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In indieWIRE’s second Sundance Live at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, film critic Eric Kohn offers quick takes on Dramatic Competition entries “Amreeka” and “Push,” as well as Carlos Cuaron’s “Rudo y Cursi.” Also covered are the premieres of “The September Issue,” “Push,” “Rudo y Cursi,” “Art & Copy,” and more, all of which indieWIRE was on the scene for.
3:55 p.m. MST
Wintour On “The September Issue”
After allegedly skipping out on “The September Issue”‘s premiere in Salt Lake City yesterday to take in a screening of “Rudo y Cursi” at the Eccles Center, Anna Wintour turned up for the first Park City screening of R.J. Cutler’s film, of which she is the subject.
Wintour refused a Q&A with the audience, opting instead for Sundance director of programming John Cooper to previously chosen questions. Cooper didn’t entirely oblige to Wintour’s requests, though, asking her whether she liked the film despite admitting she told him not to.
“It’s quite hard to look up at yourself in such an intense way,” Wintour answered. “And I’m just very, very happy to have a record of everything that we do… I feel very honored to work at Vogue and its a tribute to Vogue’s hertiage. So I’m very grateful for that.”
The film details the nine months leading up to Vogue’s infamous September edition, painting Ms. Wintour as the ice queen she’s often portrayed as in the media, but also as a remarkably hard-working and passionate woman.
“There was no question from our experience that we could make many volumes to cover all of the work that Anna does,” Cutler said in the joint Q & A with Wintor. “It’s quite extraordinary. We like to fancy ourselves as energetic people that can keep up with just about anything. And [making this film] was a marathon that moved at the pace of a sprint constantly.”
A few of the “volumes” Cutler admitted seemed to be Wintour’s only real criticism of the project.
“We have a whole extra cirrcular life [at Vogue] that is not featured in this film,” she said, referring mostly to charity work and scholarships. “I have to be honest, I was surprised that none of that make it into the cut. But this is R.J.’s vision and R.J.’s film. This is the film he wanted to make.”
Cutler came to Vogue originally with the idea for another documentary, creating something around The Costume Institute Ball that the magazine helps put on every year. “But the idea of doing a documentary about the September issue is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Wintour said. “And as a big fan of R.J.’s work, gradually the discussion evolved into that.”
“Anna’s director of communications called and said ‘Anna has an idea and she’d like to talk to you about it,” Cutler explained. “So I got my very first manicure at the insistance of some of my closer friends, went to New York and Anna suggested [the film]. Of course, it was a brilliant idea because of what a monumental effort the September issue is every year.”
Wintour said Cutler approached the film like “a sort fly on the wall.” “In the beginning, every one was getting their hair and makeup done every five seconds and changing their clothes all the time. At the end of the nine months, [R.J.] was coming to work at Vogue every day like the rest of us. So,I think he gradually got every body to relax.”
He also resisted the glamourous side of his subject. “[He ignored] all those sort of evening events and the movie stars,” Wintour said. “He seemed very committed to the idea of the work that goes in to the issue. And obviously that’s something I’m particularly interested in. Because I do feel there’s a very facile side to fashion that I was talking about in the beginning of the film that people tend to focus on. So I’m thrilled that its a creative process and that the agony and the heartbreak and the joy and the incredible hours and passion that everyone that works at Vogue puts into the magazine was what R.J. decided to focus on. Are there a few things we’d maybe like not to be in the film? Certainly. R.J. has ignored every single one of my comments.”
Cooper asked Wintour whether having seen the film made her want to change anything now that she knows what goes on behind her office door.
“There wasn’t much in there I didn’t know before,” she responded with a smirk.
“Issue” screens again tomorrow at the Holiday Village Cinema in Park City. No word if Wintour is expected to attend. [Peter Knegt]
2:50 p.m. MST
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: “Amreeka”
Palestinian filmmaker Cherian Dabis’s “Amreeka” — Arabic for “America” — uses the basic formula of the classic immigration story and more or less succeeds with it. Shot in the West Bank and Canada, the movie follows a middle-aged Palestinian woman named Muna (Nisreen Faour) and her disgruntled teenage son Fadi (Melkar Muallem) whose plans to resettle in the United States don’t quite go according to plan. Crashing at the suburban home of her sister (Hiam Abbass) in Illinois, Muna winds up broke and takes a dead end job at White Castle, while Fadi deals with rampant anti-Arab racism at the local high school.
