Day 5: Park City, UT–The festival is starting to move quicker and now it’s all about staying healthy and pacing myself throughout day. It’s been a great time with the first group of Chapman students who came, and I look forward to seeing a second group tomorrow. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the volunteer team at the Prospector Theater who now have become a miniature posse of our own. I even had the privilege of meeting Jacques, a graduate of Chapman/Dodge’s graduate program who is also a volunteer. As it turns out, he was the one who told my friend Almog about volunteering, and Almog was how I heard about volunteering here! In other words, without this guy I would not be here today!
Another fun tidbit: in the mens’ bathroom stalls of the Yarrow (I can’t speak for the women) a desperate screenwriter has printed out a letter asking for producers to consider his screenplay along with contact information. He gets points for creativity. I guess the logic applies that no matter who you are, everybody has to go! Anyway, onto the latest films I’ve seen:
The Stanford Prison Experiment (US)
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Writer: Tim Talbott
Stars: Olivia Thirlby, Tye Sheridan, Ezra Miller
Only my second narrative that’s in the competition, this film is a dramatic retelling of the infamous 1971 experiment that taught people worldwide about situational behavior, and the importance that authority and roles play into decision making. I knew quite a bit about the experiment going in, but was still enthralled by how it played out on screen. An all-star, almost all-male, cast includes Billy Cudrup, Nelsan Ellis, Ezra Miller, and Tye Sheridan, and over 2 hours you begin to feel how the prisoners and the guards may have felt. This is a successful film all around and may give more publicity for those who weren’t aware of this experiment and how much knowledge was then gained from it afterward.
Director: Tolga Karaçelik
Writer: Tolga Karaçelik
Stars: Osman Alkas, Kadir Cermik, Hakan Karsak
My first in the World Dramatic competition turned out to also be my first experimental and truly non-traditional piece. The coolest part for me was that I got to sit next to the producers (one is German and one is Turkish) and chat with them before the film started. The film itself is in Turkish and tells the story of 5 seaman on a freighter boat that has been marooned due to lack of funding. The film is incredibly psychological and each of the characters can be seen as representations of types of Turkish beliefs and backgrounds. It is a bit slow and takes a sharp magical realism turn in the last third, and as mentioned, this feels like a film where I may not have a grasp on the culture that created it and therefore, may not understand all of the conventions at play. Regardless, it was nice to see something that pushed me out of my comfort zone quite a bit.
Welcome To Leith (US)
Directors: Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker
Writers: Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker
Stars: Craig Cobb
This is a documentary I was curious about due to similarities toward last year’s The Overnighters, which many people know is a favorite of mine. This time we are back in North Dakota for a straightforward documentary about a town with a population of just 24 residents that finds itself slowly attempting to be taken over by menacing White supremacists from around the country. Tensions ensue as some of the most disturbing individuals I’ve seen onscreen spout their beliefs and rightfully are met with great resistance by the small community. In an era where students are taught in schools that “racism is over” and multiculturalism is still a difficult dream to fully realize, it is radical to think that there are people who believe that there is a supreme race and that others need to be eradicated. One particular shot juxtaposes the main white supremacist with a shot of a TV in the background covering the Donald Sterling scandal: this is one of the most brilliant juxtapositions I have ever seen in a documentary. In this one image, we see the range of racism and the lack of progress across the United States. The film’s story continues the notion of how different certain places in the US truly are, and that North Dakota may be the closest we have to the Wild West today.
Most Likely To Succeed (US)
Director: Greg Whiteley
Writer: Greg Whiteley
Stars: Scott Swaaley
In the Documentary Premieres category, this is a film that questions if the educational system is still relevant in the United States today. The doc starts with an analysis of why the current system came into place, and how the work force it was created for is certainly not the same one it was when it was created. Think about this tidbit: the US educational system has not been altered in 125 years! The system was designed to train people who would work in hard labor or factory jobs, and many of the conventions (ringing bells for example) were created to prepare people for factory work. Today, this is all done by computers. Is the education we needed then, the same that we need today?
The film then explores High Tech High, a San Diego charter school that defies all conventions of a typical school. Instead of books, tests, and grades, students create projects that blend all subjects into one. Learning is more focused on collaboration with other students and learning soft skills instead of facts. It is radical, but the results are stunning. The students are empowered and challenged in ways that never would happen in a conventional school setting. Watching the film feels like watching the school of the future. I was reminded of all of the brilliant professors and teachers who have inspired me, many of whom broke conventions and didn’t abide by traditional principles.
As someone who never particularly fit into the conventional high school or education system, I found the film gratifying in how well it debunks what makes our system so outdated. It doesn’t take into account that students learn in different ways and that memorizing facts is something that doesn’t need to be done in the era of a computer. The film’s runtime flew by as I was riveted by the information about schools, the stories of students and teachers at High Tech High, and the optimism for the future of education as a place where a real learning instead of a massive memorization is created. I believe this is another film that is relevant to everyone, and fit perfectly with where I was because just before the film, I was carrying on a conversation about post-graduation plans and what I wanted to do to continue to improve and educate myself. Due to its relevance and ability to hold attention and tell incredible information and story, this is now my new favorite film of the festival so far.
Director: Mora Stephens
Writers: Mora Stephens, Joel Viertel
Stars: Lena Headey, Dianna Agron, Elena Satine
The title will lead you exactly where you think it’s going, as it focuses on a District Attorney Sam Ellis (played by Patrick Wilson) dealing with his addiction to sex and it’s slow escalation that matches his political gains. The all-star cast includes Dianna Agron, Lena Headey, Ray Winstone, Christopher MacDonald, and Richard Dreyfuss. Movies about adultery are easy to find and this one fits in just fine with the rest of them. It’s beautifully shot and captures the slow erotic build of Sam and his need for companionship. There is nothing completely revelatory and you will not walk away from the film with any new insight on why politicians cheat on their wives or get caught up in scandals. Regardless, this is a film with a sublime cast and gives a good fix of dirty politics like the way that The Ides of March did a few years back. Since this film is a premiere, it will be headed to theaters sometime this year, and then you too can get a fix of watching inner desire unfold.