Day 3: Brit Marling Leads a Lo-Fi Sci-Fi Fugue, Zach Braff is Back at Sundance

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Sundance Institute 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.

I Origins
By Eric Hynes

Mike Cahill will never be accused of lacking for ambition as a filmmaker. Three years after winning a Special Jury Prize at the 2011 Festival for his lo-fi sci-fi fugue Another Earth, he returned for the world premiere of his latest, I Origins, at the Eccles Theater on Saturday afternoon. Spanning over seven near-future years, roving from New York to Idaho to India, and touching on everything from love and marriage to life, death, evolution, reincarnation and the afterlife, the film nevertheless maintains a consistently searching tone. Stars Michael Pitt, Britt Marling, and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey appeared alongside the nervously giddy Cahill for a post-screening Q&A.

“The movie is working on a lot of layers, and I find it so difficult to describe it,” Cahill said. “Because it’s romantic, it’s scientific, it’s about loss and love and the existential question about what happens after we die. And those are the kinds of things that I’m fascinated by. I’m trying to tell something so epic but in an intimate, personal story.” When several questioners brought up resonances between the new film and Another Earth, particularly the idea of people confronting different versions of themselves, either in present or future lives, Cahill admitted that it’s a prevailing obsession. “Clearly I’m chasing after something.  I’m fascinated by that question of where do the atoms stop, and the spirit begins in a human being. I’ll probably keep digging at that over and over again in film after film,” he said.

Another questioner pointed out that the plots of both films hinge on incidents of “huge, senseless loss.” “Life’s kind of messy sometimes,” he said, echoing an exchange between Pitt and Marling in the film. “I think I’m drawn towards the hope inside the dark things. I like to look where things are painful and then find the most beautiful thing I can. And I think science fiction can fulfill some existential fantasies we have, of feeling okay with the big picture in life.” 

In turn, Marling, who co-wrote and starred in Another Earth but only performs in I Origins, said she feels similarly drawn to wherever Cahill wants to go. “I’ve been watching Mike as an artist since I was 17. And largely knowing him is how I’ve come to define what being an artist is,” she said. “He’s someone who sees things that nobody else can see, and then has the unique ability to make other people feel and see those things. I’ve been in awe of him since I was a teenager and I’m in awe of him now, today, watching this.” 

Wish I Was Here
By Eric Hynes

Nearly 10 years to the day after his debut film Garden State screened in competition at the Festival, Zach Braff returned to Sundance on Saturday morning for the world premiere of his long-anticipated follow-up, Wish I Was Here, at the MARC Theater. Employing a similar blend of comedy and drama, earnestness and absurdism as that indie breakout, the new film follows Aidan Bloom (Braff), a struggling actor who faces crises of life and faith when his father (Mandy Patinkin) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. With his father no longer able to pay for the private Jewish school that his two children attend, and with no gigs on the horizon, he’s forced to home school the kids while his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) works a desk job she can’t stand. Meanwhile his reclusive little brother (Josh Gad) refuses to even visit their ailing dad.

Flanked by his brother and screenwriting partner Adam, his production team, as well as Hudson, Gad, and the rest of the primary cast, Braff spoke at the post-screening Q&A about the personal nature of the story. “My favorite movies are ones when filmmakers and writers are writing their own experiences,” he said. “Garden State was—these are all the things me and my 25 year-old friends are obsessing about and thinking about and worrying about, and I put it into a movie. With this, my brother has two young children—what is he wrestling with in teaching them? With me, it’s my own spirituality. It isn’t a film that got passed around and eventually made. No one else could have told this story that my brother and I wrote. That’s what we do—we try to be super honest and put it all out there for better and for worse. Rip open your jacket and be like, well, whether you like it or not this is what’s in us.”

In turn, both Hudson and Gad said they responded to the script on deeply personal levels. “I read it and it hit me like a Mack truck,” said Hudson. “The themes of the film are things that I can relate to, as a mom with two kids, fearing all those moments in your life when people have to go. The extreme importance of connection.” 

Gad spoke about growing up, much like the Braffs, in a very Jewish household, and like his character in the film, with a complicated relationship with his father. “So when Zach approached me, it was something that was very personal,” he said. “And it was something that was scary. And I feel that that’s always the best journey to go on.”

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Alexis Chikaeze as Kai in 'Miss Juneteenth,' coming to digital platforms June 19

Channing Godfrey Peoples on a Bittersweet ‘Miss Juneteenth’ Release and the Urgency of Portraying Black Humanity on Screen

After premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Channing Godfrey Peoples’s debut feature is hitting digital platforms this Juneteenth—the day for which the film is named and which is very close to the director’s heart. “I feel like I’ve been living Miss Juneteenth my whole life,” she says.
The June 19 holiday—which commemorates the day slavery was finally abolished in Texas (more than two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was issued)—is celebrated in her hometown of Fort Worth with a deep sense of reverence and community, with barbecues, a parade, and a scholarship pageant for young Black women.

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