The annual Sundance Film Festival, an independent film event, took place in Park City, Utah from Jan. 19 to Jan. 29. The festival aims to showcase the unreleased works of independent and international filmmakers. These screenings are divided into separate sections for international, documentary, feature and short films.
The Sundance Film Festival continues to capture audiences worldwide through diverse, thrilling features. Since its debut in 1978, the festival drew a record number of 46,600 attendees in 2016 and featured films such as Napoleon Dynamite, La La Land and American Psycho.
Directed by Amanda Lipitz
Step follows the high school senior Step team, which practices a dynamic form of synchronized dance that involves stomping from an all-girls charter school in inner-city Baltimore. Set amid the social unrest of the city, the film documents these girls’ lives from the stress of trying to succeed in Step competitions to getting into college.
What really makes this story powerful is its incredible stories of the girls. Many of these girls will be the first in their family to go to college but have to overcome economic and academic issues to get there. Both the dancers and their family members are animated characters that are entertaining to follow, but still feel genuine in their presentation. The moments of success really hit the audience, and tissues were brought out multiple times. Their dancing is part of the narrative and makes the film thrilling to watch.
However, the documentary sometimes becomes too stylish in its presentation of a very real story, and the cinematographer has issues focusing on all of the action, but besides that, Step is a deeply moving film that feels very important today.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk
Eleven years ago, An Inconvenient Truth shook audiences to their core and made many realize the real threat of climate change. This threat has not gone away since 2006, making this documentary one of the few sequels that is desperately needed.
This film mostly focuses on Al Gore attempting to let facts be heard from real scientists, specifically in India, which is planning to build new coal-burning power plants. It also documents the changes that the planet has gone through since the first film.
It does make the viewer feel very scared about the future, especially the final sequence where Gore hears the election results, but it also ends with a sense of optimism as Gore feels hopeful and implores the audience to commit to this extremely important issue of climate change.
Directed by Taylor Sheridan
Taylor Sheridan has become one of the more prolific screenwriters over the last couple of years with his screenplays for Sicario and Hell or High Water, the latter recently earning him an Oscar nomination. Wind River is his directorial debut, set in a desolate Indian reservation in Wyoming, where stoic hunter Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds the body of a young woman miles away from civilization. Suddenly, he is brought into this murder case along with rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) without many resources in the heart of winter.
Like previous Sheridan projects, Wind River has a great sense of place; the lawlessness is truly felt and the rules of nature easily eclipse the rules of law with so little people around. The movie is quite tense, especially the final set piece, but also includes moments of natural humor that doesn’t distract from the narrative, yet rather adds much needed levity. This is easily Renner’s best performance since The Hurt Locker and his character’s fascinating backstory gives extra heartbreaking depth. Olsen is dramatic as a Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs-esque character as her moral sensibilities get crushed by the end in a final excellent moment.
Directed by Bryan Fogel
The third documentary of the festival for this writer, Icarus, to be brief, tells the story of Russian doping in sports. The filmmaker, Bryan Fogel, conceived the project to test the impact of performance enhancing drugs, but it turned into a different thing entirely when he met the former chief of Russia’s anti-doping lab and uncovered one of the biggest scandals in recent sports history. This story is one of the main reasons why some Russian athletes were not allowed to compete at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Therein lies the most interesting thing about Icarus: this much-publicized story told from an insider perspective. It is also quite frightening to see the power of President Vladimir Putin in his attempt to quiet his former director Grigory Rodchenkov. Unfortunately, the film spends too much time focusing on the initial pitch for the documentary, so by the time the really fascinating story comes around, the viewer is only intrigued for a part of it and then begins to reach for their watch. It is a documentary that would be much benefited from shortening its length by 20 or so minutes. But still, it is a captivating narrative that is well told.
My Life as a Zucchini
Directed by Claude Barras
Originally My Life as A Courgette (“Zucchini” in French), this animated film was originally made in French but dubbed with well-known American voices (Ellen Page, Nick Offerman, etc.) and was just recently nominated for the best animated feature Oscar, even though it has not screened in the United States. It is only 70 minutes long, but is devastating and incredible.
The film tells the story of a small boy named Zucchini, whose mom dies within the first few minutes of the film after which he is sent to a foster home/school with other kids who cannot live with their parents. The audience learns the reasons why these kids are there, and each one is more harrowing than the next. This film is overwhelming in its first 20 minutes with its heartache, but then takes a turn. It becomes sweet and uplifting, but always with a sense of melancholy. It also treats all of the characters with a respect that is rare for children’s movies in how well they flesh each one out. The “bully” in this foster home is not really a bully, rather just tough and insecure.
The only real problem with this film is that it should just stay in its French language because items will come on screen in French, but the characters will be speaking in English and distract from this beautiful story. Also these well-known voices take the audience out of the story momentarily. But this does not take away too much from this poignant and incredibly touching film.