So the big story coming out of Sundance 2014 is Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash, which has won both the Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic) and the Dramatic Audience Award. Here’s what the critics are saying about the other winners for which we haven’t yet had individual entries.
U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic
U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
Rich Hill. “Filmmakers Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo have conveyed the hardship and isolation of three teenage boys in a dirt-water area of Missouri,” writes Duane Byrge for the Hollywood Reporter. “Lensing darkly but compassionately, they bring their cameras to a tiny burg called Rich Hill, a cruel misnomer for its desolate decay. Truncated by a freight-train track, there’s nothing going except the wayward meanderings of disconnected folk.” Interviews with the directors: Indiewire and, for Filmmaker, Danielle Lurie and Sarah Salovaara.
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic
To Kill a Man. Carlos Aguilar for Indiewire: “Opening with a deliberately unsettling static forest landscape and adorned with an equally intriguing score, Chilean director Alejandro Fernandez Almendras’s third feature To Kill a Man is a quietly powerful character study that meditates on the ramifications of a family man’s choice to defend his kind.” For THR‘s John DeFore, it’s “a story suggesting that a single act of bravery, however dramatic, is rarely enough to change a life for the better. Based on a true story and refusing to suggest it understands the inner life of its emotionally opaque protagonist, the Chilean film has an arresting starkness.”
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
Return to Homs. The Guardian‘s Xan Brooks: “Shot over two years in the city dubbed ‘the capital of the revolution,’ Talal Derki’s harsh, jolting documentary traces the [Free Syrian Army] protesters’ journey from pacifism to violence and finally towards martyrdom, the only ending they can envisage once the conflict turns against them…. Derki keeps his focus exclusively on the small band of rebels as their hope turns to despair. Is it crass to wish for a little more structure, context and analysis?”
Audience Award: U. S. Dramatic presented by Acura
Audience Award: U.S. Documentary presented by Acura
Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory. “It turns out that songs are embedded deep in our memories and Alzheimer patients’ minds can be resuscitated by their favorite music or songs,” writes THR‘s Duane Byrge. “A packed audience at Sundance was invigorated by witnessing this magical, non-medical story of healing. Alive Inside was brought to full dimension by filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett’s vigorous filmic hand, blending a bedside manner with a rousing aesthetic.” For Steve Greene, writing at Indiewire, “Rossato-Bennett delivers a film that is often tonally divergent, but still provides an affecting look at a growing therapeutic cause.” Eric Eidelstein talks with cinematographer Shachar Langlev.
Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic
Difret. “Illuminating a tradition in much of rural Ethiopia that grossly violates the rights of women and girls, Difret presents an important message, albeit in rather clunky narrative terms,” writes Dennis Harvey in Variety. “More showing and less telling would have made this fact-inspired drama by Zeresenay Berhane Mehari as artistically compelling as it is informative.” Interviews with Berhane: Filmmaker and Eric Lavallee (Ioncinema).
Audience Award: World Cinema: Documentary
Audience Award: Best of NEXT
Imperial Dreams. “First time feature director Malik Vitthal channels the ebb and flow of hope and despair in his powerful feature film debut,” writes Kim Voynar at Movie City News. “The film tells the story of Bambi (John Boyega, who’s simply terrific here), a young man just released from prison who returns home to South Central Los Angeles intent upon creating a better life for himself and his young son, only to find he must fight against the tide of his family and friends, who expect him to dive back in to the life of crime in which he was raised.” More from Henry Barnes (Guardian, 2/5), Geoff Berkshire (Variety) and Justin Lowe (THR). Interviews with Vitthal: Indiewire and Danielle Lurie (Filmmaker).
Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic
Cutter Hodierne for Fishing Without Nets. Here’s a thriller “set on a ship hijacked by Somalis,” writes Wesley Morris at Grantland. “The cast and language are mostly Somali. The cinematography is accomplished. The score would be at home in almost any chase action film. It has all the confidence and swagger missing from a lot of movies here. You’d never know it was made by a 27-year-old first-time director… It gives you the story of a young Somali villager whose wife and children have been taken by smugglers and held for a ransom while he’s conscripted into piracy…. There’s too strong a whiff of cultural superiority (Vice’s film division is one of the producers). Look at me showing you this degradation and raw criminality, not as journalism but as entertainment.” More from Ryland Aldrich (Twitch), John DeFore (THR) and Dennis Harvey (Variety). At Twitch, Valentina I. Valentini talks with Hodierne and his lead actor, Abdikani Muktar. For Indiewire, Eric Eidelstein interviews cinematographer Alex Disenhof.
