the project—but she was reluctant at first because of the difficulty of portraying the dichotomous perspectives. “[As Palestinians,] we’re always wanting to put our narrative out there because it’s not as known.” But she eventually came around as she came to understand Andrade’s vision and recognized how she could relate to the main character: “In the end, it’s about a boy who is trying to figure out who he is, and what that intersection is, and I think that’s tough. As an Arab American, I don’t always feel Arab and I don’t always feel American. I feel somewhere in that middle space, and I think a lot of people feel that way.”

At the end of Thursday’s screening, a teary-eyed Andrade thanked the Sundance Film Festival for selecting his film, explaining that, with the expanding right-wing populist movement in Brazil, artists like him are facing a landscape where their ability to tell stories like this is under a growing threat. Andrade’s dream is to move to LA and continue to create films that bring people together in an increasingly divided world.

This Is Not Berlin

By Eric Hynes

It’s true, the film is not about Berlin. Nor does it take place there. Instead, Hari Sama’s fourth feature takes place in Mexico in 1986, where two best teenaged friends, Carlos and Geza, are itching to get out of the suburbs to experience new things. They find just that at the Azteca, a nightclub where the boys find sex, drugs, and post-punk. While Carlos gets deep into performance art and sexual disorientation, Geza struggles to adjust to greater distance from Carlos, and wrestles with his own emerging identity.

“I was pretty much like Carlos. I came from that suburb and I came from a middle class family, and I grew up listening to this music, and that’s who I am. So it made sense to be honest and share that with you, and with myself,” Sama said during an engaging post-screening discussion. He recounted how in his suburb outside Mexico City, “there was a lot of high School gangs. So you had to pretty much join one if you wanted to belong. And I didn’t want to fight, so I had this persona that was like this guy that listened to 60s music, psychedelic stuff, and didn’t wear any shoes and had long hair. And so I became a pacifist. That was my shield. I did not have to fight—they left me alone.” Then he met people much like the ones depicted in the film, people involved with art and challenging the system and mores of society. “Suddenly I belonged somewhere. So this is the soundtrack of my life pretty much. And it’s just amazing for me to sitting in Sundance and looking at a film of mine with Joy Division. Come on. I mean, for me that was so cool.”

When asked why he named the film This Is Not Berlin, he said, “In a way it’s [about] a longing that we had in this particular group in the 80s. We were looking at what artists were making in NYC or London or Berlin, and it was a longing for actively participating in what was going on in the world. But we couldn’t because we were victims of a dictatorship that did not allow young people to gather, to be gay. We were longing to be somewhere else,” he said. ”And then at the same time this is not Berlin is a way of saying this is Mexico, whatever that means. And that made us go inside and try to understand who we were, what kind of Mexicans were we, and what it meant to be Mexican at that time. Thirty years later I think we made a very cool thing.”

Since the young actors were playing people who lived in a much different time, young people who were taking serious chances in a culture more interested in the 1986 World Cup than they were avant-garde art or post-punk music, Sama had to break them in the hard way. “The first thing we shot with all the artists group was that performance piece when they were all naked with ‘queer’ and ‘fag’ written on their bodies,” he said. “And this is a real street in Mexico City, it’s a huge avenue. And they were freaking out. I thought that was really important for the process, for [Xiabani Ponce de Leon, who plays Carlos] especially. It’s important for the character and he understood that. Little by little the actors became very empowered by the act of being naked in the street. I wanted to be naked in the street. You get so much power out of your own vulnerability. So they had that. And when we started shooting everything else they had gone through the real emotion of vulnerability in terms of being an artist.”

The proof is in the final product, which strives to be entirely in the moment, despite transporting the viewer to a moment in the past. “I wanted the film to feel truthful, and not a theatrical recreation of what was the 80s," he said.