Writing about your trip to Sundance is, I realize, problematic. Any enthusiasm invariably appears to the non-attendee as self-satisfied, and any complaints are categorical #firstworldproblems.
I've just returned from my seventh consecutive Sundance Film Festival, and I should have to defend myself. But it's not the Hollywood thing you think it is. I've always gone the second weekend, after the L.A. crowd goes home. I have never attended a celebrity party, nor seen anyone we'd collectively agree is a celebrity from a distance of less than 20 meters. I just go for the movies. And, OK, for Park City.
I saw a baker's dozen (13) films at Sundance 2016, not all of them you'd care to hear about, but I'm highlighting seven (7) that stayed with me and which I've evaluated according to a) what's interesting about them, b) how each is affected by the rise of smartphones as a plot hole or plot device, c) how much cocaine was deemed necessary to make things Sundance-edgy, and d) when or if it's coming to a streaming option near you, presented more or less in order of the impression each one made on me.
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■ Tell me about this one:Oh, it's just your average Polish-language 1980s-set mermaid musical / vampire horror based on Hans Christian Andersen. It won a special award this year for basically "whoa what was that". This was my actual favorite movie this Sundance, but you'll probably have to go out of your way to find it.
■ It has smartphones in it? No, apparently this is how we know it takes place in the 1980s.
■ Is there cocaine in it? It takes place in an Eastern European nightclub, so let's say yes.
■ When can I see this? I have no idea if anyone picked this up, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. Fun fact: killer mermaids in human form are not, how shall we say, anatomically correct.
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■ What's it about?First you wonder if, and then why, the already-disgraced former Rep. / NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner gave complete access to the filmmakers documenting his embarrassing, repeated, personal and professional face-plants. Then you realize: it's because he's a narcissist, and, so long as the cameras keep rolling, his wife won't yell at him as much.
■ What happens with smartphones? Sexting, of course. And everyone stares at their phone constantly. Weiner himself was still using a Blackberry in 2013.
■ There's cocaine? Not on-screen, but this is New York, so...
■ Will I get to see this one? It won the U.S. Documentary prize, and Sundance Selects is bringing it to theaters and Showtime before the November election.
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■ I don't know what this title means.It's a stranded island farting Harry Potter corpse boner delusional Paul Dano wilderness heartfelt suicide adventure comedy from the guys who made the "Turn Down For What" video. People walked out of early screenings, but I saw it with an effusive audience near the festival's end.
■ How do smartphones play a role? The unidentified image of a beautiful woman on the home screen of a recovered Samsung Galaxy™ is a key plot point.
■ Is there cocaine? Nah, this feels more like shrooms if anything.
■ How can I see this?A24 picked this up, so it should be in theaters this summer, but don't sleep on it.
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■ This isn't about the KKK, is it?The opposite, and they wanted you to ask. It's the outsider passion project of star / director / co-writer / producer Nate Parker, an entertaining, stirring, historical drama-action (can drama-action be a genre, too?) about the Nat Turner slave revolt, whose logline is "Black Braveheart”, for good and ill.
While not my favorite film at Sundance this year, it packs a punch and earned ovations in Park City. Late in the festival, Parker was still turning up for Q&As to tell the story of bringing to life true American history he was never taught in school—even though he grew up 50 miles from where it happened.
■ I take it there are no smartphones? Nope, this is the quill and ink era, for those even allowed to own stationery.
■ And no cocaine? No, but all imagine all that cotton as coca and U.S. history would be very different.
■ When is it coming out? Maybe you already know: Birth of a Nation sold to Fox Searchlight for $17.5 million, a Sundance record—before it even won the top jury prize—with Parker declining a $20 million offer from Netflix so it would play in theaters. It's a pretty good movie at pretty much the exact right time, and you'll definitely be hearing more about it soon.
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■ What's this one about?A documentary about Laura Albert, the woman behind the Upper West Side-infamous fictitious literary persona of JT LeRoy, who wrote transgressivefiction as a non-existent homeless-transgender-addict teenage boy, and later enlisted her twentysomething sister-in-law to play the part after "LeRoy" became an international publishing success with infatuated 90s-celebrity fans (looking at you, Billy Corgan).
■ What happens with phones in this one? Most of this takes place from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, so landlines still exist and cell phones aren't minicomputers yet. But get this: Albert tape-recorded almost every phone conversation of the era, including many with pre-millennial celebs like Corgan, Gus Van Sant, and Courtney Love, which makes for some audio I guarantee you never expected to hear.
■ There's gotta be cocaine, right? Strictly in voiceover: on the audiotape recording of a phone call, Courtney Love announces that she needs to pause to do a line.
■ I need to see this. Yes. Amazon acquired the rights to the film, so look for it on Amazon Prime later this year.
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■ Is this one going to be any less weird? Well, it's another damnfaux documentary, this one about how the CIA faked the NASA moon landings. It was made by some clever, risk-taking, no-budget Toronto comic filmmakers who don't, by the way, believe the moon landing was faked.
Much of it was shot guerrilla-style, even duping NASA into thinking they were a legit documentary crew. And they literally faked footage of Stanley Kubrick directing 2001: A Space Odyssey. Their lawyer joined in the Q&A afterward.
■ I guess there's no smartphones? But the most landlines of any movie but JT LeRoy.
■ Is there cocaine? The only white powder is the fake moon dust.
■ Will I be able to see this? I guess the lawyer got it done, because Lionsgate bought distribution rights at the festival.
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■ How interesting can the 7th film on your list really be?White Girl can be described as... a) an NC-17 after-school special b) the nightmare scenario for any parent sending their daughter to NYC for college c) what happens to Dana Brody after she changes her name, I guess, I didn't keep up with "Homeland" d) all of the above.
■ Obviously they have smartphones… and cocaine, I assume? Yes, ALL the cocaine.
■ So I heard there's snorting coke off, ahem, an erection? Before we filed in, Sundance volunteers loudly warned: 'Anyone under 18 without a parent will not be allowed, and will be given a different ticket in compensation'. I scoffed upon entering. Exiting, I vowed to never live in New York.
■ How soon will it be available? I have no idea who acquired this, but surely someone did. I'd be shocked if this someone wasn't Harvey Weinstein.
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I could have written 5000 words, but I think I'd better stop before I hit 1500. If you managed to see and liked (or hated!) any of these movies, let's discuss—I really could go on and on. Until then, I hope you can get over just how unbearably pretentious all of this really is and book a trip to Park City next winter.