2015 marks my third consecutive year at Sundance, and my first as press. My first trip, I was a little hampered by not having a badge and having to fight for tickets. Last year I upgraded to an industry badge and saw a ton of films, and actually got a lot more networking done… strange to think that all the people I was trying to meet while at Sundance were actually also going to films! This year, as press, I hope to see a record number of films and meet some amazing directors, which should produce a lot of stories for AMFM Magazine, over the next month and through out the year. When I was applying for my press credentials for Sundance this year I realized that I had actually written about seven Sundance films last year without even trying. Sundance has been the source for quality arthouse film my entire cinematic life. I remember discovering Whit Stillman’s work after it scored at Sundance, Ed Burns, and of course who could forget Primer (I’m still trying to solve it in my head to this day).
This year’s Sundance has so much to offer. It’s interesting, there are less ‘have to see’ movies this year for me, but more ‘want to see’ than ever before. I think this is a sign of just trusting the Sundance Programmers more and more. Also, there are more documentaries I am excited about than at any festival I’ve been too. I’m more of a narrative sort of guy but if a film can tell a great story and be true as well, then that’s something truly special. Anyway, I’ll be at Sundance from opening night (Thursday, January 22nd) until the Friday after (the 30th) so expect lots of updates and reviews. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @bearsfonte for my up to the minute reactions of what I’ve seen. In the meantime, here are my top ten Can’t Miss Picks for Sundance 2015.
Digging for Fire
Director: Joe Swanberg, Screenwriters: Jake Johnson, Joe Swanberg
Cast: Jake Johnson, Rosemarie Dewitt, Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick.
Logline: The discovery of a bone and a gun sends a husband and wife on separate adventures over the course of a weekend.
Why You Should Care: Swanberg gets amazing performances out of everyone he works with and this cast is phenomenal. After watching Orlando Bloom killing orc after orc, it will be nice to see him do something a little more based in reality, and I’m pretty sure Anna Kendrick won’t be asked to sing in this one. This ‘feels’ like the most mature work Swanberg has done, just in the description of the story, I will be excited to see his handling of a domestic drama.
Director: Jared Hess, Screenwriters: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Jemaine Clement, Amy Ryan, Danny McBride, Leslie Bibb, Will Forte. Logline: Biblical archaeologist Don Verdean is hired by a local church pastor to find faith-promoting relics in the Holy Land. But after a fruitless expedition he is forced to get creative in this comedy of faith and fraud.
Why You Should Care: It’s a double shot of Sam Rockwell of course (see above) but also Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) is always good for quirky characters that somehow still appeal directly to your heart. The premise of this seems ripe for less than righteous laughs and I’m sure capable of angering a few conservative critics – many of whom will probably be at this screening just to hate upon it. Those are the most exciting screenings at Sundance, since it seems less and less these days that film can actually cause controversy.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Director: Alex Gibney
Logline: Going Clear intimately profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, shining a light on how they attract true believers and the things they do in the name of religion. Why You Should Care: Looking for controversy? It’s amazing this movie was even made considering the so-called conspiratorial power of this cult religion. Gibney is a great filmmaker, having taken Lance Armstrong to the mat in a way few people have been willing, I cannot wait to see what he has put together on Scientology. This is Gibney’s 10th film at Sundance and Esquire dubbed him “the most important documentarian of our time.”
Director: Corin Hardy, Screenwriters: Corin Hardy, Felipe Marino.
Cast: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton, Michael Smiley.
Logline: When a London-based conservationist is sent to Ireland to survey an area of ancient forest believed by the superstitious locals to be hallowed ground, he unwittingly disturbs a horde of terrifying beings and must fight to protect his family.
Why You Should Care: I am a huge fan of the ‘Park City at Midnight’ series, and have rarely been disappointed. In this case I know none of the creative team or cast, but the look of the film, from the stills I’ve seen, is absolutely frightening. I’ve been writing my own evil faeries vs. new construction horror script for a while, and the message and tone seems to be similar. I suppose that’ll either help me or hurt me.
