So I’ve been here on the ground at Sundance for a little over three days, and it feels like it’s been three weeks. This is my second real Sundance, and I’m finding it to be an acquired taste. I’m not complaining: I am staying on a beautiful mountain and I missed the blizzard. But you need some serious stamina for this place. There are so many events, parties and meetings — and then, of course, you can’t forget the movies.
I’ve seen three movies so far, all by female directors.
My first film was “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. The great thing about documentaries that feature public figures is how much you learn about their non-public side. Norman Lear is a man who created sitcoms that schooled generations of people. Growing up in the ’80s, I watched all of Lear’s shows. He was ahead of his time on women and on race. But he wasn’t perfect, and I found the conversations and confrontations he had with Esther Rolle about how the (white male) writers on “Good Times” were writing the black characters. Looking at that situation through a lens from 2016 was eye-opening. My only beef with the film was that all the “experts” commenting on Lear, aside from family members, were all men. Where was Shonda Rhimes and other significant women in television?
My second film was “Sand Storm,” the narrative feature debut of Elite Zexer. This is a movie funded with Israeli money that tells the story of a Bedouin community. Here is our interview with Zexer. With an outsider’s perspective, she respectfully takes a look at a family at the moment when the father takes a second wife. It took me awhile to figure this out, but this new woman comes into the family because Wife #1, Jalila (Ruba Blal), has not produced any sons. She has a posse of girls, the oldest of which is Layla (Lammis Amar), who has fallen in love with a boy outside of their community. Layla believes has a great relationship with her father, and so she feels she can convince him this is okay, but sadly learns that customs are customs. And while men have to abide by customs too, those customs tend to give them all the power, and what you see is a clamping down on these women. Layla wants a different life, but she is so deeply committed to her family and its customs too. So she is stuck. While it is heart-wrenching to watch Layla’s predicament, I was drawn to the younger sister Tasnim (Khadisha Al Akel), a 10-year-old budding rebel who wants to hang out with her dad and refuses to cover her head and be a proper girl. You know that she is getting to the age where this kind of behavior will start to be problematic. My heart broke for the potential of Tasnim and the reality she will be confronted with as she grows up.
My third film was “A Good Wife.” This is the feature directorial debut of Serbian actress Mirjana Karanović. She stars as Milena, the well-to-do wife of a contractor in post-war Serbia. This is a film about making a life after war and all the secrets war holds, how things are left unsaid and start to fester and rise to the surface and explode. There are men who are so pained by their war experiences that they drink but can’t keep down the pain, and then there are men, like Milena’s husband Vlada, who sweep it under the rug and don’t want anyone or anything to mess with the life he has created. Milena’s mooring is shaken loose by a videotape of Vlada during the war and a cancer diagnosis. Milena must figure out what to do with this information as she confronts her own mortality.
Stay tuned for more!