20.January.2012: The Sundance Film Festival opened yesterday, and the critics attending sound more optimistic than in years past. “Sundance endures,” begins Kenneth Turan for The Los Angeles Times. “[It] remains the premier U.S. destination for the kind of personal, idiosyncratic films that for want of a better term have always been called independent.” Writing for Salon, Andrew O’Hehir is somewhat more measured in his accolades: “If Robert Redford’s annual celebration of independent film is no longer the cutting-edge cultural phenomenon it appeared to be in the 1990s, it also isn’t the wretched-excess Sundance of the early 2000s, when the overly precious downtown of Park City, Utah, was bedecked with ‘gifting lounges’ that attracted all kinds of entertainment and sports celebrities who had no plausible connection to the independent-film business.” Noel Murray also acknowledges the festival’s “rough patch towards the end of the ’90s indie boom” for his AV Club preview, but he’s still a believer. Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay skips the broad prognostications to dive right into the “subterranean stories” of this year’s festival. If you prefer your previews spoken aloud, Eugene Hernandez has posted a round-table podcast, and Elvis Mitchell talks with Sundance programmers John Cooper and Trevor Groth for NPR affiliate KCRW.
Fandor’s four featured films of the week are all under the sign of Sundance. First up is In Between Days, So Yong Kim’s finely tuned debut and a 2006 Sundance winner. Kim’s For Ellen is one of this week’s most hotly anticipated premieres. Kenneth Turan writes in the L.A. Times that “[It’s] a quiet film, never in a hurry, but Kim has such mastery of emotional and psychological mood that we are enthralled.” Sundance faves David and Nathan Zellner also have a new feature at this year’s festival: Kid-Thing, which Matthew Odam describes as “part coming-of-age comedy, part fabulist horror story” in his article on the brothers for Austin360. The Zellners’ characteristically quirky Flotsam/Jetsam is featured on Fandor this week. Finally, catch up with two of the most talented American narrative filmmakers today with a pair of features that bucked O’Hehir’s “wretched-excess” for fine-grained meditations on relationships and place: Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy and Azazel Jacobs’ Momma’s Man.
In other festival news, Berlinale announced the full details of its Forum program, which also includes For Ellen and Kid-Thing. The Associated Press reports that YouTube is planning to crash the festival circuit with a competition for 50 short films to be put to popular vote: “The 10 finalists will be flown to the 69th annual Venice Film Festival, where their films will be screened in August. Ridley Scott will lead a jury in selecting a winner, who will receive a $500,000 grant from YouTube to produce a work with Scott Free.”
Taking inspiration from Andrei Ujică’s remarkable The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu, Anthology Film Archives opened an intriguing series on “The Compilation Film” yesterday with Esfir Shub’s The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty. Nick Pinkerton writes for The Village Voice, “Taken together, this series gives a good vantage of the major political currents of the 20th century—as mediated by anonymous cameramen and filmmakers, at least—currents represented, time and again, by images of humanity moving en masse.” One of these currents flows through the agit-prop movies of Cuban filmmaker Santiago Alvarez, the subject of Travis Wilkerson’s Accelerated Under-Development.