Things we’ll Remember Most from Sundance 11

The Elon Sundance Experience Wordle

What Sundance 11 memories would you add?  


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Skiing then Homework

Surprisingly, it was only myself and 3 other Elon students that decided to go skiing in Park City today. It was an absolutely beautiful day. It was even warm. I found myself delayering quickly. I’ve only gone skiing five times in my life before this trip and all of those times have been at a small ski resort in West Virginia. After skiing at Park City Ski Resort, I can say that I prefer skiing in the West, where the snow is real. It was incredibly beautiful being surrounded by blue skies, great temperatures, powdery snow, and amazingly talented local skiers and snowboarders. I hope to get back there sometime and spend even more than a day on the slopes. If my life plan of owning a vacation home in Park City comes true I will definitely be there every year!

Gavin Wiesen, director of Homework

Due to being on the slopes most of the day, I didn’t have a chance to see any films during the day. Luckily, I got the first wait-list spot for the film Homework for the midnight showing. Homework was a movie featuring the talented British actor Freddie Highmore known for his role as the little boy in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and his role in August Rush, as well as actress Emma Roberts, Julia Robert’s niece. It was a coming of age film about a boy who is rebellious and doesn’t really have a care in the world until he begins to fall in love with Emma’s character, Sally. Overall, the movie was somewhat bland. I did not really enjoy. I think a lot of the writing and some of the acting was cliche and I think a big problem was that the director, Gavin Wiesen, wrote the screenplay based his own life. I think this sometimes is helpful that the writer is also the director that way they know exactly how the want it too look. The problem was that Wiesen spoke in his Q&A about how he did not collaborate with many other people on the script. I think if more people had looked over it and fixed some of the cliche scenes the film could have been a bit stronger. It wasn’t a horrible movie, don’t get me wrong. I definitely paid attention. There just wasn’t much there. A boy. A girl. Love. Boy and some family problems. New love interest. Jealously. I gave it two stars out of four so not the worst but definitely not my favorite at the festival.

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“How Did This Even Get into Sundance?”

The Sundance Film Festival is widely considered to be one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, yet somehow, the occasional stinkers make its way into the lineup. Unfortunately, I happened to be present for the screenings of many of these head-scratchingly sub par films.

Based on what I had read, I thought that Slacker was going to be a documentary about people in Texas who make their living by doing as little work as possible. The movie description was misleading. In reality, Slacker is a narrative (if you could call it that) that follows unbearably bland characters through their daily routine of doing absolutely nothing. Have you ever been stuck in a conversation with someone who is unable to produce an interesting sentence? Slacker possesses all the awkward banality of such a conversation and repeats the experience twenty times while teasing the audience with false hope that the “story” will somehow become meaningful. I watched plenty of movies at Sundance that I did not care for at all, but Slacker was the only movie that I walked out of. Truly painful to watch. (1/5)

Knuckle was a film that I was particularly excited about. The premise about Irish bare-knuckle fighting held tremendous promise, and I envisioned some truly epic fights matched with the personal stories of the fighters and their reasons for hating their opponents. Knuckle was what I expected with regards to story structure, but the actual subject matter was as captivating as watching two old Irish women chain smoke and shake their heads slowly. The filming took ten years to complete, and with that much footage, one would expect something interesting to happen. Even the fighting scenes elicited yawns from the audience. The story structure consisted of the protagonist fighting someone from the enemy clan then vowing to retire. This happened three times. I missed the third time due to being bored to sleep, however, and was awoken by half-hearted applause from the audience. I am always disappointed with a film when I feel that, under the same circumstances, I could have produced a better movie. (2/5)
Homework is bad. It is just a bad, poorly conceived cash grab aimed at the wallets of romantically oblivious youth in the audience. My initial thought was that Homework was just a version of Superbad without any of the funny parts, but even the lowbrow Superbad had some pertinent underlying themes that Homework could not pull off. Freddy Highmore’s character was just plain unlikable, Emma Roberts has the acting chops of a dead fish, and the dialogue gave me a headache due to the frequency of my eyes rolling in disgust. I would have walked out of this movie early had I not been stuck within the bowels of a gaggle of Highmore fangirls. I do not think that I could stomach a second viewing of this awful film. (1/5)

