Sundance Dreams Come True

by Jazo Moises

I have wanted to go to Sundance ever since my Junior year of high school. I remember hearing about the festival and all of the films that came from it. I remember in that year I watched the most movies I have ever watched in my life – probably around 30.

Needless to say, I did more than half of that in the 10 days I was at the festival.

Being at Sundance is an unforgettable experience. It’s about a lot of things. It’s about being surrounded by snow when you’re used to the 60-degree weather of summer in California. It’s about mixing and mingling with both film students and film enthusiasts. It’s about sleeping at the box office right behind the producer of what would be one of my favorite Sundance films of this year. The Sundance experience is truly all about soaking in the atmosphere of Park City.

In a sense, Sundance is like Las Vegas for those who are interested in film. (Fun fact: some Las Vegas hotels even create Park City versions of their nightclubs for festivalgoers to experience.) It’s a place where directors, producers, and actors can come together with those who watch their films and start a conversation. It’s a gigantic playground for people like myself who enjoy movies, and meeting famous people.

However, independent film is totally different from mainstream film. Not only is the funding different (and a lot lower), but also the themes in the films are quite different. You don’t usually see empowered females starring in mainstream films. Or misfit teenagers. Or alcoholic teenagers. Over the 10 days I was in Park City, I watched 18 films, most of these films I probably wouldn’t have watched if it weren’t for the festival. Some of these films have even grown to be my favorite over the time I have been there.

Some of these films struck up different emotions in me. There were films that made me laugh hysterically. There were also films that made me want to cry. And then, there was the standout film that made me do both. The film that made me cry and laugh was also the film that I gave two standing ovations and won both the Grand Jury and the Audience Award prizes.

Sundance isn’t just a playground for film enthusiasts, but it’s also a stock market for the film industry. Over the 10 days I have been at the festival, I have watched different companies purchase some of the movies I viewed. For example, award-winning Fruitvale, based in the Bay Area and directed by Ryan Coogler, was purchased for $2.5 million by The Weinstein Company. In one of the biggest deals at the festival, ever, The Way, Way Back was purchased for $10 million by Fox Searchlight. Seeing your favorite films at the festival get picked up was an awesome feeling. Knowing that you watched a great movie and that others would be able to view it as well made it easy to spread the Sundance love when you get back from the trip.

I will be honest. There were a lot of long lines during this trip that I had to endure. But from waiting in these lines, I was able to watch many amazing films.  Other then the lines, there are many things that I will miss about Sundance, from trekking through the snow every morning, to waking up at 5am every morning to walk down to the box office and pick up some extra tickets. Every day at Sundance was a different experience. After the festival, many of these films get a lot of exposure, and I can’t wait for the time to come where I can share those with my friends.

Hit the jump below for two of my film reviews.

S-VHS (Dramatic)
Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Time Tiahajanto, Gareth Huw Evans, Jason Eisener
Screenwriters: Simon Barrett, Jamie Nash, Timo Tiajanto, Gareth Huw Evans, John Evans, Jason Eisener

A few nights before watching S-VHS, some of my friends viewed its predecessor V/H/S. The consensus in the room was that we all were pretty unimpressed with the film, so all of us went into the sequel without high hopes. However, there were three things about the showing of the film that made it awesome. First, it was at midnight – a horror film at midnight. Second – it was at the Egyptian, an iconic Sundance theater. Third, it was actually really good.

A horror anthology, S-VHS is comprised of four separate videotapes, played between “wraparound footage” of someone finding the tapes. In these films weird things happen, from seeing ghosts to watching zombies roam around public parks, and crazy Indonesian cults to alien invasions. Watching the girl in the wraparound footage put the tapes into the player was like playing roulette, you never knew what you would get, but all you did know was that the tapes would get more and more twisted as you kept watching.

I think the reason why this film works is because it works against the conceived mythology of horror film. Most horror films operate using big, obvious villains and cheap scares. However, S-VHS does the opposite.  There is always a buildup for each scare, however because you don’t know when the scare happens, it gets bigger and bigger.  For example, in the Indonesian cult tape, there is a buildup between each occurrence in the tape, but because there is a constant build to the climax, you never know what is going to happen, and when it is going to happen. Seeing this formula for horror film, I think that I would watch more films of this genre if they took some tips from S-VHS.

I would rate this film a 7 on the independent scale. Sure, it is a horror film. However, the complexity of the scares, the way that the film is built, and its anthology style definitely make it an independent film. If you are interested in seeing this film, be warned that it definitely isn’t for everyone (another element which makes it independent). While watching the film, some of the scenes got so intense that people were leaving partway through the film. However, if you do manage to survive the more-than-90 minutes of terror, you will definitely have a movie-watching experience you won’t forget.

Blackfish (Documentary)
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Screenwriter: n/a

I live 2 minutes away from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, which is part theme park, part zoo. Every summer since my freshman year of high school, my friends and I would get season passes and go every week to Six Flags to ride roller coasters, eat some funnel cake, and take a look at animals. Before I got season passes, my parents would take me to Six Flags (then called Marine World) every summer to look at the animals. My favorite was always the killer whales. I liked how big they were and the splashes they would make in the audience. Little did I know that there was deception behind parks like these and how they take care of the whales.

In Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish, the world of killer whales and the corporate moves of Sea World are exposed. In her documentary, Gabriela interviews former Sea World employees about their experiences of working at Sea World. Although their experience was positive at first, it took a turn and showed the mistreatment of killer whales at Sea World. The film also talked about the killings of animal trainers at Sea World, such as the one in 2010 where Tillikum, a killer whale, bit Dawn Brancheau, a lead trainer. Through the film, we learn about Tillikum and other incidents he was involved with.

This film exposes the false mythologies of zoos. We think of zoos as places where animals are safe from the wild and other dangers, when really we endanger them even more by not keeping them in their natural habitat. The film exposes the dangers that killer whales impose when kept in a confined space or with whales of the opposite sex. We also see that Tillikum is used for breeding. Already a “violent” whale, when bred, Tillikum’s offspring is more likely to be violent like Tillikum. Gabriela exposes false truths that zoos and animal attractions that Sea World and other animal parks operate on.

On an independence scale, I would rate this film a 2.  This film will definitely attract mainstream audiences. Because of the news coverage of the killings, the case of Dawn and Tillikum was a high-profile case that people want to know more about. Also, because the film highlights Sea World, people will be interested to learn about Sea World’s training techniques and how they take care of their animals.

In the end, this film is telling us that animals should not be used as attractions, but should be left in their natural habitat. Throughout the film, I cringed along with the entire audience when the whales would attack. I was disgusted by the things Sea World would do and the statements they would make. The fact that they would not take responsibility for what was going on angered me and made one thing sure – I never want to go to Sea World.

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