On Jumping In

Adam Gentry, Contributing Writer

Dear Wide World,

I am pleased to report that, despite spending more than 48 hours in an environment dominated by snow, I have not yet fallen victim to that horrible beast known to Californians as “the wipeout.” Sadly, not all members of my party have known my success in matters such as these, but I, above all else, count myself truly fortunate.

After day one, I’m on the board with four screenings at the Slamdance Film Festival, two of which have been solid base hits, one of those good for extra bases, and sadly, two misfires.

First up, Faith, Love, and Whiskey by filmmaker Kristina Nikolova, embarking on her first feature. The film’s narrative revolves around a young woman, Neli, upon her return home to Bulgaria before marrying a successful American named Scott. One of the film’s most striking characteristics is the use of Wong Kar Wai’s trick of shooting at ten frames per second, giving the film a “magical” quality. But where WKW tends to employ this technique more abstractly by shooting locations and inanimate objects, Nikolova focuses the technique more on characters. Unfortunately, despite the universal appeal of lead actress Ana StojanovskaFaith, Love, and Whiskey falls prey to a meandering middle section that confuses the audience about the heroine’s true emotions, making the characters’ actions nearly incomprehensible in the final act. When the Q & A with the filmmakers rolled around, I found myself astounded to have completely misinterpreted the film’s final sequence.

Next up, Comforting Skin, which has a solid premise but isn’t able to sustain its early momentum. Coffee, a young woman, plagued by a seeming double whammy of drug abuse and bipolar disorder, gets a tattoo that, oddly enough, attains sentience and proves to be incredibly possessive of her time and attention. The early sequences are wonderfully authentic, but the film would have been more successful if writer/director Derek Franson had kept the narrative fully involved with the main character’s delusional, psychotic descent. Unfortunately, when the tattoo begins to speak to Coffee, and they begin a strangely twisted love affair, I started to check out. When a dramatic climax involves the central character insisting, “I’m in love with my tattoo, and no one can separate us,” well, I think you understand.

In my book, the day belonged to We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists. As someone with a long-standing interest in the social leanings of Anonymous, the worldwide network of computer hackers whose subversive online pranks have escalated to the highest levels of government and business, I loved the way this film succeeds at placing the group’s recent activity in a broader historical context. Featuring interviews with members both past and present, We Are Legion is a successful documentation of the group’s origins, past work and many possible futures. While director Brian Knappenberger clearly has his biases, I admired his efforts to document different sides of the story, bringing to life the internal divide within Anonymous over its own future. He also tried to include interviews with one of the group’s targets. The film has a timeliness that places Anonymous in a vital social context, alongside the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement.

Finally, Heavy Girls, from German filmmaker Axel Ranisch, is a lovely look at one man’s way of dealing with loss. Sven (Heiko Pinkowski) hires a charismatic charmer named Daniel to look after his aging mother (played to wonderful effect by Ranisch’s own grandmother). What’s not immediately apparent is Sven’s own attraction to Daniel. After his mother’s untimely death, Heavy Girls takes a turn for the unexpected and deals with an unlikely romance between a clueless romantic, and another man who is equally clueless about what he wants from the first. The film’s whimsical touch is wonderfully effective (even if the venue’s layout made it impossible for me to read the subtitles without standing), but I found myself questioning the film’s foray into a homosexual romance. It’s clear Sven is attracted to Daniel, but the relationship comes across as more of an intimate friendship than a romance. Ah, no matter. If you’re not swept under the spell of these sympathetic characters, you might want to check your pulse.

At the end of the night, I ended up at a party, but I’m not exactly sure which one. All I know is, the line to get into Slamdance’s official opening night party proved too indomitable for my compatriot and me, and thanks to another’s goodwill, we found ourselves walking the streets of Park City until we arrived at a wonderfully equipped destination for a post-event. At the end of a successful day, all I can do is thank the stars above (not to mention my smog-free view of them) for such effective public transportation.

More later,

Adam

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