5 Favorite Films I Saw at Sundance

5 Favorite Films I Saw at Sundance

This is just a a quick writeup of some of the films I enjoyed most at Sundance. More importantly, these are out of a very small pool of films I was able to see, because even with a badge, it’s really, really hard to see films at Sundance. To get a ticket for each of the film’s below required waking up at the crack of dawn to walk a mile in the snow to the box office to buy tickets only for that day. Plus you’ve got to wait in line for about an hour before showtime to get a good seat.

Buy, watch, repeat. And in some cases like Meru, it took four early morning attempts. But in the end, all these movies were well worth the early rise and cold weather to see, so I encourage you to see them because I’m sure the obstacles in you watching them will be way lower.

Meru Expedition, Garwhal, India


I’m a sucker for mountaineering docs. Meru is about the journey of three close friends to make a first ascent on a new route up Mount Meru. The obstacles and injuries they overcame is mind boggling. But unlike most mountain docs that involve a lot of re-enactments in controlled environments, Meru was shot by the climbers (two of which are National Geographic photographers) during their multiple attempts. So you’re right there in the action, seeing their struggles and getting their unedited thoughts as they attempt the climb.


Best of Enemies 1

Best of Enemies

Witness the birth of pundit television. In 1968 ABC staged a series of debates during the political conventions between leading conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. and leftist novelist Gore Vidal. Dead last in ratings, the televised sparks between the two shot ABC to number one and a new type of political theater was born. Funny and witty, Best of Enemies pulls from a great collection of archival footage and source material that really brings this engaging political boxing match to life.

Racing Extinction 1

Racing Extinction

Louie Psihoyos’ follow-up to his Academy Award winning doc The Cove. Racing Extinction uses the same guerrilla style filming with covert cameras and hidden microphones to create an eco-thriller exposing all sorts of extinction threats, from illegal wildlife trading to a tricked out Tesla that can film and project CO2 emissions. It’s the Blackfish of 2015.

Hot Girls Wanted 1

Hot Girls Wanted

An exploration into the amateur porn industry, where young girls respond to Craigslist ads in search of fortune and glory. Following a group of girls based in a house in Miami with their ‘manager,’ the film has amazing access to capture the journey of the many girls that come and go. It’s often a short journey as they get burnt out or producers become interested in new talent (as the pool is seemingly endless).

Me and the Earl and the Dying Girl 1

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Not a documentary! This was one of the films that was getting a lot of buzz, so I wanted to see at least one movie that was going to be a break out hit. It did not disappoint. A high school pic about an awkward, movie making senior who befriends an ill classmate, it has the joy and quirkiness of Napoleon Dynamite with major pull at the heartstrings. And for taking place in a high school, a setting that you’ve seen countless times on film, it had some of the most inventive and beautiful cinematography I’ve seen in a long time.

Sweet Micky for President

So this was a Slamdance pick but I definitely wanted to give it a mention because it was a great film following the Haitian presidential campaign of Michel Martelly with the help of Pras Michel, founder of the band The Fugees.

Objectified – Design Pr0n

“Every object tells a story if you know how to read it” -Henry Ford

Everything is designed. Some one, some where put some sort of thought into the design of whatever object you’re using. Yes, some put more thought into it than others, but no object that you use ended up the way it is by chance, and that is the subject of Objectified – our interaction with the objects we use everyday and the people who designed them.

I love design. Design, architecture, typography. Objectified is the second film from Gary Hustwit, his first being Helvetica, one of my favs.

The thing I love about both films is it makes you stop and analyze what you pass by every day. Helvetica is one of the most common fonts that you see hundreds of times a day, yet never thinking about…until, of course, you see Helvetica.

Objectified does the same with the design of industrial objects. It mainly features the companies and designers that are putting out the best designed products and their thoughts on what design should do and where it’s going.

Basically it’s a film starring Apple, IKEA, and IDEO, you know, the titans of great design.

It’s great to see a film like this in a festival because you’re with a great audience, the kind of audience that erupts into applause when one of the interviewees states there’s only one company that’s consistently putting out great design, and that company is Apple.

I met Gary before the film screened. The only thing I could manage to think of to say was, “I love Helvetica.” I know, very witty and insightful. But then I think of what would happen if any normal person met Gary, say, my mom.

“You make films? What’s your film?”

“Helvetica. It’s about the font.”

“Oh…You made a film about a font?”