Set during the onslaught of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, “Amreeka” mainly works due to its mostly Middle Eastern cast (and “Arrested Development” star Alia Shawkat as Muna’s assimilated niece). The script falters when the situations grow too transparent. It’s especially painful to watch the underwritten roles of the racist teens, whose sentiments appear overly simplistic and lessen the dramatic effect. However, Dabis remains spot-on when focusing on Muna’s vain attempts to interact with other cultures (a provocative parallel between U.S. and Israeli border control stands out), and she avoids an unnecessarily tidy resolution. “Ameerka” ends with good cheer, but a strong dose of ambiguity hovers in the background. “We’re a minority here and a minority there,” Muna concludes, implying that some things will never fully change. [Eric Kohn]
11:30 a.m. MST
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: “Rudo y Cursi”
Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal create great onscreen chemistry in “Rudo y Cursi,” an otherwise dispiritingly predictable sports comedy about a pair of Mexican half-brothers competing against each other in major league football. Produced by the ubiquitous Three Amigos, the movie lacks the distinction generally associated with the Latin American cinema produced by the beloved trio. Director Carlos Cuaron could easily import this familiar sibling rivalry plot to mainstream American audiences, which might explain why Sony Pictures Classics saw enough potential to buy it before the festival. That said, scenes set in the brothers’ Mexican villa are nicely shot to highlight the brothers’ gritty upbringing, and the actors do their part to inject a sense of believability into the scenario. However, they can’t surmount the cliche ridden script, which contains obvious bits of cringe-worthy wisdom all budding screenwriters should avoid. One highlight: “The grand game of life has defeated the beautiful game of soccer.” There’s nothing grand or beautiful about that. [Eric Kohn]
“I didn’t want the film to be ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ 2”: Carlos Cuaron’s “Rudo Y Cursi”
The directorial debut of Carlos Cuaron’s “Rudo Y Cursi” packed in a huge crowd Friday night for its U.S. premiere. The film reunites on screen Mexican actors Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal in a story about sibling rivalry. Both Beto (Luna) and Tato (Bernal) are discovered playing soccer (football) in a poor rural town by a flashy talent scout. The brothers are swept up into Mexico City and quickly (maybe on screen a bit too quickly) achieve success and all the trappings of a glitzy life in the fast lane, and tension rises as both play on rival teams.
Cuaron, who wrote “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” which his brother directed had an impressive entourage of Mexico’s who’s who producing the film, including his brother Alfonso (who directed “Y Tu Mama”), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro joining him in Park City. Their company Cha Cha Cha Films produced the film, which Cuaron also wrote and is slated to be released in the U.S. through Sony Pictures Classics.
“We’re like this big brotherhood,” said del Toro at a dinner hosted by SPC an Bon Apetit magazine Friday night before the premiere. “Carlos is a festival virgin and he’s excited that you’re all going to pop his cherry tonight. Cheers! Salud! Salud to the Cherry!”
“When I wrote the film, I told [Gael and Diego] I was writing it for them,” said Cuaron following the screening at the giant Eccles Theater in Park City. “Rudo” is the Spanish word for “rude” and Cuaron described “Cursi” as meaning someone who is a romantic and has feminine qualities.
“Gael immediately said he had to be ‘Rudo’ and Diego said he had to be ‘Cursi,’ and I told them I didn’t want the film to be ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ 2.”
Cuaron received a bit of a push from del Toro when he went through a personal funk in his career as a writer which influenced him to take on directing. “I was depressed that I had written all these scripts and they never got produced, so Guillermo [del Toro] said, ‘You bastard, just direct them yourself then.'” [Brian Brooks]
Advertising as Art: Doug Pray’s “Art and Copy”
One of the things that made this film different… is that it is about really great advertising,” said filmmaker Doug Pray at the premiere screening of his new documentary, “Art & Copy” at the Sundance Film Festival. In “Art & Copy,” Pray interviews many of the geniuses of modern advertising and the folks behind such famous campaigns as Nike’s “Just Do It,” Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” Apple’s amazing iPod commercials, and probably every other memorable campaign of the past 30 years.
