Day 3: Park City, UT– By this point, having been in Utah for 6 days, I’m already beginning to forget what regular life is like outside of the film festival world. It’s been a bustling last 48 hours so here’s my best stab at summarizing everything that has happened.
My Saturday morning shift remained smooth and those 4 hours are getting easier by the day. The only real surprise was giving walking directions to Kristen Wiig, who I didn’t recognize at first, who was avoiding taking the bus to keep a low profile. Shortly after lunch I made my way over to the Temple, which is a great theater aside from the fact that it is far away for my first movie of the day.
Hot Girls Wanted (US)
Directors: Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus
Writers: Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus
It wasn’t until the movie began that I realized I’ve created my own theme of documentaries involving exploitation of women. Hot Girls Wanted is another exposé, focusing on the modern Internet porn industry and the women, most of whom are barely 18 and are being lured into stardom. The documentary dances between being a social commentary on young people’s obsession with fame fueled by pop culture, combined with some personal stories of a few girls. Personally, I found the social commentary elements more poignant than the individual stories, but their stories do add a human element. A lot of questions that people have about porn and the girls that are in it are answered in this film, especially their relationships with family and even boyfriends. Like my other two docs that I’ve seen this year, regardless of the artistic prowess, these are films that are telling important stories that otherwise wouldn’t be discussed. A major revelation that fits with The Hunting Ground is that so much of porn being created includes violent behavior toward women. The material of the film is something that I would like to see explored and discussed much more.
After the film, it was time for a quick rest and some dinner. Next I headed to try and catch Z for Zachariah, and despite getting there an hour early, I was not able to get in. That’s the first film I haven’t been able to get into as a volunteer. However, it ended up being the best thing that could happen: instead of going to the movie, I headed to Main Street to see Park City in its full action. I met up with a friend of mine Meredith Stewart, who acted in a project of mine set for an April finish, and we visited a few different venues including BuzzFeed, the North Carolina Film Commission, and one unnamed one. Of course, the party scene at Sundance is an experience difficult to describe and constantly overwhelming, but coming back this year I felt much more comfortable. Like the volunteers, these parties are full of people who are genuinely interested in hearing about you and sharing their talents. Over food and drinks, I managed to meet a handful of other directors, songwriters, actors, and more.
The highlight of my night would be meeting Col Needham, creator and CEO of IMDb. I recognized him immediately and struck up a conversation, star-struck at meeting the individual who played such a massive role on the way I have viewed and researched films for my entire life. I can’t imagine being a film buff without the website and was incredibly grateful to meet him and his wife Karen. Among all the people I have met so far, this has been the most exciting.
It Follows (US)
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Stars: Linda Boston, Caitlin Burt, Heather Fairbanks
A midnight movie following a night of socializing isn’t the best way to internalize a film. Overall, It Follows is a solid modern horror film but I definitely was not as engaged as I was in other scary films I’ve seen. It’s more of a mood piece than a pop-out horror and focuses on teenagers and their anxieties regarding their sexual experiences. It takes some risks in cinematography and has a great soundtrack, but is otherwise a niche film good for horror audiences but not something that transcends the genre.
Day 4: Park City, UT–Another similar day of volunteering and socializing (including a Chapman University party), and managed to see one great film, the Hungarian film in Spotlight called White God.
White God (Hungary)
Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Writers: Kornél Mundruczó, Viktória Petrányi, Kata Wéber
Stars: Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, Lili Horváth
Objectively the film sounds preposterous, but believe me it works. A young girl’s pet dog is scorned for being a mutt in Budapest, and finally, the dog is sent away. From the dog’s perspective, we see it endure a variety of abusive owners in what seems like a cross between Oliver Twist and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Eventually, the dog retaliates, along with hundreds of other poorly treated dogs, and things escalate as they seek out their revenge.
They say the greatest films transcend genre, and White God with its balance of drama, action, and comedy, can be marked as such. Considering the protagonist of the film is a dog, it is a directing feat that this character brings out a real performance that varies over the course of the film. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal, adding so much heightened tension to the film. Music plays a crucial role in setting the tone and adding character – even the main girl is a trumpet player. On top of the music, the cinematography manages to capture so much.
There are so many layers on this film worth discussing it is difficult to capture it in writing. For this reason alone, it might even be worth a second viewing. The primary theme is the relationship between humans and animals, and the strange, master-pet relationship that occurs between us and them. How does one draw the line between loving an animal and controlling it? There are hints toward other themes, such as human consumption of animals, that are also poignant and relevant. As a warning, this film does feature some dog fighting that is difficult to stomach (enough that a few people left the theater), but it is made clear in the credits and hearing the director speak that no dogs were harmed in making the film. The other theme that the film builds to is compassion. It’s a criticism of our abrasive and often violent interactions both with animals and with other humans, and how this is not the way to reach success.
Hearing director Kornél Mundruczó speak after was just as interesting, and the dog star of the movie was present as well! First, all of the dogs used in the film were from shelters, and after filming was completed each of them found a home! He also had some poignant comments on the title, which is abstract: he said he wanted a title that was contrasting the movie not just illustrating the movie. A pretty incredible concept, and after seeing the movie and hearing his reasoning, it’s a brilliant title. White God is not in the competition but rather in the Spotlight category because it played at Cannes earlier this year. Regardless, due to its depth and poignancy and masterful use of craft, this is currently my favorite film I’ve seen at the festival.