WMM Sundance Diaries 2016

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

Amanda Lippert

First off, let me just say that I love the Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals. Partially because they almost always fall on my birthday, but also because I get to experience winter as it was meant to be experienced (for less than one week in a quaint and remote ski town before returning to sunny LA) as I geek out with all my favorite indie film lovers on Main Street over free cocktails at the party de noir. I have gone three years in a row with a film production crew, conducting on camera interviews with directors of the most popular films each season. This was how I fell in love with the Park City festivals – but the cramped living quarters, long work days and quick turnaround times left me burnt out, so I decided to take a year off.

Enter Lin Laurin and Michaelangelo DeSerio, two friends from NYC that just moved to LA, and had never been to Sundance. Lin asked me about my previous years’ experiences, and after raving on about how much I loved it, she decided we must all go. We discussed going as volunteers, or shooting interviews on a smaller scale. But it was December, and time to plan was running short. So we chose to go rogue. A vet and two newbies, hitting the road in a neon green Prius c, living as cheaply as possible, and doing the one thing I didn’t make time for my first three years: WATCHING MOVIES.

Over the next few days, follow us on Instagram and the WeMakeMovies blog to get the latest on how to survive Sundance on a budget and read the reviews of all the films we’re seeing.

Monday Reviews:

BECOMING BLAIR (13 min)
SLAMDANCE
Lin Laurin

Out of the three films I checked out today, this heartwarming documentary by Bari-Barsalou intrigued me the most. It’s a story about a female to male transgender person and his day to day life just a few months after he started taking testosterone. BECOMING BLAIR has a lot of emotional depth which was very enjoyable to watch, and I felt that I really got to know Blair despite the short duration of the film. There were also a few longer interviews with Blair’s mother, who was to say the very least, devastated about her child’s transition.

In my opinion this film successfully documented Blair and his family members without judgment of anybody. A weaknesses of the film was that it was a little out of balance. There was too much interview time with the mother and there weren’t any comments from anybody else, even if we got to watch both his father and his colleagues in the background. Some of the strongest moments of the short were when the camera was left rolling as the family lived their lives and we got to witness the extreme tension between them.

At the end of the talk-back, somebody asked Bari-Barsalou if she was planning to make a feature with the same subject. She said she wasn’t sure if she would or not, but I really hope she does.

All in all this is a short documentary I would recommend to people and I’m excited to see what Bari-Barsalou does next.

LET’S BE EVIL (84 minutes)
SLAMDANCE
Michaelangelo DeSerio

Science fiction and Indie Film are not usually two genres that are associated with one another. The fantastical elements of the worlds and possibilities presented in Sci–Fi generally require the titanic budgets of mainstream cinema to fluidly and believably be realized onscreen. Oftentimes, filmmakers glance over the rich and diverse possibilities of the genre due to these budgetary concerns, or concentrate their efforts only in presenting present-day dystopian tales or slightly eschewed reality storylines.

In keeping with that model, LET’S BE EVIL, directed by Martin Owen, offers a hidden world lying embedded within our own. The story focuses primarily on the blurring lines of reality and virtual reality, and how this interacts with human morality. Staying close to our actual reality, the film, successfully offers a believable enough environment not to raise the hackles of most necks, and the visual effects team should be particularly singled out for their work on Arial, the AI character in the piece, who is an amalgamation of a live actor, 3-d mapping and 2-d visual effects.

Sadly, while the movie successfully integrates the technology aspect of the genre, it fails in other ways. The story, while conveying the general message intended, is confusing, muddled and contains some significant structural holes. More than this, there is really little to no real meat behind any of the characters, making them all very flat and hard to connect to and care about. In some ways the most interesting character is not human at all, but an AI program, and that character by its nature is a one-dimensional figure. The script, besides not letting us into its characters, also does not offer the time or the moments for any of the central characters to develop any sort of honest rapport with one another, and this is detrimental, as a large portion of the story hangs on this very thing.

Elizabeth Morris’s character particularly is a bland sort of half-fast portrayal that leaves little to no impression, and it’s hard to be concerned for her throughout, because it doesn’t seem like she’s all there in the moment either. Isabelle Allen and Elliot James Langridge give strong performances, but their characters are simply not developed enough.

The final major obstacle to overcome in the film is score. The music is blaring, out of place, and at times unnecessarily dominant in the background. It’s disruptive, not in a good way, and breaks the viewer away from any chance of forming an emotional link to the story.

Overall, while I say this piece is far from horrible, I would not say it is the strongest representation of great indie Sci-Fi. In some ways, Owen is too ambitious in trying to represent too many aspects in the film. The Sci-Fi is lost in the horror elements, the horror moments don’t matter because of the lack of humanity, and the thriller moments are trivialized by the video game aesthetic. Still the film should be noted as a strong stepping-stone into the genre for Owen, and if pursued might be the road that leads to a completely successful and compelling blending of the two genres.