The Sleepwalker and We Come as Friends
By Eric Hynes
You may have heard otherwise, but the Festival was still going strong on Friday, the unseasonably mild 9th day of the Festival. Yes, there were fewer pedestrians on Main Street. And yes, Twitter chatter was down among members of the press, many of whom left town on Wednesday and Thursday along with the bulk of their Industry brethren.
But you wouldn’t know that this was the “relaxed end” of the Festival from any of its venues. You wouldn’t know it from the crowds that still queued up to don virtual reality headsets at New Frontier, that gathered at the pavilion for Doug Aitken’s The Source to catch a few minutes of Jack White and Devendra Banhart extolling the virtues of formalist simplicity before jumping on a shuttle bus to a screening.
You wouldn’t know it from the more than 1,000 people that turned up for an afternoon screening of The Sleepwalker, which is playing as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition. First-time director Mona Fastvold seemed to anticipate a late-fest low-ebb in her introductory comments. “Some people might find it’s a little difficult in some ways, I guess,” she said. “But I just wanted to say even though it’s at times a stark Scandinavian creature, that it’s ok to laugh.” Ninety-two minutes later, after the unspooling of Fastvold’s slow burn psychological thriller of sibling secrets and sexual rivalries, the director, along with her star and co-screenwriter Brady Corbet, fielded questions about things left unsaid, unsolved, and inexplicit. Whether or not the audience found the film difficult, it couldn’t have been more engaged. But wait, what about this tale of high tension and traumatic childhood experiences was supposed to be lighthearted and funny? “You don’t have to laugh if you don’t want to, I just wanted you to feel that even though it’s a serious movie that you can have whatever feelings you want. Sometimes when it’s a really dramatic moment it can feel funny to me,” Fastvold said. “Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m Scandinavian”—words that finally did provoke laughter from the audience.
Laughter in the face of grim goings-on was a theme that carried over to the Redstone Cinemas, the most far-flung venue in Park City, where another challenging film played for another audience that proved to be up to the task. With We Come As Friends, director Hubert Sauper spent six years in Sudan, tracking the continued effects of colonization by filming local residents, politicians, soldiers, UN officers, warlords, oil miners, workers, activists, children, and witnessing the birth and almost immediate embattlement of South Sudan. “Don’t be worried if it makes you laugh,” he told the crowd before the screening, and in this case there were more than a few moments of absurd humor. Flying around the country in his own rickety prop plane, “our own little spaceship,” as he called it, he was “landing in areas where we are aliens,” which elicited sequences in which the baffled reactions of those he encountered overmatched whatever astonishment he, or we, might have. “I don’t pretend that I have solutions for these problems,” he said about his impressionistic film, which accumulates into an idiosyncratic portrait of great moral power. “I just go out with the camera to see something you might not always see.” Those are words that suit many films at this year’s Festival, as well as the audiences that remain eager to see them.
Nick Offerman: American Ham
By Jeremy Kinser
Comic Nick Offerman loves to eat meat. It’s a trait that, along with his devotion to wood-working, isn’t likely to surprise fans of his Parks & Recreation character Ron Woodruff In Nick Offerman: American Ham (note the title’s double meaning), a rather straightforward recording of the comic actor’s recent stand-up tour, the star walks on stage shirtless and notes that his is a sturdy torso defined by his frequent consumption of bacon and barbecue.
There are other things Offerman loves to eat. He reveals this to his audience while dispensing what he calls "10 Tips for a Prosperous Life." Many of these involve oral sex, as well as handjob and semen gags. In fact, Offerman’s marriage to Megan Mullally, another adored performer, provides much of the rich material for his stand-up act. A tune he wrote about their happy union titled “The Rainbow Song” somehow manages to be both sweet and unbelievably bawdy.
Offerman’s at his sharpest while taking aim at the religious right, or “dicks,” as he puts it who misappropriate Biblical scripture. He rejects the Bible as less a “good book” and more of “an uneven book.” Offerman prefers to read The Hobbit. He’s particularly aghast at what he describes as the hilarity of the chapter of Leviticus and suggests that “the writers of the Onion are all handed a copy of Leviticus their first day on the job.”
An author himself, Offerman’s Paddle Your Own Canoe, was published last year. During the Q&A that followed the premiere a question was fired at the comic asking if the film was considered a companion piece to his book. It’s the other way around, Offerman clarified. “There are a bunch of stories that I couldn’t fit into the stage show,” he answered. “The stage show written out is 12 pages. The book is like 300 more pages of bull shit.”
Sundance vet Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kings of Summer) recorded two performances of Offerman’s show on the same night last spring at New York’s Town Hall Theater. Asked how helming a concert film differed from directing a scripted narrative, Vogt-Roberts noted that his résumé includes shooting a stand-up comedy series on Comedy Central. “When we first talked about this he came to me and said let’s do this really small and not spend a lot of money,” he revealed. “Let’s shoot it and give it a raw quality and buzz the focus intentionally and let it play from the side angles, which is a reference to a lot of the concert films from the ‘70s that I really loved. Really. I just pointed six cameras and let him do his job – that’s how it differed.”
Power of Story: Class of '94
It was a class reunion that would charm even the most stubborn indie film aficionados. For the second installment of the Festival's yearly Power of Story series, four indie luminaries from the 1994 Sundance Film Festival took to the stage to reflect on their watershed moment 20 years prior, when an explosion of new talent at the Sundance Film Festival boldly marked the start of a new era in independent film. Kevin Smith (Clerks), Gregg Araki (Totally Fu***d Up), Boaz Yakin, and Rose Troche waxed on the more modest days of independent film with a nostalgia befitting of a group that still very hesitantly welcomes the ways of 21st century indie film. Here are some highlights from the live Tweet coverage by @sundancefestnow:
A: "Back then I was fairly depressed. I was like, 'Fuck all these people, what do they want from me?"" Boaz Yakin— Sundance Fest NOW (@sundancefestnow) January 24, 2014
"It seems like the #Sundance audiences are a little kinder these days." Rose Troche— Sundance Fest NOW (@sundancefestnow) January 24, 2014
A: "Back then, I did all the effects myself, It was very arts-and-craftsy." Rose Troche— Sundance Fest NOW (@sundancefestnow) January 24, 2014
A: "Back then it was so fucking hard to make a movie." Gregg Araki— Sundance Fest NOW (@sundancefestnow) January 24, 2014
"It's (digital) the future and we're all going to go there, but it's still woefully lacking." Boaz Yakin— Sundance Fest NOW (@sundancefestnow) January 24, 2014
"My sister gave me this advice, 'If you want to be a filmmaker then just be a filmmaker. Stop talking about it and be one.'" @ThatKevinSmith— Sundance Fest NOW (@sundancefestnow) January 24, 2014
Check out this Day 9 Festival roundup from @NowThisNews: