The Sundance Film Festival, the most prestigious showcase of independent cinema in America, opens today in Park City, Utah. As your curated service for exceptional independent and international films, we are happy to offer several highlights from Sundance history, so you can bring some of the Park City spirit to your own home.
Black Gold: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee dir. Mark Francis and Nick Francis Black Gold asks us ‘to wake up and smell the coffee,’ to face the unjust conditions under which our favorite drink is produced and to decide what we can do about it. The film traces the tangled trail from the two billion cups of coffee consumed each day back to the coffee farmers who produce the beans. In particular, It follows Tadesse Meskela as he tries to get a living wage for the 70,000 Ethiopian coffee farmers he represents. In the process Black Gold provides the most in-depth study of any commodity on film today and offers a compelling introduction to the ‘fair trade’ movement galvanizing consumers around the globe.
The Charcoal People dir. Nigel Noble This deeply human documentary examines the subjects of environmental destruction from two distinct angles. Impoverished migrant workers are chopping down the Amazon rainforest to create charcoals for pig iron used pimarily in the automobile industry. The film examines their daily lives and work as they burn timber in igloo looking huts, their bodies charred gray, for $2 a day, children and elders alike, struggling to get ahead. Beautifully photographed, critically acclaimed, award-winning.
Crossing the Line (Nominee, Grand Jury Prize, Best World Documentary) dir. Daniel Gordon Taking full advantage of access granted by the government of North Korea, the mysterious and feared rogue state of the so-called “axis of evil,” director Daniel Gordon (A STATE OF MIND) combines historical footage with contemporary interviews to both uncover the Kim-Jong Il regime and end 44 years of secrecy and rumor by allowing Dresnok to tell his own story.
Ezra (Nominee, Grand Jury Prize, World Narrative Feature) dir. Newton Aduaka Ezra is the first film to give an African perspective on the disturbing phenomenon of abducting child soldiers into the continent’s recent civil wars. It was awarded the Grand Prize at the 2007 Festival Panafricain du Cinema à Ouagadougou (FESPACO), Africa’s largest and most prestigious film event, and was selected for the International Critics Week at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Ezra stands out among other African films because it is a complex psychological study, not just of the brutalizing, healing and reintegration into society of one of thousands of traumatized former child soldiers, but also as a key for reconstructing these societies themselves.
The Hero (Grand Jury Prize Special Recognition, World Narrative Feature) dir. Zeze Gamboa The Hero (O Herói) is the story of Angola, a nation torn apart by forty years of uninterrupted war, and now trying imperfectly but courageously to piece itself back together. It is also the story of a city, Luanda, like so many in the Third World, trying to absorb the millions of people displaced by civil strife and global economic change. After a thirteen year national liberation struggle against the Portuguese colonialists ended with independence in 1975, Angola plunged immediately into a brutal civil war. The national MPLA government, backed initially by Cuba and the Soviet Union, and the UNITA rebels, supported by the U.S. and the South African apartheid regime, remained locked in conflict until 2003, long after the end of the Cold War itself.
Picture This dir. George Hickenlooper Picture This follows legendary director Peter Bogdanovich to Texas where he candidly reflects on the demise of his marriage, his affair with actress Cybill Shepherd, the murder of his girlfriend Dorothy Stratten, his collaboration with Pulitzer Price-winning novelist Larry McMurtry and the personal traumas suffered by the cast, crises, which bore an uncanny resemblance to the characters they were portraying. Picture This both humorously and provocatively deconstructs the layers of fiction and reality that went into the turbulent making of Bogdanovich’s triumphant work The Last Picture Show which was acclaimed as “the greatest film since Citizen Kane.”
Public Access (Winner, Grand Jury Prize, Narrative Feature) dir. Bryan Singer An enigmatic stranger comes to the small congenial town of Brewster, an almost too perfect example of idyllic America, and rents a room in the home of the ex-mayor. He begins a public access TV show called “Our Town” that airs every Sunday night. Appearing in a tidy suit on a bare set, he faces the camera and simply asks, “What’s wrong with Brewster?” Week by week the calls start pouring in and the commentary gravitates from the general to the very specific. We soon realize that the mysterious TV host is up to so much more than we could have ever imagined. By his subtle manipulations, the tranquil town gradually disintegrates and it may be too late to restore Brewster to its placid veneer.
Romantico dir. Mark Becker By day, mariachi musician Carmelo Muñiz washes cars, but at night, he and his friend Arturo perform norteño and ranchero music for gringo tips in the taquerias and bars of San Francisco’s Mission District. Carmelo’s meager itinerant living belies the deep roots and binding ties he has to his native Mexico. His wife, two young daughters, and gravely ill mother rely on the money Carmelo sends to them in the little town of Salvatierra. When Carmelo returns to the life and loved ones he left behind a thousand miles south of the border, he resumes the wearying struggle against medieval poverty that he sought to escape in “el Norte.” As Carmelo doggedly copes with his mother’s mortality, his daughters’ needs, and his own dreams, Romacute;ntico becomes an unforgettable and “immensely moving” (NY Daily News) portrait of the love, pride, and grace connecting one life with two countries.
Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade dir. George Hickenlooper A young reporter comes to a California asylum for the criminally insane to interview a man, about to be released, who laments having killed his own mother in cold blood.
Teknolust dir. Lynn Hershman Leeson Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton plays four roles in this award-winning science fiction film about Rosetta Stone and her three Self-Replicating Automatons (SRAs) which she clones from her own DNA. Though they look human, the SRA cyborgs were bred as intelligent machines and are immortal. In order to survive, they need sustenance of male Y chromosome, found only in sperm. Their task is to harvest sperm in the old fashioned way, which leads to a quest for love. The film won the Alfred P. Sloan award for writing and directing and features Karen Black, Thomas Jay Ryan and Jeremy Davies. It also is the first feature film shot on 24p high definition with HD graphic conversion.