Day 6

Day 6: Appropriate Behavior, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Shorts Awards

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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.

Appropriate Behavior
By Jeremy Kinser

With Appropriate Behavior, a frank, funny, bitingly personal look at a bisexual woman in Brooklyn reeling from a recent breakup, Desiree Akhavan gives notice that she’s a triple-threat to be reckoned with.

The sometimes-melancholy comedy, a NEXT selection, will inevitably draw comparisons to HBO’s zeigeist-y series Girls, but the film’s structure is indebted just as much to the template for all modern rom-coms, Annie Hall, as Akhavan’s character Shirin zig-zags back in time in an attempt to make sense of why she’s suddenly single.

In the opening scene, Shirin splits from the Park Slope apartment she shares with her girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson, butch and fierce) and leaves their home walking down a Brooklyn street carrying a sex toy, the strap dangling limp in a forlorn manner that reflects its owner. Rebellious and directionless, Shirin flounders in the aftermath of the breakup and struggles as much to come to terms with what led to the split as she does trying to come out to her strict Iranian-American parents.

Perhaps inspired by another iconic Diane Keaton film, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Shirin balances her day job teaching a pre-kindergarten class in filmmaking by embarking at night on a series of pansexual encounters. But the bed-hopping scenes are neither gratuitous nor celebratory–simply real and awkward.

During the Q&A that followed the screening Akhavan, whose screen presence recalls equal parts Greta Gerwig and Sarah Silverman, noted that she elevated her own best and worst qualities in creating Shirin.“It’s tied to the truth of me, but I would never walk down the street with a dildo,” she cracked to laughter from the audience. She also offered that playing her screen alter ego taught her to “hang in there and not be afraid to take risks.”

Akhavan, who developed Appropriate Behavior as her thesis for NYU’s graduate film program, recounted an anecdote about the challenges of shooting a micro-budget film on the streets of Brooklyn and calling for quiet mid-afternoon on a weekday.

“Some guy leaned outside his window and yelled ‘Fuck you! This an aesthetic to you. This is my life!’” she said, laughing along with the audience. “I just felt this was a refreshing New York sensibility.” 

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
By Eric Hynes 

You’ve probably never heard of Ana Lily Amirpour, but that should change after her debut film, the Persian vampire comedy romance A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, screens throughout Park City this week. Not only is the film a sui generis combination of singular style and brazen cinematic homage, but as proven during a post-screening Q&A at the Egyptian Theater on Tuesday afternoon, Amirpour herself is a rather notable piece of work.     

The film takes place in the desolate, dusty oil town of Bad City, where a young man struggles against a junky dad and a preening pimp, and an unassuming young woman stalks the night as a vigilante vampire. Shot in stunning anamorphic black and white by cinematographer Lyle Vincent, and accompanied by a soundtrack that mixes Iranian and European pop and rock with an operatic, Ennio Morricone-like score, Amirpour’s film, which screens as part of the World Dramatic Competition, evokes everything from Down By Law to Rebel Without a Cause without skipping its own beat.

When asked about her inspiration for the film, she cited Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish and Harmony Korine’s Gummo—“for those weird small towns that actually are real, but seem totally not,” she said. And to describe why she chose her film format, she said that black and white gave her “a separation from reality” that fostered some of the more supernatural elements of the story. And also: “Anamorphic makes me just come in my pants.”   

Flanked by her extended cast and crew, Amirpour was dressed in fingerless gloves, downturned combat boots, a T-shirt featuring Willem Dafoe’s psycho character from Wild at Heat, and a large band-aid on her forehead, and proved both combative and co-conspiratorially warm with the audience. When asked to talk about the turnaround of title, which would seem to augur danger for the girl but in actuality she’s the one in charge, she offered, “I flipped the script on the bitch.” When asked about the complex personality of her lead character, she said, “She’s a vampire, dog. She’s a serial killer, an historian, a romantic, an addict. Yeah, she’s been around.” When told that her film evoked the style of a music video, she pantomimed shooting herself in the temple with the microphone. Yet a few minutes prior she invited an audience member out for a bourbon to discuss the film.

Talking about the tattoos of the pimp character, Amirpour revealed a bit of her process of artistic conviction and open collaboration, saying her muse was a member of the South African rap-rave band Die Antwoord, but that the personality of Dominic Rains also fed into her choices for his floridly filled body canvas. “You have your ideas, and I’m pretty specific and into the shit I’m into, but then the people you have are part of all that shit,” she said, then clarified: “I mean shit in a good way.” Rains added that he was mysteriously instructed to watch the TV show Friends to prepare for the part, and to pay attention to one character in particular. “I got caught up on ten seasons of Friends,” he said. “And know Ross pretty well now.”

Amirpour concluded the freewheeling session with an explanation for her band-aid, recounting that three night prior she cracked her head open on the balcony of her condo, requiring 35 stitches. “It looked like a giant red mouth with blood pouring out of it. Please find me after and I’ll show you a picture on my phone—I shit you not, it’s some next level fucking shit. So I’ve been riding a mild concussion the last few days. I just thought, you know, you should know.”

Shorts Awards and Party

The Shorts Awards and Party presented by YouTube routinely marks a welcome respite—or collective exhale—from the frenetic first weekend at the Sundance Film Festival. Annually hosted at Jupiter Bowl just down the highway from Main Street Park City, the event convenes shorts filmmakers, programmers, and jurors for a casual awards ceremony to recognize the best of Fest in the abbreviated format. This year’s short film program is composed of 66 short films selected from a record 8,161 submissions, and after a brief introduction from Director of Programming Trevor Groth, shorts programmer Mike Plante got right into announcing the winners—though only after a self-inflicted barb for affixing his reading glasses: “Hey, I’m 43.”

This year’s short film jurors included Vernon Chatman, producer, writer, director and voice actor; filmmaker/actor Joshua Leonard; and Ania Trzebiatowska, artist director of the Off Plus Camera International Festival of Independent Cinema, based in Krakow, Poland.

Here are the winners:

Short Film Grand Jury Prize:
Of God and Dogs / Syrian Arab Republic (Director: Abounaddara Collective) — A young, free Syrian soldier confesses to killing a man he knew was innocent. He promises to take vengeance on the God who led him to commit the murder.

Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction:
Gregory Go Boom / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Janicza Bravo) — A paraplegic man leaves home to be on his own.

Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction:
The Cut / Canada (Director and screenwriter: Geneviève Dulude-Decelles) — The Cut tells the story of a father and a daughter, whose relationship fluctuates between proximity and detachment, at the moment of a haircut.

Short Film Jury Award: Non-fiction:
I Think This Is the Closest to How the Footage Looked / Israel (Directors: Yuval Hameiri, Michal Vaknin) — A man with poor means recreates a lost memory of the last day with his mom. Objects come to life in a desperate struggle to produce a single moment that is gone.

Short Film Jury Award: Animation:
Yearbook / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Bernardo Britto) — A man is hired to compile the definitive history of human existence before the planet blows up.

Short Film Special Jury Award for Unique Vision:
Rat Pack Rat / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Todd Rohal) — A Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator, hired to visit a loyal Rat Pack fan, finds himself performing the last rites at the boy's bedside.

Short Film Special Jury Award for Non-fiction:
Love. Love. Love. / Russia (Director: Sandhya Daisy Sundaram) — Every year, through the endless winters, her love takes new shapes and forms. 

Short Film Special Jury Award for Direction and Ensemble Acting:
Burger / United Kingdom, Norway (Director and screenwriter: Magnus Mork) — It's late night in a burger bar in Wales...

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