Movies to Watch

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):


59 thoughts on “Movies to Watch

  1. First of all let me comment on the last part: you seem to be having a whale of time 🙂 The movies all sound very interesting. I would definitely like to see Finding North if only to know that US is not the abode of plenty as everyone would like us to believe and that development need not mean uniform prosperity for all. The other movie that I would like to see i the one on Kashmir if only for its subject matter. A change from all the political and terrorist stories dished out in its name. Is there some way these movies can be caught on the web? If you can find the links do let me know. I will be dead and gone by the time it comes to a theatre near my home in India. 🙂

    1. These movies are still not available in any way. Many of them premièred at Sundance with the hope of being pick up by distributors. Only if someone actually filmed during the screenings – which I hope not – would you be able to find something on the web. For the time being, we all need to have patience. Myself included since I will certainly acquire these movies when they become available.

      1. Net flix has a tendency to scoop up any movie that is
        licenced at a discounted price. I notice many off – beat
        films in the listings as I search for something to watch.
        Recently I’ve heard of films gaining popularity through
        Net flix. First I hear about it – then not long after I see
        it up there. Rest assured – if someone wants it to be
        seen – sooner or later it will be. 😀 and I’ll keep a
        look out!

  2. Nice to see you enjoying in Park City. 🙂 I am going to note down the name of these movies, so that I can watch them in future. I am sure it will take lots of time to reach this part of world. 🙂

  3. How nice to get a movie review straight from Sundance! I feel privileged. I really enjoy well-crafted documentaries and almost always choose an independent film over the current blockbuster. I’m a devoted reader and I find the storylines of most independents to be small and crafted in subtle detail that brings me the same kind of pleasure as a really good book. And you look quite at home on those skiis! What wonderful travel and adventure, and as always, thank you for sharing with us. This was indeed about creativity! Debra

  4. .. you’re a good critic!
    I’m not going to the movies … but you’ve moved in me the curiosity to see the movie “weird.”
    Thank you for this trip to America … in the cinema.
    buongiorno! In Pisa sono le 07.44 🙂

  5. I am so glad you had the opportunity to go to the Sundance Festival. It is amazing the talent that comes from this event. Also glad you had a chance to ski while there, it is one of the best places to ski in America. Love all your posts.

  6. Sounds like there are some really worthwhile movies emerging from Sundance that deserve a much wider audience, particularly interested in 5 Broken Cameras, Finding North and the Ambassador, hopefully they will get picked up by channel 4 here in the UK.

    1. The Ambassador is subversive and incendiary documentary film in which the maker Brugger unveils himself as an unscrupulous forger with the sole intention to purposely damage the interest of individuals and governments for his own glory to sell his product. The film is produced with public money from the Danish Filminstitute and financed/produced with a budget of €1 million by Lars Von Trier (Zentropa), a controversial film-director who admitted to journalists in Cannes in 2011 to being a Nazi, understanding Hitler. Organizers were not amused and declared him a persona no grata to the same festival. Under influence/inspiration of Von Trier’s ideology, Danish journalist Brugger purposefully took several steps beyond the rules, both written and unwritten. It is clearly a documentary film based on fascistic roots. Take a look at a photo in Politiken
      and see how Brugger presents himself like a neo Nazi on horseback. That explains why he hates Africans and ridicules the TWA pygmy people. Brugger used hidden cameras and false pretences to record and film confidential meetings and telephone conversations without informing his victims or asking them permission or approval by means of adversarial response. Then he edited a documentary film with a specific “Tunnel Vision” to transform a fantasy-fetish into reality to proof his mistrust under the slogan “The end justifies the means!”.

      1. This is in my opinion a very tendentious, biased and unreliable commentary. I was actually prompted by WordPress to approve of the comment before it was posted on my blog. For a little while I was a little reluctant to approve of it, but my basic believe is that any discussion and any argument is better brought out into daylight than censored away. I believe in transparency and openness, exactly what Mads Brügger in his film is trying to bring forth in what I see as a crusade against corruption among the powers to be.

        Yes, Brügger used hidden cameras and false pretences to record and film confidential meetings and telephone conversations in The Ambassador, and journalistically that does represent some challenges. But how else can you expose corruption? Go straight up and ask: Can I film you while you show me how corrupt you are? Corrupt people don’t believe in transparency and certainly wouldn’t allow anyone to film their deeds. I think Mads Brügger did an impressive work to expose what is going on at a very top level both in Liberia and the Central African Republic.

        For some reason you try to connect Mads Brügger with Lars von Trier’s rather thoughtless statement at Cannes Film Fest. First of all, whatever von Tried did or said then, doesn’t stick to Brügger. Just because both are Danish filmmakers doesn’t mean that they have the same believe system. Neither the fact that von Trier is a member of the board of the Danish Film Institute that financed The Ambassador does mean they share opinions. Besides von Tried did not admit he was a Nazi. He later regretted his stupid remark as a thoughtless joke. To Israeli publication Haaretz von Tried said: «It was a stupid joke. But that’s the kind of humour I use when I talk to my friends, who know me and know I’m not a Nazi».

