Sundance 2012: Good Films, Contentious Q&A’s
Published on January 29th, 2012 | by James Francis Flynn3
By many accounts, the overall feeling of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was more subdued than last year’s. This might be due to significantly less star power on hand (a shift to smaller movies, the kind that South By Southwest has had a hold on in the last few years), along with poor return on investment for almost every movie that was bought in last year’s buying frenzy.
If the industry presence was less present, the movies themselves seemed to provoke quite a few contentious question and answer sessions after screenings: a near-fight broke out at the premiere of Craig Zobel’s “Compliance,” a heckler yelled at Antonio Campos through much of his talk after “Simon Killer” (complete with flipping off cast and crew as he left), and paramedics had to come to the omnibus horror film “V/H/S,” which writer Simon Barrett took as a badge of honor, getting pictures with those afflicted.
Several trends seemed hard to miss. Some related to the movies, some related to the festival’s overall atmosphere: main characters masturbating, young women seduced at loud clubs, second-time filmmakers (Katie Aselton with “Black Rock,” Michael Mohan with “Save the Date,” Joachim Trier with “Oslo, August 31st”), movies about artists, movies about and by rappers, giggling girls spotting celebrities, a preponderance of winter hats with animal heads on them, blowing snow.
And, of course, some things were indeed bought, but at much smaller prices than last year: Ry-Russo Young’s “Nobody Walks,” a misfire about a young artist homewrecking in Silverlake, went to Magnolia; Focus Features picked up Jamie Travis’s phone sex comedy with cameos “For a Good Time, Call…,” Sony Pictures Classics bought Lee Toland Krieger’s funny/sad “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” among many others.
The best movies I saw at this year’s festival were Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which won the Grand Jury Award last night, and Craig Zobel’s “Compliance.” “Beasts,” about a young girl named Hushpuppy living in the bowels of southern Louisiana, mixes a low budget with magical realist CGI, incredibly lived-in production design, and the kind of voiceover and rural concerns that bring to mind early Terrence Malick and David Gordon Green. Those comparisons don’t do the film justice, however, as Zeitlin’s film has a chaotic, restless energy all its own, along with a unique concern for the ways man and nature–animals, especially–live together, which seems to stem directly from the film’s setting.
“Compliance,” full of razor-sharp writing and directing, follows employees at a rural fast-food restaurant being asked to do unthinkable things by a prank caller pretending to be a police officer. The narrative is both a subtle examination of class issues, since the prank caller is an educated, comfortably middle-class suburbanite (we see him making sandwiches in his clean kitchen, a contrast to the dingy fast-food digs), as well as a stunning example of dramatic irony, since we know what the audience doesn’t: that this man, who makes increasingly awful demands, is no cop. Zobel’s film, inspired by a true story, explores what happens when we blindly follow those we consider authority figures.