Directing Award: U.S. Documentary
Ben Cotner and Ryan White for The Case Against 8. “How do you make a compelling documentary on a subject so recently given saturation news coverage that pretty much every informed audience member is going to know the outcome?” asks THR‘s David Rooney. “Ben Cotner and Ryan White answer that question in The Case Against 8. Exhaustively tracking the five-year battle to overthrow California’s ban on same-sex marriage, they distill the dense legal process into a lucid narrative while illuminating the human drama of the plaintiffs, and by extension, the countless gay men and lesbians they represent. That makes for a stirring civil rights film that is both cogent and emotionally charged.” More from Katherine Kilkenny (Indiewire). Interviews with the directors: Filmmaker, Eugene Hernandez (Daily Buzz) and Indiewire.
Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic
Sophie Hyde for 52 Tuesdays. “Hyde’s documentary background informs this story of an Australian teenager whose mother embarks on a year-long, female-to-male gender transition,” writes Michelle Orange for SBS. “James (Del Herbert-Jane) requires space from her 16-year-old daughter Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), but the two agree to meet for a few hours every Tuesday. Hyde shot the film on similar terms, gathering her performers once a week for a year, making time itself a driver of the film’s dramatic essence.”
Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary
Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard for 20,000 Days on Earth. It’s an “unclassifiable and frequently spectacular” doc on Nick Cave, finds Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir. It’s also “extremely intimate and revealing. In one sequence, literally a fictionalized therapy session, Cave discusses his first sexual experience (which he primarily recalls in aesthetic terms), his loving relationship with his father (who died when he was 19), and his parental anxiety that his twin sons are having too sheltered and privileged an upbringing. He remembers, he says, playing chicken with oncoming trains on a railroad bridge near his Australian hometown, and cheating death by jumping into the river below. Doesn’t that anecdote explain nearly everything about Cave’s worldview, and the mythological universe he creates in his songs?” More from Cory Everett (Playlist, B+). On the Daily Buzz, Eugene Hernandez talks with Forsyth and Pollard. Melena Ryzik gets to chat with Cave for the New York Times.
Cinematography Award: U.S. Dramatic
Christopher Blauvelt for Low Down. Here’s “an adaptation of Amy Albany’s memoir about growing up in squalid mid-1970s Hollywood with her heroin-addicted jazz pianist father,” as Noel Murray describes it at the Dissolve. “Elle Fanning plays Amy, while John Hawkes plays the junkie, and though [director Jeff] Preiss nails the atmosphere of a dingy apartment complex, populated by prostitutes and castoffs, the film plays like a string of ‘Here’s how shitty my childhood was’ anecdotes, always cycling back through the same pattern of things-may-be-looking-up-no-wait-I’m-on-drugs-again. Charitably, I could say the movie is like jazz in that way, noodling around a single motif.” More from Scott Foundas (Variety) and Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, D+). For Indiewire, Taylor Lindsay interviews Blauvelt. Danielle Lurie talks with Albany for Filmmaker, where Alexandra Byer interviews editor Michael Saia. Viewing: The cast and crew talk to EW (5’30”) and Variety (3’13”).
Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary
Ross Kauffman and Rachel Beth Anderson for E-TEAM. “The valiant and vital work of four globetrotting human rights activists is expertly illuminated in E-TEAM, a dynamic and immersive piece of you-are-there verite,” writes Rob Nelson in Variety. “Risking life and limb to investigate atrocities in Syria and Libya and bring them to the attention of media and governments, these fearless members of Human Rights Watch’s Emergency Team make unforgettable characters in a documentary that’s devastating, entertaining and inspiring in equal measure.” More from Carlos Aguilar (Indiewire, A-), Duane Byrge (THR) and Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times). Indiewire interviews co-directors Kauffman and Katy Chevigny. For Filmmaker, Danielle Lurie talks with Chevigny and Rachel Beth Anderson, who also talks to Eric Eidelstein at Indiewire.