Objectified illustrated by Austin Kleon (via Objectified)

Gary said he’s working on a third film to sort of round out this design trilogy, though no word on the subject matter.

Art & Copy – Minds Behind the Greatest Ads

I’m somewhat familiar with the world of advertising, though admittedly most of that knowledge comes from watching Mad Men. Either way I love advertising (well, advertising done well), so I was excited to see that Art & Copy was at Full Frame.

Art & Copy features some of the most influential art directors and copywriters behind some of the most famous ads of all time. These are the ads that have shaped pop culture – Apple’s 1984, Budweiser frogs, Nike’s ‘Just Do It.’

People scoff at advertising. Like, literally – when a factoid popped up in the film that said the average city dweller is exposed to 5000 ads a day, peopled scoffed. But advertising is what makes the entertainment system work; it’s what puts TV on the air and magazines on shelves. This isn’t really a surprise – publications are folding or downsizing all over the place because advertising revenue is down. This is even flooding over into online news media.

People want everything free and uninterrupted. I like free stuff (and I believe news should always be free), so I think giving 30 seconds of my attention is a fair trade off to watching The Daily Show online for free. It’s pretty simple – you don’t watch ads, advertisers stop spending money because no one’s watching them, and then studios don’t have money to make shows.

Of course part of this is to blame on advertisers. If all ads were great and entertaining, we’d be just as excited to watch the ads than the program, like the Super Bowl (though now that the Super Bowl ads are all online I just gained four hours one Sunday a year).

For every car dealership who puts their screaming kid in a commercial, or Billy Mays yelling at me about how my detergent sucks, there’s a fair balance of mediocre commercials as well as those few gems, and I’m okay with that. I’ll put up with it for good, free TV.

If you get one thing from Art & Copy it’s that advertising is hard and good ideas are rare. “Oh, it’s only 30 seconds, how hard is that?” Well, in that 30 seconds you need to cram a beginning, middle, end, send out your message, create a scene, create characters, emotionally connect with the audience and, oh, sell your shit. And after reading this paragraph, your time is up.

And for print ads, as you just read above 5000 ads are competing with each other a day. Talk about trying to stand out.

ART & COPY trailer from Baldwin& on Vimeo.

One very cool story in Art & Copy was the idea of bringing the Art Director and Copywriter into the same room (thus, Art & Copy). The Art Director is mainly responsible for the visuals while the Copywriter handles the copy, or text. Having the two work together is standard practice today, and you’d think that should just be common sense – they’re producing one final product, the visuals and text should work harmoniously together, but no, which is why a lot of old ads are sketches of happy family with big blocks of text under it. The revolutionary firm that did put the two together was new, scoffed at by the old, large firms (lots of scoffing), and, of course, they kicked ass (Think Small).

Art & Copy is on the festival circuit now. Catch it if you can.

Post script – found this behind the scenes footage from Apple’s 1984 commercial:

Art and Copy Still Copyright © 2009 The One Club for Art and Copy

The Wind and The Water & Oblivion – MIFF

The Wind and The Water (Burgua dii Ebo )

A young indigenous teen seeking his fortune in Panama City struggles to acclimate to chaotic urban life, where he becomes enamored with a girl from a wealthy, assimilated family. Later, he encounters his crush once again–but this time the landscape and tradition define their interaction. {IMDb}

I met Vero, the director of The Wind and the Water, at a press meet and greet. The background of the film is fascinating. This is the first feature length narrative shot in Panama. It’s about the Kuna people and culture, who live in a collection of 365 islands off the coast of Panama. Their culture has remained largely untouched and unaltered since its creation, but of course now they’re facing modern problems with young Kuna’s leaving the islands to live in Panama City and developers wanting to turn their native land into beach resorts.

The Wind and the Water gives the Kuna a voice and tells their story.Vero isn’t the only credited director – the credit is shared with the Igar Yalla Collective, a Kuna youth group Vero founded, so in a way the film is not only about the Kuna, but by them. All of the scenes and events in the film are based of actual Kuna experiences.???

Overall I enjoyed the film. There were parts where the dialogue was just dry exposition, but overall the film was enjoyable and educational. It really captured the Kuna culture and what they’re facing today.

Oblivion (El Olivido)

Overall a good doc on Lima, Peru. It took some time to get into since there’s no one main subject and narrative, but instead segments of individual interviews and stories that together weave a portrait of Lima and its modern history.