While offering a glowing take on the how good advertising is good art, the film stays safely on the positive side and is a celebration of good advertising. (No surprise, since it is presented by The One Club, an advocacy group for the recognition and promotion of excellence in advertising.) There’s no discussion really of how a good ad can lead to a perhaps bad thing: i.e. a brillant but ridiculously romantic view of America in a Ronald Reagan re-election ad.
Politics came up in the Q&A as many of the key ad men (and women) featured in the film participated in a Q&A. One ad exec, when asked about Obama’s brilliant marketing campaign noted on Obama’s message:
“It amazing what is going to happen this Tuesday, and for somebody (who) loves to see how messages live in our culture and work in our culture the fact that Obama had a message and as you may have noticed, lots of artists basically stepped up and wanted to celebrate that message. It became something that captured what we all feel about what we do. When you find a message that is beautiful and eloquent and true the way it can resonate in our culture is really amazing and really powerful and so the Obama phenomenon I think is kind of a testament to finding truth in something and putting it out there is the way that great advertising is supposed to work. Not false, not manipulative but finding truth.”
It was hard not to think about the Obama campaign and it’s message of “Yes We Can” when you hear the ad men discussing the power of simple slogans and inspiring hope. Even writer and speaker Naomi Klein noted this in a recent New Yorker article about Obama, where she wrote, “I don’t want to appear too cynical, but when I first saw the ‘Yes We Can’ rock video that Will.I.Am made, my first response was ‘Wow, finally a politician is making ads that are as good as Nike’s,'” she says. “The ‘Yes We Can’ slogan means whatever you want it to mean. It’s very ‘Just Do It.'” [James Israel]
12:06 a.m. MST
A standing ovation greeted Lee Daniels’ “Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire” tonight at the Racquet Club, even as insiders worried that a delayed screening of Antoine Fuqua’s “Brooklyn’s Finest” over at the Eccles held up some buyers. Buoyed by positive reaction after a test screening in Harlem earlier this week, Lee Daniels seemed anxiously optimistic while chatting casually with indieWIRE prior to the screening. After the showing, he was showered by well-wishers, some of whom posed for photos with Mo’Nique and Mariah Carey. Daniels also cast Lenny Kravitz in a key role. “If you are gonna tell a bold story, go all the way, be bold,” Daniels said on Friday night. indieWIRE offers a first take on the film in this latest dispatch from the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. [Eugene Hernandez]
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: “Push”
“Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire” is a movie of many textures, each one illuminating the emotionally gripping narrative at its core. Lee Daniels directs with bold strokes that could go wrong at any moment, but generally serve to illuminate a troubled life and the justified desire to escape it. The story of a troubled Harlem teen named Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) impregnated by her absent father, “Push” progresses with a steadily engaging series of starts and stops in the frayed world of its talented star. While fending off her dysfunctional mother (Monique, in a stunningly psychotic turn), Precious gradually learns to surpass her aimless fantasies and come to grips with the troubles at hand. Using lavishly photographed sequences, Daniels contrasts Precious’s daily woes with the happier existence inside her head, but these moments gradually give way to the protagonist’s fulfillment of her actual goals.
Moved to an alternative school to meet her special needs, Precious learns from more caring adults (including Mariah Carey as a trenchant social worker) about her obvious potential to mature. A spunky character with an increasing ability to editorialize about her new environment (“they talk like TV channels I don’t watch,” she says of her newfound mentors), Precious makes the ideal heroine of modern times. “Push” does not function exclusively as a story of race, but as a universal depiction of real world struggle. The only question is whether distributors can push themselves to get it out there. [Eric Kohn]
Abuse, sex, angst, rape…in Iran. “The Glass House”
Child abuse, drug use, family breakdown, sex, teen angst and even rape. All could describe probably any town in North America or Europe, but in director Hamid Rahmanian’s “The Glass House,” it is a group of young girls in the Iranian capital, Tehran. Cast aside by society and their families, the young women nevertheless find a refuge in a center founded by Marjaneh Halati which aims to give them the skills they need to succeed independently. Some succeed and some don’t, but all are cared for by Halati who acts as a surrogate mother.
