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Today from Sundance, Eric Kohn gives snapshot reviews of "The Cove" and "Barking Water," while Peter Knegt reports on the world premiere of Katherine Dieckman's "Motherhood," a screening of Sophie Barthes' "Cold Souls," and regarding the Sundance alums that received Oscar nods this morning.
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: "Barking Water"
Sterlin Harjo's "Barking Water" is a quiet, affecting portrait of mortality. The movie revolves around middle aged Native American couple (well, former couple) Frankie and Irene (Richard Ray Whitman and Casey Camp-Horinek) as they travel across a golden American landscape while seeking to take Frankie back to his family before he dies.
Thoughtfully bittersweet, Harjo's grown up drama benefits greatly from Frederick Schroeder's lavish storybook-like cinematography. The script, while a little unpolished, remains thoroughly heartfelt right up to the understated finish. "Barking Water" isn't a monumental accomplishment, although the ages and ethnicities of its leads lend some distinction to it. The rest of the appeal lies with the gentle sway of its solemn narrative momentum. [Eric Kohn]
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: "The Cove"
Environmental documentaries suffer from the paradigm set forth by the success of "An Inconvenient Truth." That means the genre is typically perceived as a haven for long-winded soapbox stands and dry moralizing under the guise of big screen entertainment. Louise Psihoyos's riveting dolphin documentary "The Cove" offers the ideal alternative: It's both an educational work of art and a classic espionage tale . Smoothly edited to the beat of an engrossing cinematic score, the movie focuses on the struggle of a few passionate activists attempting to save dolphins from capture under clandestine circumstances in a tiny cove in Taiji, Japan. Psihoyos uses this setting as a jumping-point for exploring the general problems plaguing Japan's fishing industry, both for animals and humans alike.
When not touching on the broader issues -- such as mercury poisoning that results from exported dolphin meat -- Psihoyos lets his fascinating subjects tell the story, with particular emphasis on the expanding worldview of Richard O'Barry, the marine mammal specialist whose desire to ensure dolphin safety emerged when none other than Flipper died in his arms.O'Barry and his colleagues make daring rescue missions to the cove when faced by Japanese authorities that continually try to block their efforts. Psihoyos captures many of these sequences on camera, including the movie's horrific climax, when a bloody dolphin massacre unfolds on several hidden cameras. The director manages to create an emotionally potent narrative without simplifying the altruism of his subjects. They certainly aren't blind tree huggers. "It's not about intelligence," says one, rejecting the possibility of anthropromorphizing the creatures. "It's about conciousness." [Eric Kohn]
Dieckmann and Thurman Bring "Motherhood" To Park City
At its world premiere at the Eccles Center last night, Sundance Film Festival Director Geoff Gilmore introduced the group of "fucking tough" women involved in Katherine Dieckman's "Motherhood." Beyond Dieckman, who repeated Gilmore's assertion on stage at the screening while introducing her colleagues, that group includes producers Jana Edelbaum, Rachel Cohen, Pamela Koffler and Christine Vachon, cinematographer Nancy Schreiber, and stars Uma Thurman and Minnie Driver (as well as Jodie Foster, who has a small cameo in the film and was on hand at the theatre to show her support).
Comedic and touching, "Motherhood" details a day in the life of Eliza (Thurman), a middle-aged mother living in New York City. Struggling to balance her commitment to her children, her husband (played by Anthony Edwards), and her dream of becoming a full-time writer, Eliza belongs to a vastly underrepresented cinematic demographic.
"I realized all of a sudden one day that there no movies that had been written about motherhood that were interesting takes on the subject," Dieckman told indieWIRE yesterday afternoon on Main Street. "I mean, if you think about it, the only movie that's been made about motherhood is 'Baby Boom' with Diane Keaton [and] that was made many, many years ago - and was completely unrealistic... So I felt there was this real, glaring absence in what I was seeing of a mother that was a multi-dimensional character. And I wanted to write about somebody who was funny and frustrated and angry and loving - a bunch of different things all at the same time."
Thurman's involvement came after Dieckman sent her the script but it was never forwarded Thurman's way. "So I'd been offered the movie and I didn't know about it," Thurman said. "And then one of the producers, Jana Edelbaum, was at a charity event that I was at, and came up to me and said 'Have you read 'Motherhood'?' And I said 'no.' And I don't know why, but I asked if she could send it to me... So the script was sent to me with a letter from Katherine and on a night flight to London I expected just to take a peak at it. And I just couldn't put it down. I just felt a tremendous kinship with the material and felt so close to the humanity in Katherine's writing. I thought it was beautifully observed, which for me is the greatest gift as an actress - to get to connect to something and feel its both fresh and familiar to you. To me, that's a very exciting balance."
