Since I have just returned from Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, this post will be a little different than usual. In a sense it will still be about creativity and imagery, but this time taken from the film industry. This post is in a way a tribute to all those great movies that were showcased through the week of the festival. Sundance Film Festival is the biggest festival for independent film in US, and as such is both a great manifestation of the creative forces outside of mainstream Hollywood and an intense experience of the best movies the whole world are able to muster. This is the 7th time I cover Sundance Film Festival and the quality of films being showcased was – once again – amazing. Here is a little summary of my favorite movies from this year’s festival.
Let me start with my two absolute favourites. First of all The Ambassador emerges as an outstanding document of the problems facing Africa. Behind the film stands the Danish journalist Mads Brügger. He bought himself a diplomatic title and passport from Liberia and entered the Central African Republic as their ambassador. The purpose was to expose the trading of blood diamonds in this maybe most corrupt of all African countries. Mads Brügger plays the role with wit and an almost naïve approach, like an arrogant, postcolonial, upper class, white diplomat, sporting dark glasses, riding boots and a cigarette holder. He ominously uncovers the comprehensive corruption, among Africans and Westerners alike. Really one to watch.
The second of my favourite films is a drama that takes place in Kashmir. Valley of Saints is a delightful, beautiful, enlightening and sweet story about Gulzar, a working-class boatman on Dal Lake, that falls in love with a pretty biology scientists and how he gradually realizes that the ecology of the lake faces an alarming threat. The lovely story takes place against a background of political uprising and a weeklong military curfew. The landscape is serene; the acting honest and wonderful – even though none of them are actually actors, and the cinematography simply outstanding. If you have to have some moments of hard action to be able to enjoy a film, this might not be the one for you, but otherwise it’s one of the best I have seen in a long time.
Other movies in the dramatic category I really enjoyed, was My Brother, the Devil, a Muslim gangbanger film with a gay twist taken place in London. It’s a film rich in beauty, humility, authenticity and depth. The Words is another dramatic film about a young writer who suddenly achieves success after having found a complete manuscript that he passes on as his own. When he meets an old man that turns out to be the one who wrote the manuscript, his whole life changes dramatically. This is a well crafted and subtle tale that examines how overwhelming desire can lead to unforeseen and unwanted consequences.
Two recommendation in the documentary category: In 5 Broken Cameras the Palestinian Emad Burnat tells the story of how his village of farmers fights Israeli settlers who take over their land. During filming 5 cameras are lost and broken due to violence by Israeli soldiers. Finding North is a shocking document about hunger in USA. It reveals that one out of six (or 50 millions) US citizens suffer from food insecurity – they don’t know if they have food for the next meal. It reveals the disgrace of US politicians who rather subsidise corporate agriculture that produces unhealthy products with high content of starch and sugar, instead of helping their own people get food on the table.
Two movies for those who enjoy humour: First of all; 2 Days in New York is a movie by French Julie Delpy that heightens cultural differences to comedic extremes. A hilarious film – featuring Chris Rock. Sleepwalk with Me is an autobiographical movie about the comedian Mike Birbiglia – based on his successful one-man show. Great fun.
I have to mention two movies in their own class, both way out there and rather weird. Wrong is a movie I absolutely didn’t like, but I met many who were equally delighted about it. So if you don’t have the same taste as me, I will recommend it. And if you don’t know my taste, I guess you will have to take a chance. 100 per cent weird. The exact opposite can be said about Excision. This one I really liked. Macabre and really bizarre.
My last recommendation is going to be Under African Skies about Paul Simon and the making of his album Graceland with South African musicians during UN’s cultural ban of South Africa which resulted in protests from all of the world as well as ANC. It follows Paul Simon back to South Africa 25 years later, a return which ends with a reconciliation with ANC. A delightful movie.
Hopefully these movies will hit the cinemas of the world one day. Let me round up this post with a little digression; a picture of me enjoying something else than movies in Park City (© Pat O’Rourke):