Sundance: A Ray of Sunshine for Filmmakers

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With the Oscar nominations recently announced, minds turn to the pending awards for specific titles and actors. Many of the technical awards are meant to highlight the people working behind the scenes and who make the movie magic happen. But what about the people behind the people behind the scenes? That’s where the Sundance Institute comes in. As a result, cinephiles who read through the end credits of the movies they watch are surely familiar with the Sundance Institute name.

The Sundance Institute oversees the Sundance Film Festival, currently underway under a foot of snow in Park City – and a lot happens there beyond screening the latest crop of indie titles. Last Sunday, for example, the Sundance Institute held a Meet the Artist Diversity Dinner with over 200 filmmakers, producers and programmers from diverse backgrounds to discuss ways in which they might help each other foster their visions and see their ideas to full fruition.

Unlike the nation’s premiere film festival, which takes place every January in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Institute is a non-profit entity that has events and activities year-round which are meant to help aspiring filmmakers with experienced tutors, helpful labs and all manner of resources. Their mission is “dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and audiences.” Their programs focus on features, documentaries, music and include both a Theatre Program (these are creative environment retreats for artists of all kinds) as well as a Native American Initiative “which facilitates the participation of Native and Indigenous artists in the Institute’s artistic development programs and the Sundance Film Festival.”

The Sundance Institute has a vision we very much need in our troubled times, which includes sparking “new levels of empathy and understanding,” which they hope will “lead to social change.” A perfect example of this is Chasing Coral (2017), the documentary I saw two days ago. Full disclosure: the director, Jeff Orlowski, is a regular player at my weekly poker games. But he is also, as listed in the Sundance catalog, “the inaugural Sundance Institute Discovery Impact Fellow for environmental filmmaking.” His documentary about coral bleaching is one that should be seen by any one who loves to scuba-dive, or cares about the ocean, or the human role in changing the environment, or anyone concerned about fishes and humans, or, well, let’s just say it should be seen by anyone and everyone. Now, thanks to a packed Sundance screening that was met with a standing ovation, it was picked up by Netflix for global release, getting anyone and everyone to see it will be that much easier.

Jeff’s success is but one example, among many, where the Sundance Institute can say “mission accomplished.”

Pablo Kjolseth

2 Responses Sundance: A Ray of Sunshine for Filmmakers
Posted By George : January 27, 2017 6:48 pm

I envy the film journalists who got to spend the inaugural week in Sundance, escaping into movies every day.

Posted By kjolseth : January 31, 2017 5:04 pm

Hi, George – God bless the journalists out there who are doing good and hard work in our trying times, as we need them more than ever. None of my blog posts can claim to fall under this category. Heck, TCM bloggers can’t even get a film pass to the TCM Classic Film Fest in exchange for coverage! Luckily, my day job as a film exhibitor pays for my Sundance pass. For those curious, here are the 30 films I screened:

AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER – Gore is back, and this time tries to be a bit more upbeat despite things getting worse.
WOODPECKERS – Based on true story of lovers in Dominican Republic jail who communicate using sign language. Recommended.
COLOSSAL – The director behind TIMECRIMES gets a huge budget to tell the story of two screwed up American drunks who can summon up monsters in Korea. Unpredictable, quirky, fun, inverts KING KONG narrative and possibly works as political metaphor too.
DOLORES – Informative doc about Dolores Huerta.
LANDLINE – Two neurotic NYC sisters deal with fraught relationships. Engaging but slight.
BITCH – Over-the-top and interesting story of a mom who goes nuts and leaves jerk-father to deal with kids. Director/writer plays the woman who thinks she’s a dog.
UNREST – Makes a good case for extreme chronic fatigue victims, as opposed to delicate flowers that think they have CFS.
THE HERO – Sam Elliot plays 72 yr old facing mortality who shacks up with an attractive 30-something comedian.
MUDBOUND – Whoa, Nelly. The real deal. Looks at two struggling families growing up in the south with racism circa WWII.
A GHOST STORY – Casey Affleck has a minor role, but the real star is an old-fashioned two-eyeholes-and-a-sheet ghost. Starts out with looong takes, gets quirky, ultimately leaves an enduring impression, like staring at a white pattern for too long and then closing the eyes and being left with the afterburn on the eyelids.
CHASING CORAL – Already discussed in the blog post.
CASTING JONBENET – A doc that says more about the aspiring actors than the actual events. Meta and interesting.
PLASTIC CHINA – Fly-on-wall doc about families eking out a living sifting through the world’s garbage to recycle the plastic for pennies on the pound.
THE FORCE – Solid doc about Oakland police that overlaps with street confrontations and national corruption charges.
RAW – French horror film about cannibals. Very visceral, not for the squeamish. Uneven in tone.
78/52 – The PSYCHO shower scene is examined in great detail. An excellent dissection of brilliant editing.
WATER & POWER: A CALIFORNIA HEIST – This would be the perfect double-header to THE BIG SHORT. Not that the following words will surprise anyone, but thanks to the greedy ultra-rich, things looks extremely dire for large swaths of the population in the next decade or two.
NOBODY SPEAK: HULK HOGAN, GAWKER AND TRIALS OF A FREE PRESS. Pretty much ditto the above, but in the realm of the 1st Amendment. Very, very relevant to the headlines now popping up.
LONG STRANGE TRIP – 4 hr doc on The Grateful Dead. Good footage, produced by Scorsese.
THE NEW RADICAL – Doc about the libertarian kid who distributed plans for a 3-D printable gun, dovetails with UK libertarian who came up with bitcoin.
ICARUS – A wannabe pro bicyclist befriends a Russian doctor who ends up being investigated for athlete doping scheme. Very interesting, and chilling.
PERSON TO PERSON – Shot on Super 16 and in streets of NYC. Very Hal Hartley-ish. Slight, but fun.
DINA – Two autistic adults navigate life together, being engaged, getting married, and beyond. Award winner. Poignant.
IT’S NOT YET DARK – Doc about a guy who got Motor Neuron Disease when he was 34, but this doesn’t stop him from making a movie and having a family.
PATTI CAKE$ – An overweight girl teams up with two other misfits (one a middle eastern kid, the other a black Satanist) to make catchy rap songs. A big crowd-pleaser.
MY HAPPY FAMILY – Georgian family drama from makers of IN BLOOM. Sweet and unexpected moments, strong female protagonist. Very good.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME – Coming of age story for a Jewish bisexual kid living in Italy and his romance with an older man.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Doc follows the rise of the white nationalists and militia movement up to the Oklahoma bombing. Highly relevant.
STEP – Doc about Baltimore program that hands out scholarships based on girls ability to “Step” dance and keep good grades.
WINNIE – Doc casts Winnie Mandela in a much more positive light than previously reported. Would be a good double-header with DOLORES, as both show strong women whose stories were unfairly eclipsed by their male counterparts.

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