        I find it almost amusing that you see The Ambassador as based on fascist roots and Brügger being a neo Nazi on horseback. He did play a role as an arrogant, former colonial styled, upper class contradiction, which was a point in itself. He played the role with great irony, and not one singel person who met the Danish «diplomat» showed even the slightests reaction to his appearance. In the film he clearly does not generally hate Africans, but has nothing but contempt for the corrupted powers to be. To me he seems genuinely to care about the regular African. The pygme people he treats with respect and admiration, and he certainly does not redicule them.

        I think the best thing is for people to watch the film and judge it by themselves. It’s quite an eye opening film, and surely some people don’t like what Mads Brügger exposes. Like Willem Tijssen who is portraited in the movie in far from a favorable light. This same Tijssen has also threatened to bring The Ambassador to court. What the result will be, stand to be seen. By the way it seems that Willem Tijssen is the person behind the Don Quichote gravater posting the above comment. When I search the Internet I find the same comment being posted numerous times whenever The Ambassor gets reviewed. They were all signed with Willem Tijssen.

  7. beside photography movies have a great part in my interests. Movies can give us ideas, push our feelings and help in increasing our creativity. Unfortunately many of the Sundance’s movies will be difficult to see, but where I live there are small theater’s trying to promote this kind of film as an alternative to the commercial ones. Thanks for your “report”, which I’ll keep in “my to see list” and glad to see you managed to have a great time!

  8. Thank you for the post and critique of the movies. We’ve traveled to Park City each winter for quite some time to ski and enjoy the festivities that surround the festival. I will miss it this year due to another commitment, so reading your thoughts on the movies is great. Now I’ll have an idea of what to look for when some of them do find their way to the public domain! Thank you!

  9. Thank you for the heads up on these films….will look forward to catching a few. Looks like a great day on the slopes too 🙂

  10. Last year we had a taste of some Sundance Film movies that had won recognition and I had the chance to watch Boy (from NZ), Amreeka and Winter’s Bone. Awesome films!

    1. I watched both Boy and Winter’s Bone two years ago, both were indeed excellent. Haven’t seen Amreeka though, but just checked with the local library and they have it. Thanks for the tip.

  11. Thank you dear Otto, these all films sound so interesting and would be so nice to watch them. But especially your favurite names hit my mind. I hope and wish I can watch them in here too. I noted all these details. You are so nice for sharing with us, but let me ask you a detail, I noticed you didn’t talk about soundtracks of the films… It means there wasn’t any impressive one… or you forget to talk about them. Just I wonder, because I love soundtracks too… sometimes I can’t reach and watch the film but I can find the soundtracks… And finally, snow and skii so beautiful but in the photograph, Istanbul is under snow for a few days… I am not happy for this. Have a nice day, with my love, nia

    1. Music and soundtracks are very important for me, too, but when I watch a movie, it’s the whole experience that comes into play, and I have a hard time separating soundtrack and imagery – at least by the first view. I do notice, though, when the soundtrack doesn’t work of if it’s not good enough technically. Like in the case with one more of my favourite movies from this year’s Sundance. California Solo was an excellent movie, but the soundtrack was a bit murky. Very unfortunate since the movie features one of my favourite actors, Robert Carlyle. He is Scottish and the soundtrack didn’t make it easier to understand him. I would still strongly recommend the movie.

  12. This was very interesting! I too will make note of some of these films in hopes of seeing them somewhere in the future. You look very dashing on your skis! I’m glad you found some good snow and had some fun.

  13. I feel as if I had front row seats at Sundance. How kind of you to take the trouble to share your favorites with us. I enjoy well crafted independent foreign movies any day over the American stuff that fills our Cineplex screens, and I’m always shocked when people tell me they wont go to a foreign movie because they don’t watch movies with subtitles. Man they’re missing so much.

    Nice to see such a lovely photo of you in that fresh thick snow.

    1. Being Norwegian watching movies with subtitles goes without saying – that’s the way it is. Those who won’t do it miss out a whole lot of excellent movies.

  14. Wow, you’re the only person I have heard of who’s even remotely interested in Sundance! Most Americans have never heard of it and don’t care. 2011’s box office of the Sundance films was even more dismal than usual. ( I’m not sure why they keep holding the festival every year, other than it gives Robert Redford a few seconds in the limelight again. He usually ruins it by saying stupid things like “we’re the 99 percent.” Ha.

