Dear Wide World,
My quads are sore from walking uphill. My body grows weary of the late nights and early(ish) mornings. My… well… every fiber of my being resounds against trekking through the slush for hour after hour.
Am I having a great time? YES! There’s really nothing like Sundance for giving industry professionals the opportunity to meet, network and lay the groundwork for future collaboration. Today, I was able to attend a Filmmaker’s Brunch, a reception hosted by the Utah Film Commission, and a terrific party hosted by Telefilm. I also met one Paul Giamatti. Can you say “festival highlight”?
Oh, and the movies —
Welcome To Pine Hill: Writer/editor/producer/director Keith Miller’s film is a documentary-like examination of the end of one young man’s life and the choices he makes with the knowledge that it’s going to happen soon. Shannon Harper essentially plays himself, a recently reformed drug dealer who’s just learned he has a rare form of stomach cancer. One thing that’s really interesting about Harper is his sheer physical size and the effect it has on others. Early in the film, which mixes documentary footage with slightly fictionalized, dramatic enhancements, Miller has an interaction with Harper in which Harper insists Miller has found his lost dog and demands that it be returned. In the post-screening Q & A, Miller explained that what was fascinating about that moment, as it originally happened in real life, was the fact that he had no fear of Harper. Look, Shannon’s a big, Caribbean-American dude—about six feet tall and 300 pounds, while Miller’s significantly smaller at 5’7”. Harper said it’s not unusual to have people cross the street to avoid him, so, for Miller to face him without any fear was a landmark moment in his life and laid the groundwork for their future collaboration on this film. Miller uses lots of long, unbroken takes that allow the viewer to put himself in the shoes of this man who’s going to die much too young. The reflective, almost classicist nature of the unbroken takes plays off of the way that Miller uses handheld cameras to pan back and forth between people talking, instead of using a more traditional close-up/over-the-shoulder/close-up style of editing. I’m hoping to have the chance to see Welcome To Pine Hill again, and that’s not something I can say for many films I see at festivals.
The Sound of Small Things: This one’s really interesting, folks. Sam and Cara are a young couple who’ve just gotten married and are navigating the uncertain territory of what it means for two people to create a life together. Here’s the catch: Cara’s just recently lost her hearing in an accident. Early on, the film does an expert job of illustrating the way most people use even the most inconsequential sounds to relate to the world around them. From not hearing the phone ring or a knock at the door, or being easily able to follow conversations, the rendering of the extreme alteration of Cara’s existence is a striking one. As in Pine Hill, Peter McLarnan (who wrote, produced, edited, and directed) favors long, unbroken takes that really require his actors to be on their P’s and Q’s with what’s (mostly) improvisational dialogue. That the dialogue and its delivery are that strong speaks volumes to the skill of the cast. I particularly liked Cara Ann Krippner as Cara. The film’s not perfect, and there are some elbows and knees that stick out in odd places, but this one’s going down as one of the better films I’ve seen at Slamdance.
In addition to seeing two strong films, one of the day’s biggest highlights was the first Sundance Summit between two SmackRefs. Eric Volkman’s in town, and, after a few days of trying to merge our busy schedules, we were finally able to meet up and share a brew or two at Cicero’s Ristorante on Main Street. It was great fun, even though we both agreed it will be wonderful to get back to California and no longer have to worry about wearing twenty layers every time we walk outside.
Finally, at almost the very end of the night, I met David Carr, the original Carpetbagger himself, of the New York Times through a new acquaintance, which was fantastic. Like I said, where else but Sundance? Well, maybe Cannes, but let’s take this one step at a time.
Tomorrow looks promising as well. After spending most of my time at Slamdance, I may be jumping over to the other side of the street for a while.