What we saw at Sundance, Part 2: A side-trip to Slamdance
By Jesse Hawthorne Ficks
Culling through the forty features viewed at both the Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals last week has been as much fun as watching them in the first place. Here is a spoiler-free account of some the fest’s best to bookmark in your calendar for the upcoming year. Read part one here.
Allotting some of my precious “Sundance movie going time” to make the hop-skip-and-a-jump up Main Street to attend rivaling venue Slamdance, has been immensely important since its inception in 1995. Slamdance’s commitment to “emerging artists and low-budget independent cinema” was born out of the inevitable missteps made by the ever-growing Sundance Institute. Every year I am rewarded with a truly remarkable debut that Sundance passed on, such as Christopher Nolan’s Following (1998), Bong Joon-ho’s Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), Jared Hess’s Peluca (2003), the nine-minute short film that inspired Napoleon Dynamite, and Ben Zeitlin’s Egg (2004)—a thesis project which led to creation of Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)—Marilyn Agrelo’s crowd-cheering Mad Hot Ballroom (2005), and Oren Peli’s low budget phenomenon Paranormal Activity (2008).
To my absolute astonishment, I can easily say that this year’s 2020 festival delivered the most moving amount of films of any previous year. Returning again and again to program after program, I found the rough edges, bold moments, and surprising personalities that I often find lacking from many of Sundance’s US Premiere and US Dramatic categories. (Thankfully Sundance re-invented their “Spectrum” category in the late 2000s and conceived the “NEXT” program, which provides a showcase for what the festival calls “pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to story-telling.” Or in other words, the Slamdance Film Festival.
Film About a Father Who (USA)
Experimental filmmaking legend Lynne Sachs kicked off Slamdance on opening night with an emotionally striking feature exploring the complexities of her narcissistically charming father. Using 8mm, 16mm, videotape, and digital footage, and shot over 35 years (from 1984 to 2019), her perennial process of documenting “bon vivant and pioneering Utah businessman” Ira Sachs Sr. will undoubtedly hit quite a nerve with anyone who’s grown up with an egotistically captivating fountainhead for a father. But Sachs isn’t just airing her family’s dirty laundry here—including interviews with Lynne’s younger brother, iconic indie filmmaker Ira Sachs: see The Delta (1997), Forty Shades of Blue (2005), Keep the Lights On (2012), and Love Is Strange(2014). This unique and epic familial expedition masterfully employs an experimental inventiveness that swims through a myriad harrowing home movies captured within more than a few fascinating formats, and diverse decades. Sachs, referencing the title of Yvonne Rainer’s landmark feminist feature Film About a Woman Who (1974), practices what Rainer was preaching—and in turn has constructed one of the most powerfully pertinent documentaries of recent years.