Thurman called Dieckman directly immediately after the plane landed, and committed over the phone. Dieckman was ecstatic. "What I always felt about you," Dieckman said to Thurman. "I loved your performance in 'Hysterical Blindness' so much which is really to me my favorite thing that you've done... It's just a fearless, amazing peformance and I felt that - myself as a viewer and I don't think I've ever said this to you - I was very frustrated to not see you get to do what I felt you could do."
"Me too," laughed Thurman.“It’s rare to find material like this. One thing I’ve been pretty good at is feeling good writing. I have a good eye for that and my favorite thing is to find writing about our experience now as people - contemporary material that is looking at our lives today. That’s my favorite, if you can call it, genre. And finding contemporary, humorous but dramatic writing that is fresh and open-eyed in the moment is very difficult. They don't make a lot of movies like that, the way 'Ordinary People' was. A movie of the time that kinda made everyone feel like 'God, that's now.' And those kind of movies and that kind of writing have gotten squashed by, you know, high concept. Which can be fun, we all do whatever, I'm not putting any particular genre down. But that's my favorite thing. So when I read this, it was like someone handed me a glass of water after a long walk in the desert." [Peter Knegt]
From Her Dreams To Sundance: Sophie Barthes' "Cold Souls"
"The whole idea came to me in a dream in 2005," Sophie Barthes said about her idea for "Cold Souls" at a screening in Park City Wednesday afternoon. "I dreamt I was in a strange, futuristic office, and Woody Allen was in front of me in line. We were all holding a white box. The secretary came and she said that the box contained our souls, and that the doctor would assess our problems. So Woody Allen's turn came, and he opened his box and his soul is a little chickpea. So he's super upset, and he said there's no way he made 43 movies and his soul is a chickpea. So, in the dream I think if Woody Allen - who is my idol - has a chickpea for a soul, what is mine going to look like? And I go to open the box and the dream ended. So I didn't see my soul. But I woke up and I thought, because I use my dreams a lot for writing, I'm going to write a screenplay and I'm going try and write it for Woody Allen."
That didn't happen, but after seeing "American Splendor," Barthes "completely fell in love" with Paul Giamatti. "I think he has an amazing emotional charge," she said. "He's a dream for any filmmaker to work with because his range is so incredible."
So Barthes wrote "Souls" for Giamatti. The script finds him playing a version of himself who comes across a "soul storage" service via an article in The New Yorker. Anxious over his performance in a production of Uncle Vanya, "Paul Giamatti" decides to get his soul extracted through the service, only to find himself in a remarkably imaginative situation.
By a twist of fate, Barthes and Giamatti were both attending the Nantucket Film Festival when Barthes approached him, and told him about the dream. "He might have thought I was nuts," Barthes joked. "But he loved the idea and he read the script. His wife, Elizabeth Giamatti was there and she's a producer. They both liked the idea and said yes very quickly."
When an audience member asked what Barthes thought about the idea's application to reality, she admitted that "if the technology was available a lot of people would do it. I think it's the next Prozac generation," she laughed.
"Cold Souls" screens again at the Prospector Square Theatre in Park City this Saturday at 8:30am. [Peter Knegt]
Oscar Rewards Sundance
Last year's crop of Sundance films had a good morning today, with a total of eight Academy Award nominations awarded their way, including two for 2008 Grand Jury Prize winner "Frozen River." "River" took nods for both Melissa Leo (best actress) and Courtney Hunt (best original screenplay). Hunt will compete against Martin McDonagh, for his screenplay, "In Bruges," which opened the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Richard Jenkins got a nomination for 2008 dramatic competition film "The Visitor," while three nominations all came in the best documentary feature category, with Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath's "The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)," James Marsh's "Man on Wire," and Grand Jury Prize winner Tia Lessin and Carl Deal's "Trouble The Water" all receiving nominations.
Only one Sundance short - this year's "This Way Up," received a nod, compared to four last year ("La Corona," "Freeheld," which won, "Madame Tutli-Putli" and "I Am The Walrus").
The last time a former Sundance film won in a major category was 2006, when "Little Miss Sunshine" won best original screenplay and best supporting actor. [Peter Knegt]