So, I covered Sundance this year, from the comfort and safety of my couch, often wearing my PJs, frequently drinking a beer of my choosing from our fridge.
In the loosest sense possible, I’ve “covered” Sundance before; here and there, I’ve provided spot reviews for movies that, i their release years, turned out to be among the best I saw in an entire 365 day stretch*. But 2021 is the first year where I covered the festival as an accredited press person, and this happened only because there’s a high transmissible plague floating around with side effects ranging from “nothing” to “corpse.”
So, thanks a whole fucking lot, COVID-19! You’re a mensch! I’m not being serious. If COVID-19 had a face, I would hit it with a goddamn shovel, then possibly splash it with boiling water. COVID-19 is not my friend. It is a gamechanger, though, and I guess, in the most argent of silver linings, that this is a good enough perk for having to live under the condition of a pandemic. I saw about 24 movies throughout the festival’s run**. I talked to a few wonderful people. I also got a glimpse at what people can do in a crisis if they come together and cooperate, not just within their own tribe*** but without, as well. I also drank a real damn weird beer that’s basically like a venti Starbucks beverage loaded with artificial sweeteners****.
99% of my coverage is posted, save for one review, which I intend on giving one last pass before it runs. So I figured I’d post everything here under one roof, mostly because it’s a lot and I don’t have much desire to go through and post each piece individually. So, let’s get started with:
- Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s chronicle of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, “Black Woodstock,” it’s called. More than a story, it’s a recovery of footage shot and left to gather dust on a basement shelf for over 50 years. You can read my review for The Playlist.
- We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, Jane Schoenbrun’s creepypasta about creepypastas, and dysphoria, and the way online spaces become our own personal Hell. You can read my review for Paste Magazine.
- In the Earth, Ben Wheatley’s micro-budget horror movie, shot during the pandemic; it’s a great display of ingenuity and determination, but the way the movie goes in the last half doesn’t work for me. You can read my review for Paste Magazine.
- Together Together, Nikole Beckwith’s frothy, thoughtful drama about surrogacy, starring Ed Helms as a single dude who wants a baby and Patti Harrison as the woman willing to offer the services of her womb. Coulda used a little more seasoning but I liked it overall. You can read my review for The Playlist.
- Jockey, Clint Bentley’s movie about a jockey, drawn from his real life experiences growing up with his dad, who was – you guessed it – a jockey. The jockey in Bentley’s movie is played by Clifton Collins Jr. I’m an easy lay. I liked it. You can read my review for The Playlist.
- Paste Magazine‘s best-of-the-fest list, where I praise three really great movies: The animated documentary Flee, the sort-of pandemic movie but mostly-a-tone-poem The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet, and Censor, the best horror movie I’ve seen in the last few months, directed by a child Aberystwyth, one of my favorite places on Earth. I am not biased.
- Finally, my event-focused piece, in which I talk to a programmer, two filmmakers, and the director of the festival about what happens when Sundance is formatted for a digital space. You can read the full story at Paste Magazine.
And finally, what’s a roundup without a personal top ten list? I’m cheap, but I’m not that cheap:
10) In the Same Breath
9) Strawberry Mansion
5) We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
3) Summer of Soul
1) The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet*****
*Any opportunity to say that Hale County This Morning, This Evening is a great film is an opportunity worth taking.
**This tally includes screeners I saw ahead of the festival’s opening night, just for full disclosure.
***Insomuch as programmers and directors running one specific festival are a “tribe,” which, hey, why not.
****As Benoit Blanc would say, “It makes no damn sense! Compels me, though.”
*****Consider 1 and 2 interchangeable. They both speak to me directly and in very different ways.