All Your Dead Ones
Like Vampire, All Your Dead Ones had a premise that seemed failsafe. Unfortunately, it was like Knuckle in that I slept through the climax of the film. The movie is about a simple Colombian farmer who stumbles upon a pile of dead bodies in his field. Sounds awesome, right? It very well could have been. The opening scene (which was borderline pornographic) set the tone for overly long, confusing sequences, and after the body pile was actually found, the narrative completely broke down. From what I could gather, the mayor comes and moves the bodies to a soccer field after roughly an hour of talking about what to do. I think that’s what happened… I was asleep for a lot of that part. There was no music, no interesting dialogue (or subtitles, at least), and the character motivations were unclear. There was nothing about this movie aside from above average cinematography to keep me awake, and my body must have found my inner eyelids more interesting. The people who I was with were as confused as I was even though they were awake through the ordeal, which does not reflect well on its clarity. The Q&A following the film shed some light on the political metaphors that the film was aiming to portray, but if you have to explain a film to your audience, you failed at your job. (1.5/5)

I am conflicted as I attempt to write this review, for I am unsure as to whether I should grade this film based on its classical merits as art or how entertained I was after watching it. On one hand, Vampire was without a doubt the most horribly produced pile of trash that I saw in my week at Sundance. On paper, Vampire seemed like it had an intriguing premise, but absolutely the production team took what should have been a great movie and completely dropped the ball. From a sensory perspective, the audio was all over the place in terms of volume and the sets were unrealistic and uninspired. For instance, the “hospital” was merely a warehouse. I was not convinced. The acting was creepy in parts that it shouldn’t have been, and I found myself deeply hating every character. I’m sure that there was at least one person I should have sided with, but I couldn’t wait for each character to die. The end of the film was the most confusing sequence of any film I have ever seen, and it was as if the director realized how bad his film was and just devoted the ending to messing with the audience. However, the bus ride back from the Yarrow Theater was one of the highlights of my trip, as it consisted of about 12 of m housemates laughing hysterically about how bad the film was. The disaster of a movie was actually a good bonding experience. (0.5/5)

– Greg Gentile

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Day of Death

Little Birds

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I didn’t know what to expect before seeing this film. All I know is that I was very hipster/indie looking film about two girls coming of age. Well, that was accurate but what I didn’t know is that it would involve use drugs, sex, and violence. To summarize the film, Lily and Alison were best friends and began to grow apart when Lily found a love interest in L.A. while Alison was simply there as a tag-a-long. Of course, Lily got caught up in the wrong crowd that would steal from others and lived out of an abandoned hotel. They began using Lily to their advantage by getting men from the internet (who wanted to get with a younger girl) to meet up with her and then the boys would proceed to steal the men’s money. At the end, during one of the times Lily is bringing this guy back to the gross abandoned motel room the guy was suspicious and beat up the boys before they could take his money. Then the man wanted to rape Lily but Alison shows up and shoots him unexpectedly before he could harm Lily. That twist in the movie was the best part because it was so unexpected. Other than that, the film was somewhat bland just showing the girls as friends and their rocky relationships with their parents. However, after the Q&A I had much more appreciation for the film. The director, Elgin James, explained to the audience that when he was younger he got caught up in the wrong crowd, did drugs, and was in a gang. He discovered his love for films and Sundance lab gave him a chance to develop his talents and work on Little Birds with him. I think to come from a place like that in your life to having a film at Sundance is remarkable and deserves to be recognized. Two days after seeing Little Birds, Gabby and I saw Elgin on Main St. and he was the most approachable and nicest filmmaker we had spoken to all week. He was not only interested in us talking to him about his film but he wanted to know about us and why we were there and what school we went to. After that encounter I couldn’t help but want to like his film even more. I think he has great potential and I told him I can’t wait to see what he creates in the future.

