WMM Sundance Diaries 2016 (Part 4)

Your guide on where to go, what to see, and how to get the most out of your Sundance/Slamdance experience.

Final Impressions on Sundance
Amanda Lippert

Sundance, for me, is starting to feel like summer camp. Each year I reunite with old friends that I sometimes only see once a year. It’s also a chance to make new friends and connect with people, who just like us, love to celebrate movies and movie making.

It’s an extremely inspiring experience to be surrounded with doers. With people who have great ideas and find ways of sharing them with audiences through a medium that is extremely expensive and time consuming, but also wonderful and awe inspiring. It takes a village to make a film. Including all the village members whom you have to pay and feed, as well as locations, equipment… the list goes on.  It’s a terribly tough thing to make and complete a film. But to make and complete a really good film. Well, that deserves to be celebrated.

Each of the last four years I’ve seen films at Sundance, the lineup has completely surprised me. It has been so vastly varied in subject matter, tone, and style. I love the surprise of walking into a dark theatre and not knowing what to expect. But knowing what you are about to see could likely shape the trends of filmmaking over the next several years. That you’re one of the first to see something that’s really new.

I base my experience on total experience, not just the movies. And I say, Sundance has it down. Park City and her surrounding towns are quaint and divine. The local culture blends in as the backdrop to this winter festival wonderland. I absolutely love it and can’t wait to come back. 

My Slamdance Experience
Lin Laurin

We are back in LA after spending a few wonderful days in Park City, and after a few moments of reflection, I chose to share my experience at the Slamdance Film Festival. Slamdance was started in 1995 when a group of filmmakers who got rejected by Sundance that year decided to screen their films in Park City at the same time as Sundance. Over 20 years later, this festival by filmmakers for filmmakers still occurs every year in Park City just a few doors away from Sundance theaters.

I have a huge love for creative expression and truly independent art, and whenever I find a venue, festival or production company that dares to take risks and tell strong stories for the sake of telling strong stories, I get (to say the very least), extremely excited. Slamdance is one such institution, and I think it might be the most inspiring film festival I have ever been to. This is not because the films necessarily were better than films I’ve seen at some other great festivals, but because the films, as well as the audiences, the talkbacks, the volunteers, the merchandise and everything else associated with Slamdance felt more alive than at any other film festival I have been to.

Another reason Slamdance inspired me so much was because it screened a lot of films that most festivals wouldn’t have screened: Films that can’t be boxed up, films that are made with very small budgets, and some films that could be considered quite extreme in one way or another. As a filmmaker, it was so awesome to get to go to a festival like Slamdance because it helped me realize that there is a very active community closeby that I relate to, and they have created a really wonderful forum for emerging filmmakers. I’ve spent some time on their website in search for how I can get more of this awesomeness. I’ve decided to start by watching some Slamdance TV online, keeping my eyes open for Slamdance on the Road, and of course -by going again next year.

Thank you for following our festival journey. Check out the WeMakeMovies blog to find the previous blogs in this series.

Reviews:

AGNUS DEI (115 minutes)
SUNDANCE
Michaelangelo DeSerio

Rarely do you encounter a historical film that is so seamlessly well done that it’s hard to find any real flaws in it. There always seems to be some little point or detail that was glossed over. Even less common still, is a period piece that is so paced and balanced that you don’t even realize almost two hours have passed. AGNUS DEI or LES INNOCENTS, directed by Anne Fontaine, fulfills both these criteria, while telling a real, bleak, yet endearing and hopeful story about survival and faith.

The film, subtitled in English, is based on the journal of a French Red Cross doctor who was stationed in Poland post-WWII. Mathilde, played by Lou de Laâge, after helping one of the nuns in the local, uncovers that many of the nuns there are in the late stages of pregnancy due to wartime rapes by German and Russian soldiers. She helps guide the sisters through the births one by one, and through each one both Mathilde and the sisters of the convent are able to move on from their scars of war.

What makes it such a good film to me is that you can’t simplify the movie in any one emotion or mood. It is about the not so pretty things that happen all the time to women, but especially during war. Still, it’s not an ugly or violent piece, although both are always present, looming beyond what we see in the shot. The piece is dark and serious, but also humorous (sometimes downright funny) and relatable.

Just as the story is emotionally rich, the characters of the movie are layered and complex. While some are more likable, there was no one among the main cast that I couldn’t empathize with at some point during the film. The characters change and grow through the course of the story. Some make terrible mistakes while others reinvent their worlds around them.

There were so many strong and notable performances. Laâge, in her adult debut, brings Mathilde to life, giving her an unstated complexity, depth and sensuality that belie her age. Agata Buzek as Nun Maria is subtle, cool and enduring. She embodies her character and her dilemmas so convincingly that you would think she’d been casted from a Convent herself. Agata Kulesza as the Mother Superior offers a dour, tormented and conflicted character that you can’t decide whether to pity, hate or forgive. Vincent Macaigne as Samuel brings sharp wit and wonderful comedic timing to the film while never becoming distracting or losing sight of his character’s anger over the war.

This film is meticulous and painstakingly authentic. Most of it was filmed in an abandoned convent that was restored for the movie. Details abound, from the mannerisms of the nuns to the fashions choices, and even the cigarettes. Language was also given so much consideration, choosing to have the film switch fluidly between French, Polish and a bit of Russian. It is evident throughout how much time this director and team spent researching for the film and all the homework shines throughout the piece. This, combined with the wonderfully structured script and powerful performances, make this film a must see. This female created and driven film is simply one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year.