By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
In its deliciously warped way, Bruce Wagner‘s Women in Film, which played in the American Spectrum category for wilder fare, was the most transgressively feminist film at the festival, and also one of the funniest and saddest. Adapted from a chapter of Wagner’s novel I‘m Losing You, this elegant gabfest is structured by a three-handed video diary, a torrent of invective spat out by three angry women -- a bitter independent producer (Beverly D’Angelo, absent from the festival to give birth to Al Pacino‘s twins, and that’s all the gossip you‘re getting from me) who’s trying to get a remake of Pasolini‘s Teorema off the ground; a logorrheic actress-masseuse (played by Ally McBeal’s Portia de Rossi, clearly enjoying the opportunity to act with more than her hair) who siphons off her clients‘ “energy” for her own spec scripts; and a casting director (the always impeccable Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who’s struggling to get back in gear after the birth of her blind baby and the collapse of her marriage. Wagner, a rare breed of social critic who understands the difference between satire and contempt, is a divine writer of inner conversation, that mad brew of propaganda, yearning and naked pain that makes us all so pitiable, and finally, in his view, so gallant. This proudly unreleasable (outside of cable) movie is infinitely superior to the similarly themed The Business of Strangers, which was being warily sniffed over by distributors as I left the festival. Directed by newcomer Patrick Stettner under the wings of Suture directors Scott McGehee and David Seigel (whose own, highly regarded dramatic competition entry, The Deep End, I foolishly passed up to see Intimacy, and whose icy paw prints are all over the clinical lines of Stettner‘s movie), this schematic and ultimately puerile debut can’t be saved even by the wonderful Stockard Channing as a high-flying, middle-aged businesswoman accustomed to controlling self and others, who meets her match in the form of a manipulative young technician (Julia Stiles).
In the three years since I last attended Sundance, the median age of filmmakers and audiences appears to have dipped to 12, and sinking. While this made for a high frat-vibe quotient at the ballooning number of festival parties, it also generated a welcome current of exuberantly fresh, unpolished moviemaking. Though I made it through no more than 30 minutes of The American Astronaut, a space fantasy that seemed in more ways than one to have been made on another planet, I enjoyed DeMane Davis and Khari Streeter‘s Lift, a bubbly, if psychologically attenuated, piece about black professional shoplifters. Henry Barrial’s faux-documentary Some Body, completed with finishing funds from the indispensable Next Wave Films, rises above its belabored subject -- a young woman mistaking sex for love -- thanks to the brio of its lead actress, Stephanie Bennett, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Barrial. And though it was made by someone well past his youth, Kirby Dick‘s Chain Camera was one of the unsung finds of the festival. Dick (whose last released documentary, in 1997, was Sick, a bio of performance artist Bob Flanagan) passed out video cameras to students at a high school “two miles east of Hollywood” with the brief to record their daily lives. The result is a hilarious, unnerving and remarkably intimate inside portrait of adolescent life that lends vigorous new meaning to the term “teen movie.” So long as Sundance can clear space for films like this, who cares what Diesel is trying to sell us?
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