Filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck returned this week to the very same podium at the Sundance Film Festival's Racquet Club Theater where two years ago they first introduced their acclaimed "Half Nelson." Boden and Fleck's latest film, "Sugar," which had its world premiere Monday at the venue, is the noble immigrant story of Miguel Santos, played by Algenis Perez Soto, an aspiring Dominican baseball player who hopes to succeed in the major leagues in the U.S. At 19, he receives a break, winning a place in the minor leagues with a team in Iowa. But, after initial success, his pitching begins to falter and he starts to question his life's ambition.
"I've been a fan of baseball since I was a kid," noted Fleck, on stage after the Sundance festival screening. Both he and filmmaking partner Anna Boden traveled to the Dominican Republic scouring baseball camps and fields in the country where the game is popular. "We interviewed more then 500 players down in the D.R.," said Boden. The duo traveled extensively in the Caribbean country as well as in Miami and the Bronx before filming, with the support of HBO Films. The film, produced by Paul Mezey, Jamie Patricof and Jeremy Kipp Walker, is set for TV distribution via HBO but the "Sugar" team are hoping to score a theatrical distribution pack here at the festival.
"I hope [the film] is bigger then just baseball," said Fleck, a Sundnace veteran along with Boden (their 2004 film, "Gowanus, Brooklyn" won the festival's short film prize). "It's about a guy who chases after something that he perhaps realizes isn't something he wants to do or is good enough to do. Baseball is a vessel for this coming-of-age story." [Brian Brooks]
Reviewing the film in indieWIRE earlier this week, Anthony Kaufman praised "Sugar" as "a deeply resonant story about a Dominican baseball talent recruited for America's minor leagues," noting, "If 'Half Nelson' showed off the duo's skillful attention to character, verite camerawork and progressive politics in their native Brooklyn, 'Sugar' proves they are just as adept working on a wider canvas, away from home."
Past, Present and Future: "Sleep Dealer"
An immigration story of a different sort can be found in Alex Rivera's exceptional feature film debut, "Sleep Dealer." A sci-fi story set in a future where Mexico and the U.S. have been sealed off from each other by a wall, the film introduces a young man from a small Mexican village who yearns to head north for prosperity via a futuristic labor program. In the sprawling metropolis of Tiajuana, the cybracero will work in a factory where outsourced laborers serve twelve hour shifts completing tasks in other parts of the world via a unique network: nodes attached to their arms and body connect them with remote robot workers around the world so that they can build skyscrapers in a big city or pick oranges in Florida. In a future envisioned by Rivera and co-writer David Riker, the United States get exactly what it wants: "All the work without the workers."
In the young man's village, water has been privatized by a major corporation (which is under attack by aqua-terrorists) and node workers in the north have developed a global network allowing them to link their nervous systems with those of others, marketing themselves on a sort of futuristic YouTube for their own memories.
"Technology develops with an agenda," noted Rivera, after a rousing Tueday afternoon screening at the Eccles Theater. He explained that, as seen in his film, it can be used to wage wars, extract labor or to fuel an underground economy. [Eugene Hernandez]
"True originality and artistic verve push filmmaker Alex Rivera's future drama "Sleep Dealer," above other films in Sundance's dramatic competition, noted Steve Ramos, in his indieWIRE review of the film, earlier this week.
"Flow" Explores the Human Right for Water
Water is a rare commodity in a future envisioned in "Sleep Dealer," and the issue is front and center in a new Sundance Film Festival documentary.
"We grow in water and then the water breaks and then we're into the world and everything that is going to make us grow is related to water," said filmmaker Irena Salina at the Sundance Film Festival debut of her documentary "Flow: For Love of Water." With seventy percent of the Earth covered with water, and the fluid composing seventy percent of the human body, the issue of preserving the world's water supply and making it accessible to all is tackled in Salina's call to arms film.
Much of "Flow" deals with the inevitable clash with capitalism as water supplies become privatized by corporations around the world and the poor are literally charged for what falls out of the sky or what they take out of the ground. Critical of those who are beholden more to their stockholders than the poverty stricken people of parts of Africa and South America, "Flow" condemns this alarming trend and offers other alternatives to clean water, such as inexpensive, community owned water co-ops used in India, as well as other ways to conserve this essential element.
A tight 83 minutes, "Flow" tackles a number of issues regarding what will be the "oil" of the 21st century. "We wanted to think of the water as a character in the movie," said editor Caitlin Dixon, discussing how the film pulls together so many different settings and characters.
Maude Barlow, author of Blue Gold: The Battle Against Corporate Theft of the World's Water, one of numerous experts on water interviewed in the film, said after the screening: "We need a convenant with the earth of three parts. We need to stop polluting surface water which we've done massively around the world. We have to stop overmining ground water. And we've got to stop displacing water and retain waters in our watersheds."
"Flow" is already causing change. At the Q&A following the screening was a man who worked at a French water company who criticized his former employee for their putting profits over people, an owner of a bottled water company curious to learn more about the water situation, and a Scottish woman involved with the goal of privatization of water in Scotland but who after seeing the documentary said she had changed her mind and would keep Scotland's water supply public. [James Israel]
INTERVIEW | "Sleep Dealer" Director Alex Rivera
"One unique thing about my storytelling is that digital imaging has been central to my work -- from my first short film all the way up to 'Sleep Dealer'," director Alex Rivera said in a recent interview. Featured in the Dramatic Competition program at Sundance '08, Alex Rivera's directorial debut, "Sleep Dealer" is set in a near future world full of chaos. "Dealer"'s protagonist is Memo Cruz (Luis Fernando Pena), a young man who lives with his family in a small town and dreams of a big city life full of technological wonder, comes across a transmission that could change the future in a way he'd never expected. "I don't use technology simply to add 'flare' to my stories," he said. "I use technology because I believe that the camera alone cannot capture many aspects of our lived reality."
INTERVIEW | "A Raisin in the Sun" Director Kenny Leon
"I've always felt that, in directing "Raisin," it was important to try and see the souls of these people," "A Raisin in the Sun" director Kenny Leon said in a recent interview. Based on the award-winning play by Lorraine Hansberry, "A Raisin in the Sun" is a film adapation of director Kenny Leon's own recent Broadway revival of the play. "Raisin" follows the Younger family as they struggle in 1950s Chicago. "I imagine that you can claim success on a film when you feel that the story in your head translates on the screen, when you capture what's in your head on the screen. I think that a film is successful when it works on and captures all five senses, when it looks/feels/tastes/sounds/smells like what you wanted it to be; when the film on screen exceeds what it was in my heart and on my mind, then I have succeeded. "
indieWIRE's coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is available in iW's special Park City section.