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by Peter Knegt
January 26, 2013 12:52 PM
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Sex and the (Park) City: Considering An Atypically Sexual Sundance Film Festival

"Two Mothers"

Sex and the Sundance Film Festival is not a new equation. In fact, sex and this Sundance Film Festival isn't a new equation. It's been a talking point since before the festival even started.

Leading into this year's festival, The Sutherland Institute, a super-conservative group (even for super-conservative Utah), said that state funding for Sundance should be cut on the grounds that its sexually explicit content doesn't jive with Utah’s "family values."

In this blog post a week before the festival kicked off, Sutherland public policy director Derek Monson said:

"For the sake of public decency and encouraging a free, moral society, the state of Utah should end its 'complex relationship' with the Sundance Film Festival. The festival’s organizers can continue to promote their goals without being dependent on taxpayers, and Utah taxpayers do not have to endorse films that are obscene and contrary to their values."

It's doubtful Monson's hissy fit will effect any future editions of Sundance.

“Sometimes the narrowest mind barks the loudest, and we’ve over time come to ignore it,” Sundance founder Robert Redford proclaimed at the festival's opening day press conference. “It’s a free country and maybe they should look at the Constitution.”

And he's right. But either way, one has to wonder if Monson or his fellow Sutherland Institute-ites had any idea how much this edition of the festival would go against his so-called "family values." 

Dubbed by many as "Porndance," the 2013 edition of Sundance proved an endlessly and uniquely sexual affair which has brought forth considerable chatter from festivalgoers and countless "sex at Sundance"-themed articles from the mainstream media.

But now that the festival is coming to an official close, let's take a closer look at the relationship between sex and Sundance 2013, because it's a fascinating one. And reducing it to a "Porndance" headline simply doesn't it do it justice.

There was certainly some sexual themes characteristic of any given Sundance this year. Youthful sexual awakenings are a festival staple, and they were plentiful: Miles Teller taking Shailene Woodley's virginity in "The Spectacular Now;" Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen looking to lose their virginity in their final summer before college in "Very Good Girls;" Daniel Radcliffe portraying Allen Ginsberg's budding queer sexuality through his relationship with Dane DeHaan's Lucien Carr in "Kill Your Darlings." But as the countless arrows on all of Sundance's official trailers, posters and merchandise made clear, this year's programming was all about moving forward, and sexuality was no exception.

One of the films that the Sutherland Institute -- without having actually seen it -- used as a primary example of why Utah needs to stop funding Sundance was Anne Fontaine's "Two Mothers." The film is adapted from Doris Lessing's true story-based novella "The Grandmothers" and depicts two lifelong best friends (Naomi Watts and Robin Wright) who begin knowingly having sexual relationships with each other's teenage surfer sons (Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville).

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8 Comments

  • James D. | January 28, 2013 11:12 AMReply

    Peter Knegt remains the primary reason I read Indiewire, and this article is the perfect example as to why.

  • Michael Medeiros | January 28, 2013 1:58 AMReply

    Well...we've got some comments here, haven't we? I just want to say that sex is a normal part of life. It's after all how we get here. It also, metaphorically speaking, is an affirmation of life. The hero rides off into the sunset with the loved woman and together they will continue the journey of humans on the planet. That being said, Hollywood, which includes indiewood, has always used sex to sell product. And the new rules, ie: cable, internet allow for so much more than in the past. Potentially, this is a good thing, as it allows telling stories that previously were not viable. Of course, the downside is that a lot of gratuitous fluff (and who will be the judge) floods the filmscape. There's a lot of ugliness on the internet, including comments on blogs and such. You know, sex is not "bad." And the sexual revolution, so called, is not over. It never will be over as long as so many humans are so screwed up and guilty about sex. That being said, I think corporate america does commercialize and use and distort sex in ways that are irresponsible. Sex can be healthy and good but is distorted in so many ways by so many forces.

  • Jeremiah | January 26, 2013 5:06 PMReply

    this writer and all the filmmakers he mentions shall rot in hell

  • Jeremiah | January 26, 2013 5:06 PMReply

    this writer and all the filmmakers he mentions shall rot in hell

  • Jeremiah | January 26, 2013 5:04 PMReply

    this writer and all the filmmakers he mentions shall rot in hell

  • L | January 26, 2013 4:29 PMReply

    Sex in film needs to be taken out till everyone is educated on both sides the reserved puritan types and.The people who feel the need too just blatantly throw it in our faces with tastelessly .Like why do we need to make movies that border pornography ? Is this the by product of a degenerate deteriorating hollywood film industry.What the fuck does pornograpghy have to do with art people need to learn to let the 60's and 70's go.The sexual revolution came and went get over it why rehash it ? Indie film makers are the biggest hypocrites simply for the fact that they copy the same hollywood tactics of getting attention for a movie.They just take it to and extreme shock level .I blame reality t.v films arent art they are made like news reports wheres the new ideas? wheres the creativity ? as far im concerned i haven't seen any ,indie films are just a front for people who weren't good enough to make a mainstream hollywood film.Places like sundance are homes to these "misfit toys"

  • ls | January 27, 2013 6:07 AM

    Because we have the first amendment and what you consider art doesn't have to apply to everyone. If film-makers want to explore the subject of sex who are you to tell them otherwise?
    You proposed it such be banned? So you want to live in an autocratic society? Freedom of speech doesn't just apply to what you agree with, that's not freedom of speech. You say people need to be educated? These movies are 18plus and if they went to public school they were educated on sex. Why would sex need to be taken out of film just because of your ignorance? That's nonsensical.

    "wheres the new ideas? wheres the creativity ?"
    They are everywhere and nowhere. You proposing creativity is dead, isn't an original thought either, so start with yourself. The fact that you can even say that in relevance to sundance and then favour mainstream wide released films just proves you're either a troll or a complete delusion moron with incessantly bad taste.

  • Rocket | January 26, 2013 2:00 PMReply

    "...depraved mind as though their conscience had been seared with a hot iron."