Thursday, January 24, 2008

Notes from Sundance, and Why Documentaries Kick So Much Ass

I've been a little negligent lately, but it'll soon be worth it for you when my latest video project gets released and when I tell you about movies from Sundance that you will see and be forever changed by. I was there for the 3-day weekend and it was so great - all I did was watch movies and eat carbs for 72 straight hours and then complain about how exhausting it was. I didn't participate in too many of the "scene-y" elements of the festival, besides driving up and down Park City's main drag in the Escalade we accidentally rented and rolling down the windows to ask people where "the Dance" was. "I heard there's a dance going on tonight? A sun dance?" I am SO HILARIOUS. In another stroke of comedic genius, I wore sunglasses at night.

Overall I have to say that the documentaries overwhelmed the dramas - is life better art than art? Think about THAT my thinking friends. The first of my favorite films of the weekend was "Up the Yangtze" - a doc about the flooding of the Yangtze River in China resulting from the world's largest hydroelectric project, the Three Gorges Dam. 2 million Chinese people were displaced and tourist cruises cashed in on the tragedy by offering "Farewell Cruises" to Americans and others with money to see the Yangtze before the flooding took place. Most of the film takes place on board this cruise, following the family of a dishwasher on board who took the job after finishing middle school to send money home to her parents. Over the course of the flooding her family's homemade shanty is completely submerged and they have to move without the government compensation they were promised. The visual elements of the movie are stunning and the music is flawless. But the film is truly funny, capitalizing on the culture gaps between Chinese and Americans. A favorite line came from the cruise leader telling the employees, "Don't compare the U.S. to Canada, and don't bring up the issue of Northern Ireland." I believe this film has already been picked up for worldwide distribution so I hope you'll all have the opportunity to see it. The director has also started an education fund for the girl who is the movie's main subject:

The second doc I want to mention, my very favorite film of the ones I saw, is called "Kicking It" - and follows 8 soccer teams participating in the 2006 Homeless World Cup held in South Africa. This was an iconic sports hero movie and devastating commentary all in one incredible package. This was the only movie that moved me to tears and did so about 15 separate times, always unexpectedly and always sincerely. I was so impressed by how gracefully the movie communicated the need for attention to the issue of homelessness while inspiring with its themes of resiliency and hope. ESPN has picked up this movie - I'm not sure if it's for theatrical release or televised - but I can't recommend it enough. It really will change your life. Check out more info, or donate to the Homeless World Cup project at:

Honorable mention for the weekend goes out to "Ballast," the only drama in my bunch, from director Lance Hammer. It's an impressive and fluid narrative following a family, composed entirely of local non-actors, dealing with loss in the Mississippi Delta during a bleak winter.

Interesting that there was this pervasive theme of gritty reality, using non-actors to tell even the fictional stories. I was entirely impressed with 2 actors playing the parts of parents in one movie, "Momma's Man," then I learned that the 2 are the director's actual parents! That's incredible. They were superb, though! It'd be interesting if we do see a movement among filmmakers away from impeccably rehearsed performances and toward a grittier, more organic storytelling. Although it's not happening yet judging from the popularity of "Juno." Sorry, I can't help getting political. Ha.


Kim said...

You SHOULD craft monthly with me -- but oh wait. You're in LA LA Land. I want to watch documentaries with you. Maybe one day, we'll be in the same city again.

Your profile says you're in accounting. Oh reeeeeaaaaallly?

Rick Allen said...

Jessie: I'm one of the Executive Producers of Kicking It, and I can't thank you enough for your heartfelt review of the film. Please drop me an email and I'll keep you posted on its progress.
Rick Allen