Exploring Off Screen at the Sundance Film Festival
“I’m excited about what this will be, because I have no idea what it will be.” -Senior Programmer John Nein on the "Imitation of Life"
Invariably, wherever there is art, there is discussion. And waiting just beyond the nearly 200 films screening at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival is a haven for just that—dialogue, reflection, insight.
The Off Screen section of the Sundance Film Festival is both an incubator for ideas and a cultural outlet for Festivalgoers. A balanced medley of panels, discussions, and art, it is essential to the framework of the Sundance Film Festival and a nod to the value of dialogue in the creative forum.
John Nein, a Senior Programmer for the Festival and one of the meticulous curators behind the Sundance Film Festival’s Off Screen program, helps us sort out this year’s hearty slate of activities happening outside of the theater.
Power of Story: Independence Unleashed
Power of Story, presented in conjunction with Time Warner, has quickly become a hallmark among the Festival’s offering of panels. Now in its third year, the two-panel series is home to topical discussions about the creative process and the compelling nature of storytelling.
As Nein explains, this year’s debut Power of Story panel, “Independence Unleashed,” acknowledges a burgeoning presence of independent voices in serialized television.
“For a long time, you’ve had independent filmmakers working in TV, directing episodes of television,” he says. “But when you see Louis C.K with Louie, and Lena Dunham with Girls—those are creators of television programming. So the question really is, ‘Is this a new era of independent voices in a medium that traditionally was considered to be somewhat conservative?’”
“Independence Unleashed” will feature a conversation among esteemed directors including Jane Campion (The Piano), Justin Lin (Fast and Furious), Mike White (Chuck & Buck), and Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise).
Later that week, Power of Story returns with “Measure for Measure” for a discussion between film music luminaries about the visceral role that the musical score plays in cinema.
“The very thought that you don’t necessarily correlate music with the power of story is probably not a good thing,” says Nein.
Five-time Grammy winner Terence Blanchard (25th Hour), electronic music pioneer Mark Isham (Crash), and Oscar winner Jan A. Kaczmarek (The Visitor, Finding Neverland) will drive this exclusive discussion about the creative process of composing.
Paradoxical, thoughtful, unpredictable. There is nothing intuitive about the pairings that occur each morning at Cinema Café, and that’s kind of the idea. Among the many intriguing editions of the daily 10 a.m. MST gatherings is a conversation between a diverse crop of newcomers including Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale), Paul Eenhoorn (This Is Martin Bonner), Kathryn Hahn (Afternoon Delight), Danai Gurira (Mother of George), and Kaya Scodelario (Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes).
Also, touching on the Dave Grohl (Sound City) and David Gordon Green (Prince Avalanche) pairing scheduled for Day Six of the Festival, Nein foresees a potentially profound conversation about the liberating qualities of working independently .
“What you realize when you watch Sound City is that it’s really about the idea of artistic independence. And David, having made films very independently—I think they’re going to have a lot to talk about as far as what it means to be an independent artist.”
Check out the full Cinema Café schedule here.
Once Upon a Quantum Symmetry: Science and Cinema
This year marks the 10th Anniversary of Sundance Institute’s partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a relationship that continues to encourage more realistic, compelling stories of science and technology in film. Among the many ways in which the Sloan Foundation supports the Institute is with the Science in Film Forum, which is home to this year’s fascinating panel “Once Upon a Quantum Symmetry: Science and Cinema.”
Acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and accomplished screenwriter Scott Burns (Contagion) will join a pair of leading experts in the areas of physics and neuroscience for a freeform conversation about their ostensibly disparate crafts. And, according to Nein, the two aren’t as dissimilar as they may appear on the surface.
“There are so many ways in which what a scientist does and what a storyteller does are similar,” argues Nein.
“There’s a creative process. There’s a process of trial and error. There’s a process of working both theoretically in the mind and then working practically. What always happens is that you get this very lively exchange that involves a recognition of what the other person does.”
If Cinema Café is a hub for off-the-wall, freeform commentary, then the panels at Filmmaker Lodge are the stark antithesis. Home to daily two-hour gatherings each afternoon, the Filmmaker Lodge is a place for incisive dialogue about specific topics. John Nein shares with us the conception of some of this year’s panels.
“There are lots of different ways that people approach the idea of social change and changing dominant perceptions.” In reference to this year’s documentary Inequality for All, a film that probes America’s financial woes through the lens of economist Robert Reich, Nein asks, “Can change have a marketing campaign? It’s something that Robert Reich would be thinking about in terms of, ‘How does economics have a narrative?’”
Other panelists include: Pablo Larraín (No), Gael García Bernal (Who Is Dayani Cristal?, No), Jehane Noujaim (The Square).
This hard-hitting panel assembles photojournalists and war journalists from this year’s film program who offer a refreshing respite from the confines of recent Afghan and Iraq War coverage. Panelists include Sebastian Junger (Which Way Is The Front Line From Here?), Jeremy Scahill (Dirty Wars), Peter Bergen (MANHUNT), Shaul Schwarz (Narco Cultura), and James Ball (We Steal Secrets)
This year’s most nebulous conversation likely will originate at the “Imitation of Life” panel, which Nein calls “an esoteric conversation, but one that is completely fascinating.” Sarah Polley< Michael Polish, and Sergio Oksman will contemplate their approaches to expressing truth in cinema, with the ultimate goal of arriving at an answer to the question, “What’s in a true story?”
Vague enough for you? John Nein is OK with that: “I’m excited about what this will be, because I have no idea what it will be.”