My biggest complaint, and something I’ve never experienced before, was the subtitling. The timing was awful. It would ruin jokes by showing the next line of dialogue before cutting to the visual.

Image copyright The Wind and The Water

Afterschool – Miami Film Fest

I don’t really like ‘reviews’ of movies. I think you can learn something no matter how great or terrible a film is. So for the next couple of posts I’m just going to recap my thoughts and experiences on the few films I caught at the Miami International Film Festival.

Robert is a young American student at an elite East Coast preparatory school who accidentally captures on camera the tragic death of two classmates. Their lives become memorialized as part of an audio-visual assignment designed to speed up the campus-wide healing process. But the video memorial assignment results in an atmosphere of paranoia and unease among students and teachers. {IMDb}

Afterschool deals with our lives and everything surrounding it being on YouTube and how you can be voyeuristic, and I that’s the problem. I feel like the whole “OMG everything I do is on YouTube” thing is over. Yes, our lives are on the internet. Yes, kids do things parents don’t know about. Not much new there.

So the premise is kind of a snoozer. Even worse, the dialogue is cringingly painful at parts.

I will give it props for beautiful cinematography. The film cuts between normal, objective, “this is a movie shot on film” scenes and digital video from cameras the characters are using. I thought the way these two types of visuals were edited together were very interesting, as well as the way each medium was shot designed.

Also props for not having a soundtrack (that I noticed) and maintaining the movement of the film.

In the Q&A I learned a very weird coincidence. While the director wasn’t there, the producer said this was the director’s first feature, but he had made a short called Buy it Now. I’ve actually seen this short at the very first film festival I ever went to (CineVegas), and watching Afterschool reminded me of it because it does deal with a lot of the same themes (a girl documents herself selling her virginity on eBay).

One side rant – in the actual screening I overheard a guy in front of me mention how he was a filmmaker and had a film in the festival. So during the screening, this supposed filmmaker pulls out his phone and starts texting – bright screen glarring in my face. What the hell? No matter how bored you are or terrible the movie, especially at a film festival since the people that made the friggin’ film are there, don’t text. And especially if you’re a supposed filmmaker.

500 Days of Summer

This past weekend Geoffrey Gilmore was back with a new film straight from Sundance – 500 Days of Summer, starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and directed by Marc Webb.

I loved it. I thought it was the best love story I’ve seen since Eternal Sunshine, and emotionally very similar. Plus, it has a whole sequence in Ikea, so how could you not love it?

Plus the soundtrack is amazing, though sadly (but understandably) no Zooey music from She & Him.

Here’s the teaser trailer:

Watched it? Good. Thought the narration was ridiculous? Good. That’s the point. Webb said it was meant to be over the top. Some people have even caught on that it was inspired by the trailer for Contempt.

How do I know Webb said this? Because he came by to do a private Q&A and discussion for the Film School, hosted by Gilmore.

The backstory of the film is great. The script had a pretty typical Hollywood beginning – all the studios passed on it until Fox Searchlight optioned it and Webb got a copy of it. He feel in love with it, but the studio wasn’t really doing much to get it made. He said even right now (as in now, where the film is all done) the film still isn’t greenlit.

So here’s the awesome part – Webb made it his mission to prove to the studio that they would be foolish not to make it. He spent three months and a lot of his own money to create storyboards, concept drawings, and a now famous scroll. The film is told out of sequence, and this scroll is an outline of the events in the script laid out on a timeline plotting their 500 day relationship in chronological order. Needless to say, the presentation blew everyone away.

Webb’s background is in music videos, with this being his first feature. People seem to frown when a music video director does a feature, but I thought his background made the film quirky and great. There’s an amazing split screen sequence in the film, but he knew how to make it work because he did it in a Maroon 5 video.

Also, he said the biggest asset to having a music video background is you know how to tell a story economically and make each shot count.

So the film is coming out in July, up against Harry Potter. It’s a good move since the audiences for these films are pretty different. But they have some challenges with marketing the film.

When they did a test screening it rated higher with guys. So how do you market a love movie to guys?

Also, as much as I love Zooey and Joey, when most people hear their names (like my mom), they reply with, “who?”

So a lot of the marketing will probably depend on good word of mouth, so I’ll start it here. The film is amazing, definitely the best thing I’ve seen this year. You will love it, you should see it, and bring your friends too.

Pin It on Pinterest