I Melt with You

I luckily had no problem getting into Little Birds since we bought tickets beforehand. But with I Melt With You, it was another wait list situation. Because it was the world premiere of the film I was a little nervous we wouldn’t get in. I kind of forced Gabby and David to come with me, which I regret doing because we didn’t like it. I wanted to see this film so badly because I’m researching directors of photography at Sundance for my research paper and I read that I Melt with You was unique because it was the first film in the festival shot completely on an HDSLR, a Canon 5D Mark II to be exact. Which is revolutionary and incredible to put a low budget camera on such a big screen. The film looked beautiful, as it should have. I’m a big fan of using these smaller digital cameras, therefore I’m biased towards its looks. It helped that the description of the film seemed like something I’d want to see. It summarized the movie as being about four middle-aged men that were friends since college reuniting once a year to rekindle their friendship. Seems like something that could be cool, right? Wrong! It was cool until they started using cocaine, prescription drugs, and excessive use of alcohol. For 20 minutes of the movie they showed the men each day of their vacation together using these substances with slow motion and cool camera movements, BUT it was way too long. We got the point. These men are going crazy and like to party. Then you learn that the men made a blood-signed pact as college students that if they were not happy with their lives 25 years from then, they would die as one. Well, one of the men took this pact very seriously so the movie began to turn very dark when it cuts to a seen of him hanging in the shower with the water running. The other friends discovered him and were shocked. Of course, after awhile they see the note that he left behind and the audience learns whey he chose to take his own life. Eventually all of the men commit suicide or have one of his friends suffocate him…cheery, right? Not at all. Although we were in the last row in the theater, the speakers were just as loud and just as affectively blaring the emotionally straining soundtrack that really grasped the audience emotion. I will say that this movie did a great job affecting me, I was completely horrified by some of the things I saw on screen and the music really played with my emotions. Although I found this movie very disturbing I would have loved to interview the DP because he was responsible for shooting this entire film with the new DSLR technology. Unfortunately we already had tickets to see Vampire at midnight that evening so we didn’t even have time to stay for the Q&A.

We had less than 15 minutes after I Melt with You to get seated at another theater for Vampire. The volunteers recommended that we walk because it would only take 10 minutes where a bus may take longer getting to the theater and may wait to load it up with people. So we said, “what the heck, we can do this! let’s book it!” We proceeded to discuss how we were all very disturbed by the movie and were a little on edge from witnessing so many suspenseful suicide scenes.


We were hoping to see something a little bit more up beat after coming from the depressing I Melt With You. Little did we know, we picked the worst movie at Sundance to pick our spirits back up. Within the first 5 minutes you discover that the main character is a complete freak and is meeting up with this girl that wants to mutually commit suicide with him. He then proceeds to murder her and doesn’t kill himself, by draining all her blood into 4 separate jars. One he then drinks and later throws up. Disgusting. We were not happy about this, we were all looking at each other like, “This cannot be happening.” We then mutually decided to leave the movie after seeing the main character contain his Alzheimer’s mom in her room by permanently strapping huge balloons to her back and then witnessing a scene where one of the vampire’s fellow weirdo friends traps this innocent in a plastic bag to kill her and rape her. I will say though that the best part of what I saw of that movie was when the main character first introduced himself to his victim and she responded saying her name was “jellyfish.” David, Gabby, and I were yearning for something joyful that we thought it was hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing.

This day taught us that everything you see at Sundance will be your favorite movie. A lot of the ones that are selected for the festival have bizarre topics are ones that don’t allow you to leave the theater with a smile on your face. That’s ok, but I tend to enjoy smiling after seeing movies.

– Will Anderson

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The Elon at Sundance “Grand Jury”

Image Courtesy The Sundance Institute

After having a few days to reflect on our Sundance experience, I wanted to see if the group agreed or disagreed with the Sundance Grand Jury’s selections.

The Elon at Sundance “Grand Jury” is a bit different given that we did not see all of the competition films, by a long-shot, and we all saw different films (with a fair amount of overlap). This obviously made consensus a bit difficult at times, but that just means more films get the recognition they deserve. Nominees are for the Academy…everything people saw at Sundance was eligible in our jury.

The Elon version also changes up some of the categories a little bit so that we can recognize some of the non-competition films and make these awards slightly more unique.

