The Silly Season continues, with today’s Sundance announcement of more films, including the Spotlight section, ‘Park City at Midnight,’ and a new ‘Sundance Kids’ section. Spotlight is a collection of films that Sundance programmers have seen at other fests around the world, while the Midnight films are, well, you know what they are!
I’m super psyched for a few of the films announced today, including Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s What We Do in the Shadows (A mocumentary about a group of New Zealand vampires struggling to adapt to the modern world? Yes, please!), Locke, Blue Ruin, and Jim Jarmusch’s latest, Only Lovers Left Alive.
The 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival kicked off a week ago tonight with the North American premiere of Woody Allen’s eagerly anticipated To Rome With Love. He’s going to have a tough act to follow, as last year’s Midnight in Paris won the best original screenplay Oscar and was Allen’s biggest box office performer to date (although adjusted for inflation, it doesn’t come close to Love & Death, Sleeper, Annie Hall, Manhattan and several others). While I haven’t seen it yet, word after the screening was pretty meh. Not bad, not great. That’s ok, really. The man has already made 42 features (!!!!). Out of those, I have seen 20 (I “missed” a lot of the bad ones but yes, that’s a poor percentage) and of those 20, I’d rate 15 of them 7/10 or better, with maybe six full-blown masterpieces. That’s a pretty decent success rate.
So far I’ve caught 15 films at the festival, with not a stinker in the bunch. In fact, they’ve ranged from very good to superb!
Top of the heap so far for the docs are Cosima Spender’s Without Gorky andMalik Bendjelloul’s Searching For Sugar Man. The latter has distribution via Sony Pictures Classics which will open in NY and LA on July 27th but the former is un-bought and deserves serious attention.
A look at the emotional vacuum left by the suicide of the abstract impressionist master, Arshile Gorky. The absolute perfect example of a compelling personal documentary, Spender’s film is probing and revealing without being in the least bit exploitative of her subjects, which happen to be her family, as Spender is Gorky’s granddaughter. Far more than a biopic and far more than an art film, Without Gorky explores what was left behind by Gorky after his suicide in 1948 and how his survivors are still processing his death (and life) after 60 years.
In the hopes that you go into Bendjelloul’s extraordinary film knowing very little, I’ll try and avoid spoiling too much. Suffice to say that even if you know the hook of Searching For Sugar Man, you’ll still find yourself not believing what you’re seeing. Trust me. This one you cannot miss.
More from this special edition of the Los Angeles Film Festival later!
Congratulations to director Kirby Dick and producer Any Ziering for the pickup of their powerful new doc The Invisible War by Cinedigm Entertainment Group and New Video. I saw the film at Sundance and in addition to being a great film, it’s extraordinarily important in these times of increasing violence against and institutionalized subjugation of women. [Trailer and other videos at the bottom.]
In my wrap of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival I wrote of the film: “A heart-breaking and shocking look at rape in the military, Dick’s film details the pain, shame, horror and lasting damage caused by the attacks as well as the shocking hypocrisy and cover-ups endorsed by the military establishment.”
Some stats from the US Department of Defense: 20% of ALL servicewomen have been sexually assaulted while serving. Women who have been raped in the military have a PTSD rate higher than men in combat. An estimated 500,000 women have been sexually assaulted in the US military. In 2010, according to the Department of Defense, there were 3,158 case of sexual assault within the U.S. military. It is estimated that more than 80% of those who are sexually assaulted don’t report it.
The film presents many more statistics, equally as disturbing.
While the subject matter is grim and at times the film is emotionally tough to watch, I will categorically say that this is a film everyone must see, especially educators. It’s a film that could potentially cause a sea change not only in the halls of Congress but in the high schools of America.
At the Q&A following the Sundance world premiere, a 17 year-old young woman in the audience stood up and said that while she had never been physically assaulted, verbal abuse was the norm in her school and she felt that every high school student needed to see the film because boys were not being raised to respect women. It was another poignant moment in the most emotional Q&A I have ever witnessed.
This year, after an eleven year absence, I made my return to the Sundance Film Festival and yes, there were a lot of changes but as the saying goes, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! There were new hotels and condos, new restaurants and a much better transportation system but there were also the same old throngs of pseudo celebs and their hangers on that were only there for the gifting suites, club nights and seemed to not even know there were films being screened. Like I said, the more things change….
The Sundance lineup always looks good on paper. There are dozens of films from directors both new and unsung that virtually no one has seen, including one (Amy Berg’s West of Memphis) so fresh that producer Peter Jackson literally hand-carried the print to Utah from New Zealand!
A Singular Doc Experience
By the time the awards were handed out on Saturday night, it seemed like many categories had six or seven favorites, although a few were pretty obvious. One of those obvious winners (to me, anyway) was Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War which won the audience award for documentaries. A heart-breaking and shocking look at rape in the military, Dick’s film details the pain, shame, horror and lasting damage caused by the attacks and the shocking hypocrisy and cover-ups endorsed by the military establishment.
Why was it obvious to me that it would get the audience prize? Simple: I have never seen an audience reaction and a post-screening Q & A like this one. Not in over 20 years and well over 150 film festivals have I seen a crying standing ovation with an audience full of senators, US representatives and celebs, including Mary J. Blige, who is writing an original song for the film. Packed with stories and statistics that can do nothing but inspire action and outrage, The Invisible War is a perfect piece of advocacy filmmaking.