Cinematography Award: World Cinema Dramatic
Ula Pontikos for Lilting. Variety‘s Justin Chang: “Barriers of age and culture, sexuality and shame are overcome with delicacy and grace in Lilting, a quietly resonant chamber piece about the bond that develops between a Chinese-Cambodian mother and the young British lad who was the ‘best friend’ of her late son. Intimate and sensitive almost to a fault, this debut feature by Cambodian-born, London-based filmmaker Hong Khaou displays a sure touch with actors and a sharp ear for the stop-and-go rhythms of two people trying to prevail past not only a language gap, but also the intense privacy of their own grief.” More from Mark Adams (Screen), Gregory Ellwood (HitFix), Eric Lavallee (Ioncinema, 3/5), David Rooney (THR), Mary Sollosi (Indiewire, A-) and Ben Umstead (Twitch).
Cinematography Award: World Cinema Documentary
Thomas Balmès and Nina Bernfeld for Happiness. Brandon Harris for Filmmaker: “Set in the remote, mountainous, landlocked South Asian country of Bhutan, one which until very recently has been without most modern amenities, Happiness shows us one instance in which modernization and tradition butt up against each other in ways that are peculiar and mundane as opposed to especially dramatic. That it does so in an aesthetically bold way, one which calls into question whether this film can even be considered a documentary, is the primary cause of its value.”
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Intuitive Filmmaking
The Overnighters. “While [Jesse Moss’s] film is ostensibly a portrait of a caring Lutheran pastor named Jay Reinke, who is more complicated and self-interested than he at first seems, it’s also about the throngs of downtrodden men he seeks to help,” writes Anthony Kaufman at Sundance Now, “men who have traveled from all over the country to an oil-rich North Dakota town in search of work…. The Overnighters is not about just one thing—it encompasses a wide range of problems, involving the economy, race, class, sexuality and religion. For in many ways—and this is what makes The Overnighters important—these interrelated issues are necessary to consider where we are as a people, and how 99% of us, from Pastor Reinke to the convicts and unemployed he seeks to help, are all oppressed and defeated by the hegemonies in place.” More from Justin Chang (Variety), Daniel Fienberg (HitFix), Eric Kohn (Indiewire, A), Noel Murray (Dissolve), David Rooney (THR), Jordan M. Smith (Ioncinema, 4/5) and Katie Walsh (Playlist, A-). Interviews with Moss: Filmmaker, Eugene Hernandez (Daily Buzz) and Indiewire.
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Use of Animation
Watchers of the Sky. Director Edet Belzberg tells Danielle Lurie in Filmmaker: “I read Samantha Power’s book A Problem From Hell when it came out and was just pulled towards the story of Raphael Lemkin in it. It didn’t feel like a choice—I had to tell his story.” From the festival’s description: “As a young lawyer galvanized by the extermination of the Armenians, he invented the term ‘genocide,’ which became an indispensable instrument for mobilizing international law to address such crimes, laying the groundwork for the Nuremberg trials and the International Criminal Court (ICC).” Back at Filmmaker, Arielle Grinshpan interviews D.P. Mai Iskander.
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Performance
God Help the Girl. “It may not surprise you to hear that Stuart Murdoch’s musical God Help the Girl is a little, well, precious,” writes Jonathan Romney for Film Comment. “It’s a word that crops up endlessly in discussions of the writer-director’s other job as singer and main songwriter for Scottish group Belle and Sebastian… As a Scottish film, God Help the Girl manifestly owes a lot to the carefree mood of Bill Forsyth’s fondly remembered (and, north of the border, dearly revered) 1981 teen romance Gregory’s Girl. (Murdoch’s film admires Emily Browning’s knees much as its predecessor did those of its heroine.) And, like the B&S style, the film’s ‘sensitive smart kid’ aesthetic is rooted in the local indie-pop tradition of the early Eighties Postcard Records bands (Orange Juice, Aztec Camera et al), who adopted a stance of languid dandyism as a conscious reaction against the Scottish cult of working-class machismo—a radical position of sorts in the years following the boom of sexually normative punk.” More from Xan Brooks (Guardian, 3/5), David D’Arcy (Screen), Dennis Harvey (Variety), Katherine Kilkenny (Indiewire, B-), Noel Murray (Dissolve), Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, D+) and James Rocchi (Film.com, 6.4/10). Interviews with the cast and/or crew: Alexandra Byer (Filmmaker), Eugene Hernandez (Daily Buzz), Laura Hertzfeld (EW) and Dan Schoenbrun (Filmmaker).
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for C