Elon at Sundance Grand Jury Awards/Recognition    

Most AMAZING Films

US Documentary: (All equally AMAZING) Being Elmo, How to Die in Oregon, Rebirth

World Documentary: Hell and Back Again

US Dramatic: (Co-winners) Gun Hill Road, Like Crazy

Honorable Mentions: Another Earth, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Pariah, Terri, Take Shelter

World Dramatic: Happy, Happy

Non-Competition: (All AMAZING) Submarine, Perfect Sense, Margin Call, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same

Short (US or World): Living for 32

          HM: Deeper Than Yesterday, Fight for Your Right Revisited

 The Token “Oscar” Categories

Best 5 Actors: Michael Shannon (Take Shelter), Tobey Maguire (The Details), Jacob Wysocki (Terri), Anton Yelchin (Like Crazy), Esai Morales (Gun Hill Road)

Best Actress: Felicity Jones (Like Crazy)

HM: Elizabeth Olson (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Jessica Chastain (Take Shelter), Brit Marling (Another Earth), Juno Temple (Little Birds), Judy Reyes (Gun Hill Road)

Best Director (Feature): Drake Doremus (Like Crazy)

HM: Mike Cahill (Another Earth), Madeleine Olnek (Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same)

Best 4 Directors (Documentary): Michael Rapaport (Beats Rhymes & Life), Marshall Curry (If a Tree Falls), Jim Whitaker (Rebirth), Danfung Dennis (Hell and Back Again)   

Noteworthy Editing (Feature): Like Crazy, Margin Call, Another Earth, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Perfect Sense, I Melt With You, Pariah

Noteworthy Editing (Documentary): Beats Rhymes & Life, Magic Trip, Rebirth, Hell and Back Again

Noteworthy Cinematography: I Melt With You, Another Earth, Perfect Sense, Little Birds

The Paul Castro Award for most AMAZING Screenplays: Submarine, Another Earth, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Pariah


Final Thoughts

Films the Jury feel are most destined for box office success: Like Crazy and Cedar Rapids. Also watch out for Flypaper and The Details

The Jury also identified a handful of films that the Academy should have on their radar for next year (for a variety of categories): Living for 32, Take Shelter, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Like Crazy and Pariah

Finally we offer our best “name drops” (celeb sightings): Elmo/Kevin Clash, Tobey Maguire, Judy Reyes, Patrick Dempsey, Robert Redford, Academy Award Nominee Vera Farmiga, Esme from “Twilight”

Thanks to Sam, Blair, David, Leigh and Hannah for sharing their opinions with me to form the Elon at Sundance Jury. While some of our picks did overlap with the official Sundance jury, hopefully we shed light on some of the other great films that make up the Sundance class of 2011.  

What Sundance 11 film(s) do you think deserve recognition?


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Crazy for “Like Crazy” (The Male Response)

Courtesy The Sundance Institute

The unwritten “rules of manhood” might suggest that seeing a romantic drama sans one’s girlfriend/wife, and/or with no prodding/promises from said significant other makes you less of a man. I would tend to agree with that in most cases. Films like “The Notebook”, “A Walk to Remember” and other token “chick flicks” would certainly apply. So why would I go to a film such as “Like Crazy” when none of the aforementioned criteria had been met? Well, I figured it was a good sign that I was not the only guy interested in seeing it of their own accord, but mostly because it’s Sundance, and I expected something deeper than your average Hollywood romantic drama. I was not disappointed.

Drake Doremus, the director, created a dramatic love story that appeals to both men and women. Right away he captures the males by casting two very attractive female leads in Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence, but they are not so overbearingly hot that he loses credibility with the female audience. I think both sexes can appreciate the acting ability that the actresses brought to the film as well. In fact, Lawrence was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress this year for Winter’s Bone. It’s not just another male director hiring the hottest actress available who has questionable acting ability (think Megan Fox in Transformers…yes, it’s not a romantic drama but just play along). Jones and Lawrance, who play the love interests of Jacob (the male lead played by Anton Yelchin) are sexy enough to satisfy the male audience without being slutty enough to upset the female audience. Plus, the actors give a sense of realism to the film that makes the story very authentic…which anyone who appreciates film can enjoy.

