I am sitting by the fire in my Park City, Utah hotel, where the wall has enormous pictures of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (as portrayed by Paul Newman and Robert Redford) and a sign that says “No Skis In Room.” This is the last day of the 2011 edition of the film festival founded by Redford. It began in 1978, took on the name Sundance in 1991 in honor of the founder’s iconic role, and is now the biggest festival in the US and possibly the world focusing on independent film. Movies like “sex, lies, and videotape,” “Capturing the Friedmans,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” and current Oscar nominee “Winter’s Bone” got their start here. While some people complain that it has become too institutional, the festival and its audience are devoted to independent film and film-makers who are independent in vision as well as in financing. A new category for entries called “Next” is dedicated to films made on micro-budgets. And Sundance has programs for beginning screenwriters and directors that has provided support to film-makers like Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and David Gordon Green.
I am here for the most unexpected of reasons, not as audience, critic, or press, but in support of a documentary about the financial meltdown called “The Flaw,” in which I appear. Director David Sington and I answered questions about the movie following yesterday’s screening.
I got to see two other films while I was here, both documentaries, “Hot Coffee,” a first-time film from lawyer Susan Saladoff about corporate sponsored efforts to prevent access to the courts and “Project Nim,” the story of an ambitious but poorly conceived 1970’s project to teach language to a chimpanzee and what happened when the experiment ended. Saladoff appeared before her film to tell us that two years ago she was where we were, sitting in the audience at Sundance, and inspired by what she saw to take a year off from work to make her movie. She told me later that she does not plan to go back to practicing law; she wants to keep making movies.
I was thrilled to attend the awards ceremony (you can see host Tim Blake Nelson wearing the festival’s logo snowflake), where I sat next to director Anne Sewitsky as she heard her name called as winner of the top prize for an international feature film for “Happy Happy.” Other award-winners that I am hoping to see in theaters include top festival prize and acting award winner “Like Crazy,” “Another Earth,” about a discovery of a parallel planet that might possibly give us the chance to erase our mistakes and painful losses; “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975,” based on archival footage from Swedish journalists of American black power leaders including Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Angela Davis, and Eldridge Cleaver; “The Redemption of General Butt Naked,” a documentary about a once-brutal Liberian warlord turned preacher; and “Buck,” the true story of the man who inspired “The Horse Whisperer.” This year featured an unusual number of films about struggles with faith and spirituality, including “Butt Naked,” and “Higher Ground,” directed and starring Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air”); “Tyrannosour,” directed by actor Paddy Considine (“In America”), and “Kinyarwanda,” the first feature film produced by Rwandans.