“We had screenings of our other films in London and Halati was there and liked the way we treated our subjects,” said Rahmanian following the North American debut of his film on Friday. “She suggested we visit her center in Tehran and we went planning to only be there for two weeks. When we arrived, it electrified us and we stayed seven and a half months…”
During the shoot, Rahmanian and screenwriter-producer Melissa Hibbard grew close to the teens who formed a bond with them allowing the pair to capture intimate and heart-wrenching moments. “I lived with them and basically they trusted us,” said Rahmanian. “I have so much footage that the film could have easily been dark and depressing, but we wanted to make it hopeful.” Though Rahmanian decided he will never show the film in Iran – he even turned down a documentary film festival in the Islamic Republic that invited the film – in order to protect the young women, he did show it to his subjects who passed along their own review.
“The girls have seen the film, but they thought it wasn’t dramatic enough.” [Brian Brooks]
The world’s greatest swimmer? “Big River Man”
Multiple gold medalist Michael Phelps may have the money, glory, fame and looks, but Slovenian Martin Strel has to be the world’s greatest swimmer. Not only has the 52 year-old swum the Danube, but he has also plunged into the Mississippi and the heavily polluted Yangtze, swimming the entire lengths of all. So does Strel have a “swimmers bod” to match his world record-making swims? Well – hell no! He’s fat, drinks two bottles of wine a day and has high blood pressure, yet Strel decides to take on the world’s mightiest river, the Amazon, captured in John Maringouin’s world doc competition film, “Big River Man.”
“One of the hardest things about the film was getting financing because nobody would give money to a project about an overweight guy swimming 3,000 miles in unswimmable water,” said Maringouin following Friday’s screening in Park City. “We had a very small crew, but we did end up getting financing from Olivia Newton John right before we left.”
Strel, who travels with an equally skeletal support crew on his journeys including his son and an eccentric American who serves as his navigator – even though he barely can work a GPS system – undertakes the feats to draw attention to environmental destruction, including the rapid deforestation of the rain forest.
“It’s a very exciting day. I’m very happy because this message [going] around the world… We have to save the rain forest because if we destroy it, we destroy ourselves.”
Though the film has a serious message, it was also quite funny, and the audience burst out laughing on several occasions including the several buyers who came to the packed screening. As with many docs, however, it is probably a good twenty minutes too long, but a bit of a trim and the film is potentially a winner. [Brian Brooks]
A New Type of Iraq Film? “Taking Chance”
A nearly full house packed the large screening room at Park City’s Racquet Club for the premiere of Ross Katz’s directorial debut “Taking Chance.” The film, screening in the Dramatic Competition and which already has backing from HBO Films, tells the true story of Lt. Col. Michael Strobl (played by Kevin Bacon) who volunteers to escort the body of a young marine killed in Iraq back to his family’s hometown of Dubois, Wyoming.
Katz, Bacon and Strobl were on hand for the screening and all received praise from the audience.
Throughout the night, Katz’s film was positioned as a “new type” of Iraq film, free of the polemic and political bent that characterized the wave of films dealing with the war that have played at Sundance in the last couple years. As Katz put it: “If you didn’t know where you stood on the war by 2006, you were living in a cave. I just wanted people to know this trip [Strobl’s journey] has been made over 4,000 times.” Several audience members expressed appreciation for Katz’s unwillingness to “editorialize” the story.
Bacon’s performance received mighty praise from the audience, as well, with an audience member at one point exclaiming, “You’re not just an actor, you’re a messenger!” For his part, Bacon seemed somewhat embarrassed by the praise and by questions regarding how he prepared for the role, opting to joke coyly rather than give substantial answers.
Undoubtedly, however, the night belonged to Strobl himself, who received a standing ovation from the audience and who director Katz called his “hero.” Indeed, buzz from the audience indicated that, while many had mixed feelings about the film itself, Strobl’s actions were to be undoubtedly commended. [Andy Lauer]