    I tried watching the Sundance Film Channel back when I had satellite. I tried and tried to like it, but 95 percent of the stuff on there was simply unwatchable, lame, pointless, plotless, poorly-crafted stuff, monuments to their creators’ own egos more than anything else. We used to be able to say that a bad film was a waste of celluloid, but now since so much video is now digital, the best we can do is push “Delete” to free up space on the drive.

    Nevertheless, Utah is lovely, especially in the winter. I’m glad you had a good time!

    1. This is quite an interesting remark. I have never watched the Sundance Film Channel, but the festival itself has always – through those years I have covered it, been of high class. For me a Sundance film is a stamp of excellency. Yes, sometimes the films shown are very special, and I might not like them, but it gives credit to Sundance to wanting to showcase different kinds of movies. The fact that many of this year’s films don’t have a confirmed distribution deal in place (as Indiewire makes a point about), doesn’t say anything about their quality.

      And I have to disagree with you that Sundance is all about giving Robert Redford a few seconds in the limelight. I have to admit so far I haven’t even seen him. But credit to him for having initiated the festival. Sundance Film Festival and Sundance Institute support a whole range of movies that would otherwise never make it out there – and give them a place to be showcased. During the festival all venues and all shows are as good as full and it’s hard to get hold of tickets. But people still line up for the films. And those who travel to Sundance Film Festival, come back year and year again. Maybe you should give it a try once. It might be a different experience than you expect.

  15. Looking forward to see this movies one day. It’s great when someone gives an amazing review that is honest and exciting at the same time…giving me that extra push to head for the movies or borrow a DVD…It’s been a while since I have been to the theater….that busy! excuses , huh? I miss going to the movies though….Thanks for sharing such an a fun and informative set of reviews. Have a wonderful day my friend….

  16. Ah ha … something new (for me) – your film critic side. Many thanks … and (as long as I can remember them) keep my eye out for these at a nearby theater that features many independent films. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Wow, you covered a film festival! That really sounds great to me. 🙂 Thanks for sharing all that information.
    Kashmir has always been my favorite since my childhood days. I had visited it just once when I was around 6 years old. Hazy memories but real! 🙂 I’ll try to watch the Kashmir movie you’ve mentioned. The beauty of that place is heavenly- it has although declined through years, due to the difficult and sad military events. But still, hope survives. 🙂

    Thanks, Otto. I found other descriptions great too. 🙂

  18. Glad you shared the summary of your film picks. Hollywood seems to be fumbling so hopefully some of these films will have a broad audience.
    Great form on the slopes!

  19. Oh wow, Otto. Lucky you. I am such a lover of movies (we have over 350 DVDs in our personal library!), so this post is a hit for me. We never know when movies will get to the Netherlands but I will definitely pay attention to your recommendations. THANK YOU.

    And…nice to meet you doing something you obviously love! 🙂

  20. How fun to cover Sundance! I love movies and even wrote the first draft to a screenplay. You should check out Indie Friendlie, a website one of my friends started that showcases independent films that don’t get huge financial backing. I’ll put the link on my blog in the next couple of days. I’m going to bookmark this post so I can come back to it!

  21. Thank you for this informative summary and your movie opinions. I haven’t been able to attend the film festival for a couple of years, so this was nice to read. It looks like skiing was fun. My husband is an advanced skier and I’ve seen him ski down Jupiter Bowl (through video!). Haven’t been skiing for a couple of years either, but Park City is where he has given me most of my ski lessons. I really like that place. Glad you enjoyed your visit to Utah!

  22. What a great skiing photo! I am certain I will never have one like that of me. And not for lack of a photographer. 🙂

    It was exciting to read your recommendations of the movies — I’ve always wanted to go to film festival.

  23. Those sound like interesting movies. I used to cover film festivals in the Pacific Northwest US, wow, now over a decade ago. I watched many Iranian films with non-actors that I enjoyed. The movies you mentioned all seem to have a social message, except for perhaps the comedy.

  24. Thank you for liking my humble blog! Your site is wonderful and expands my horizon beyond my tiny hamlet located in the Blue Ridge Foothills of Virginia, USA. I plan to take a morning and read your blog entirely. Who says a girl cannot live vicariously! 😉

  25. That sounds like an incredible opportunity to see all of these films. I’m glad you got to enjoy the works of other visual artists. I think that visual inspiration stretches creativity and encourages a deeper hunger for imagination, so I love watching and experiencing other artists’ work. I watched The Hunger Games recently, and now I’m dying to get out into the woods with my friends and just start filming.

  26. Reblogged this on WITH A HOPE and commented:
    I have just started looking at moving image as well as stills as part of my development as a visual storyteller. Was really happy to come across this post on Munchow’s blog (which is also well worth checking out on many other levels as a photographer! Some wise words are spoken here!) and I now have a fine new list of some films to check out in coming weeks. Therefore I reblog for all who are following my journey as a bit of inspiration. We do not all live near enough to get to the Sundance so thanks for the inspiration!

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