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Sundance Diary #1

By John Wildman on January 18, 2013

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WEDNESDAY, January 16, 2013

I arrive in Park City, Utah. This will be the 12th Sundance I’ve been to since 1999.  As I check into the shuttle service to take me to where I’m staying, they cheerfully hand me a cute hand sanitizer gift, because this year is FluDance apparently. I’m just as paranoid as everyone I know about coming here sick or getting sick while I’m here, hitting the Airborne like fizzy-in-your-drink crack for the past five days before departing and using hand sanitizer like the lady from those old Palmolive commercials: “You’re soaking in it.”



I’m the last one delivered by the shuttle so I’m on for a while. Some guy’s client is in Austenland. I don’t care to ask who the client is or try to score an interview because they’re sitting too far back in the shuttle. I mean, if you’re going to drop info like that then have the courtesy to sit closer to me so I don’t have to shout over people. Rude. Anyway, I also get to be the middleman between a lively back-and-forth between our driver and a photographer about how cool it was to be in New York in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Turns out the driver is a filmmaker with a better camera than the photographer.

I finally arrive at the “Dallas House” where I’m staying with friends and former cohorts from the Dallas Film Society (Artistic Director James Faust, Executive Director Lee Papert, Shorts Programmer Sarah Harris, filmmaker Eric F. Martin, and Dallas Film Society and indie film Medici, Ruth Mutch). Soon after I arrive and reintroduce myself to the same bunk bed I have slept in for the past five years. (Only two more and they install a plaque with my name on it beside the bed with Robert Redford presiding over the ceremony.) The group arrives in a huge Suburban packed with so many groceries it’s like a produce-filled clown car. After doing the Tetris thing getting the groceries in the refrigerator, we all catch up and compare notes on what we have already seen before getting to Park City. Here’s what I brought to the table:

No Gael Garcia Bernal Pablo Larrain



Pablo Larraín’s newest is a great film that boils down the reality of how the public can be manipulated through appeals to what they feel as opposed to what they are told to think over the course of a political campaign. No stars Gael García Bernal as an advertising executive who assists the opposition party against Chilean dictator Pinochet in preparing for the 1988 national referendum on extending his rule. García Bernal’s character is under constant threat and scrutiny by Pinochet’s people, as he attempts to stay a step ahead of them with the campaign he’s waging. It’s a smart film that replaces cynicism about the electoral process with a wry sense of humor.

Expected Sundance Reaction:

Sundance LOVES Gael García Bernal. In fact, I’m pretty sure if the festival didn’t have at least two films in which he appeared each year, the general film-going population here would be struck by a queasy ennui. This will go over big.

Expected Real-World Reaction:

I think it has plenty of accessible elements that have potential to translate to general non-hardcore cinephile moviegoers. That being said, it’s still a “foreign film,” so I’d consider it a toss-up to appear in theaters beyond New York, L.A., etc.

The Gatekeepers Fill the Void
The Gatekeepers Fill the Void

The Gatekeepers & Fill the Void

Two other films that I considered “home runs.” The Gatekeepers is a fascinating documentary exploring why peace has been so elusive in Israel since 1967 via interviews with six former heads of the Shin Bet (Israel’s secret service). Filled with illuminating information, frank and damning commentary by these former officials, and peeks behind the curtain in Israeli politics, the film calls into question the narrative that many Americans accept as to what the roadblocks to peace in that country truly are.

Fill the Void follows the conflicts within a family as an 18-year-old Israeli girl is pressured to marry the recently widowed husband of her late sister in order to keep her infant niece close to the family. The premise of a young girl navigating her way within the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community and their religious laws and traditions is not new. However, what is striking within this riveting film is that the conflict on the girl’s part doesn’t stem from protesting her lack of choices or rights within the rigid constraints of the religion. She and other women in this world embrace and find comfort in those traditions. No, her distress is due to the fact she simply doesn’t love her intended husband to be.

Expected Sundance Reaction:

Both films should be embraced by Sundancers. The Gatekeepers has just the right politics with an added “I just knew it!” element for those political Facebook debaters among us. And Fill the Void will connect emotionally as well as give “access” to another way of life that will stick with people here as well.

Expected Real World Reaction:

Both films should play well and extensively on the coasts and the big cities. And though one has a more than compelling subject and the other hits the heart, I think everywhere else we’re still talking more of a VOD (but a strong one) prospect than a proliferation of multiplex appearances.

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