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Indie Gets Indie: Sundance and Spirits Go Back to Basics

Indie Gets Indie: Sundance and Spirits Go Back to Basics

Just a day after the Spirit Awards went all schizoid with a defiantly low and no-budget bent to their strangely uneven nominations (best film for “American Gun” — metacritic rating 48? best screenplay for “Sorry, Haters” — metacritic rating 43? best cinematography for “Four Eyed Monsters” — it didn’t have a cinematographer?), the Sundance Film Festival has announced 64 films for its American and World Cinema documentary and dramatic competitions and the results look, again, decidedly indie.

Of course, some famous names show up (indie queen Parker Posey returns in Zoe Cassavetes’ “Broken English” and Sam Rockwell, who I interviewed at Sundance way back in 1998, can’t get enough of the fest, returning in a couple of relatively bigger competition films, David Gordon Green’s “Snow Angels” and George Ratliff’s “Joshua”). And the documentary category is filled with experienced nonfiction-makers (Rory Kennedy, Jessica Yu, Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold, Marco Williams, and Bill Guttentag).

But the bulk of the competition films come from folks who are relatively unknown to the rest of the world. Fans of truly indie cinema will be happy to see Andrew Wagner (“The Talent Given Us”) back at Sundance, and promoted from Spectrum to the competition with “Starting Out in the Evening” and visual stylist Adam Bhala Lough (“Bomb the System”) is in Park City for the first time with “Weapons.”

And as noted in my indieWIRE story, there is a trend of docu-makers making fiction films (curious to see “American Movie” director Chris Smith’s “The Pool” and Jeffrey Blitz’s “Rocket Science,” in additiion to Ratliff’s “Joshua”.) Elsewhere in the competition, Gilmore seemed to imply that we can expect innovative visions from JJ Lask’s “On the Road with Judas” and Gina Kim’s “Never Forever.” Let’s hope they hold up on first viewing.

Always the contrarian, I must admit I’m equally suspicious. Will these no-names deliver on their promise of orginality and uniqueness? Will they fail trying? I guess for novice filmmakers at Sundance, that’s the best we can hope for.

One more thought on the World Cinema selections. Don’t get too excited. As the festival remains committed to breaking new foreign talent, there is not a single established auteur among them. That may lead to a lot of second-rate films, but then again, most of the films premiered elsewhere, so we can bet that programmers have skimmed the creme of the newbie international crop. I, for one, plan to seek out Jorge Hernandez Aldana’s “The Night Buffalo,” written by Guillermo Ariaga, Matthew Saville’s Aussie debut “Noise,” and UK docmaker Nick Broomfield’s second dramatic feature “Ghosts.”

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