Hot Girls Wanted
Directors: Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus
Logline: Hot Girls Wanted is a first-ever look at the realities inside the world of the amateur porn industry and the steady stream of 18- and 19-year-old girls entering into it. US Doc Comp
Why You Should Care: Produced by Rashida Jones (Parks and Rec) and partners from the Kinsey Institute, this intimate look into the life of one girl starting down the road as an amateur porn starlet promises to be one of the first balanced discussions of this billion+ dollar industry. Now with it easier than ever to make films, and to make porn, anyone can join the business, and more and more people are. I have no idea where this film will come done on the issues, and that makes for good cinema. Plus, great title. Who can deny that?
Director: Eli Roth, Screenwriters: Eli Roth, Nicolas Lopez, Guillermo Amoedo
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana De Armas, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand, Colleen Camp. Logline: Two beautiful young girls walk into a married man’s life and turn a wild fantasy into his worst nightmare.
Why You Should Care: After making one of the best films of 2014 (John Wick), Reeves teams up with shock/schlock horror maven Eli Roth, who’s films are always smarter than most people give him credit for. The write of the film from the programmers says this is ‘no splatter film’ so that should give Roth even more license to disturb us in deeper ways. I’ve always said the most frightening scene in Hostel is his own cameo, in the locker room, where he talks about what would make a man do the things he can do at that establishment – not a drop of blood is spilt. I look forward to seeing a whole film of that in this deceptively simple premise.
Director: Amy Berg
Logline: When Warren Jeffs rose to prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he bridged the gap between sister wives and ecclesiastically justified rape, befuddling the moral compass of his entire congregation.
Why You Should Care: While most of the world probably only caught glimpses of this national nightmare of abuse of power, living in Texas where these people had set up cultish camp, the Warren Jeffs story was something different. Trying to balance protecting the obviously brainwashed innocent, while still forcing them into situations in their best interests, and then hearing the bizarre defenses from people who often sounded like Jeffs’ congregation but were on the state payroll…. it was a mess. I’m hoping now we have enough distance to really look at this state intercession as one of the great victories against craziness in the last twenty years.
Director and screenwriter: Andrew Bujalski
Cast: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Michael Hall, Brooklyn Decker.
Logline: Two mismatched personal trainers’ lives are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client.
Why You Should Care: Bujalski is an Austin-based director who looks to have finally graduated to the indie inner circle. His last film, Computer Chess, was a brilliant comedy that looked at a very particular group of people at a very partulare time. The characters were very nuanced and charming in their own peculiarity. I can’t wait to see what he does with the most high profile cast he has ever had. The premise doesn’t do much to entice me, but anyone who knows Bujalski’s films knows he makes the most out what he has. This film is almost guaranteed to play SXSW.
The Stanford Prison Experiment
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Screenwriter: Tim Talbott
Cast: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Tye Sheridan, Johnny Simmons, Olivia Thirlby.
Logline: Based on the actual events that took place in 1971, when Stanford professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo created what became one of the most shocking and famous social experiments of all time.
Why You Should Care: You’ve read about these events in countless textbooks. Twenty-four undergraduate students are randomly assigned to be guards or prisoners and as the experiment plays out, the ‘guards’ become power-hungry and abusive and the ‘prisoners’ organize into a revolt. A period piece with ramifications that loom as large today as in 1971, this promises to be a film that will incite a lot of conversation.
Director: Michael Madsen
Logline: “This film documents an event that has never taken place…” With unprecedented access to the United Nations’ Office for Outer Space Affairs, leading space scientists and space agencies, The Visit explores humans’ first encounter with alien intelligent life and thereby humanity itself. “Our scenario begins with the arrival. Your arrival.”
Why You Should Care: A co-production with support from Denmark, Austria, Ireland, Finland, Norway, this is a SciFi documentary, one that looks to explore a topic that could easily be handled as a joke but instead promises a very authentic and in depth look into our planet’s preparedness for what could either be a peaceful exchange or an extinction level event. Science Fiction is somewhat light at this year’s Sundance, but this is one I wouldn’t miss for anything.