23.January.2012: Los Angeles Weekly critic Karina Longworth tags Antonio Campos’s Simon Killer as “the most divisive dramatic competition entry yet to screen at Sundance,” but Benh Zeitlin’s swampy Louisiana fable Beasts of the Southern Wild is receiving the most positive notices of the competition thus far. Boston Phoenix contributor Harlan Jacobson emphatically did not like Simon Killer (“Big buzz on this film before it screened—the film just forgot to be interesting”) but found much to love in the Zeitlin film: “It’s a southern Louisiana story about a little black six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who’s a handful for Wink, her pretty crazed back to nature survivalist daddy (Dwight Henry), who unloads his shotgun at Katrina…The Wallis kid actually is more than cute. I’m waiting to see who picks this Hushpuppy up.” Indeed, The Hollywood Reporter says the film is “drawing significant interest” from buyers, while Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay tweets immediately after the premier’s standing ovation, “Beasts of the Southern Wild is just incredible, a stunningly joyous and beautifully executed story of love and nature of responsibility.” John Horn reports for The Los Angeles Times that Beasts of the Wild received another feather in its cap on Sunday: a $10,000 fellowship prize from the Sundance Institute and independent film company Indian Paintbrush
Malik Bendjelloul’s doc about Detroit soul singer Rodriguez, Searching for the Sugar Man, was the first film of the fest picked up for distribution (by Sony Pictures Classics). Eric Kohn writes for Indiewire that “Bendjelloul’s remarkable chronicle of Rodriguez’s neglect on his home turf and unexpected stardom in South Africa, compellingly argues for his place in the canon of great American rock stars, whether or not he wants the spot.” He adds, “Bendjelloul’s narrative contains an enticing mystery reminiscent of vintage Errol Morris for the sheer believe-or-not quality of his continuing obscurity.” Rodriguez’s resurgence has actually been in progress for a few years thanks to a couple of ace reissues by Light in the Attic. Label rep Matt Sullivan offers an insider’s view of the film: “I think we were all a little skeptical, which is often the case when someone makes a doc on your favorite artist…Like reissues, a crappy music doc can be two fold—you’re grateful to learn a few things but bummed it didn’t reach that grand plateau…I’ve seen a few rough cuts of the film and can honestly say that the doc reaches that grand plateau.”
Moving on to Sundance’s scrappier cousin, Slamdance, Clark Collis reports for Entertainment Weekly about the sleuthing behind one the festival’s major coups: a re-premiere of Final Curtain, a long-lost television pilot from the inimitable mind of Ed Wood. The man who unearthed the film, Jason Insalaco, was the great-nephew of Paul Marco (“Kelton the Cop” in several of Wood’s cult classics). Collis quotes Insalaco, “‘I just felt like it was kind of bringing a sense of closure to Paul and for the whole [Ed Wood] group, to find this lost film,’ he says. Insalaco spent two years hunting his prey, haunting monster conventions and Ed Wood-related events. At first, all he found were dead ends. But, like Wood himself, Insalaco never let the prospect of failure stop him from ploughing on.” It shows tonight in Park City.