The sense of realism was what moved “Like Crazy” from the dreaded “chick flick” zone into the “solid film” pantheon. Most chick flicks have sappy dialogue and romance that most men roll their eyes at (as they should) while the women melt. This film felt so much like a real relationship that it resonated with both sexes. It felt more like a documentary than an obviously scripted, cliched “Hollywood romance”. This was achieved, as Doremus pointed out in the Q&A, by having the actors improvise most of the film. He wrote about a 50 page outline, rehearsed with the cast, and then shot 30 minute takes of them improvising off of that general storyline. The resulting chemistry and sense of a real relationship from their performances was palpable throughout the film, shout-out to Kate for asking the question that revealed this sweet anecdote.

Additionally, “Variety” points out in its review that the film chooses not to show a lot of the token moments in a relationship that cookie-cutter Hollywood romantic films dwell on, such as the first kiss, first time sleeping together, the elegant proposal, etc. The moments just happen, or are insinuated by the editing/how the story progresses. Jacob is romantic in a way that the average guy can appreciate, and not so over the top that men start to question his manhood. He gives her flowers (which any guy who judges that clearly does not know women), and he builds her a chair, which is symbolic in the story and thoughtful, but also a manly thing to do at the same time. Jacob is sweet enough that girls like him, but strong enough that males don’t question his “man card” status. Again Doremus was able to strike a perfect balance.

That balance is what makes “Like Crazy” a date-night movie that both parties can enjoy. Paramount has purchased the rights to it, so expect to see it in a theater near you in the months ahead. Boys, do yourselves a favor and take your girl to this movie…You won’t regret it, and you can enjoy it without sacrificing your man-card.

Ladies what did you think?

(NOTE: Turns out I was not crazy (no pun intended)…”Like Crazy” went on to win the U.S. Dramatic Competition Grand Jury Prize at Sundance…I swear I wrote this long before that happened)


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Themeology of Sundance 2011

Sundance is all about making a statement. From films with titles like Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same to serious documentaries like Reagan, the festival seeks to spark conversation among its wider audiences. With that in mind, I have taken the liberty of identifying a number of themes that ran throughout the movies that I have seen over the course of this week.

The war in Afghanistan– (Hell and Back AgainLittle BirdsBenevides Born) These three films, among others at the festival addressed the impact that war has on a society, both abroad and at home. They exposed the harsh realities of war beyond what is commonly seen in the media. The reoccurring theme of Afghanistan that people are discontent and wish to see change.

LGBT– (Pariah, Gun Hill Road) There was a significant emphasis on characters with different sexual orientations at Sundance. Probably due to the fact the people are more open to seeing LGBT people in real life, directors were able to tell their stories and share their sufferings in some of the best films that I saw over the course of the week. Perhaps moving away from theWill and Grace portrayal of the LGBT community will aid in gaining and understanding and respect from speculative publics.

Being “stuck”– (Knuckle, Gun Hill Road, Vampire, Pariah, Animals Distract Me, Benevides Born, Hell and Back Again, Little Birds) This isn’t a new theme by any means, but it continues to resonate with audiences. Young characters striving for a lifestyle beyond what is attainable for most members of their community. I especially enjoyed that the films at the festival were willing to move away from the Cinderella format, and instead, characters hit the wall and were not able to rebound.

Coming of age– (Living for 32, Barber of Birmingham, Knuckle, Gun Hill Road, Pariah, Benevides Born, Little Birds, Hell and Back Again)Again, not necessarily a surprising theme but one that always seems to tug at the heartstrings of audiences. It’s fair to say that everyone has experienced some sort of “coming of age” event. When they recognize a struggle that they can relate to, a film becomes personal. One interesting note about the 2011 festival though, most of the coming of age types were girls, or highly feminized.

What are the conclusions that we can draw from these constant reoccurrences? First, they reflect public opinion and the desire for change. They are issues that need to be addressed on either a small or a large scale. The conversations sparked by these films often lead to discussions of possible solutions. Second, common theme indicates common conflict and let’s be serious here, film is all about conflict. When an audience is familiar with a conflict, it allows the storyteller to go more in-depth. So long as the endings are not trite or too fairytale-esque, audiences seem to receive films in a positive light.

-Sarah Dodge

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