The Red Chapel

The Red Chapel

Sundance 2010 R.I.P.

As the Sundance Film Festival closed its 2010 edition Jan. 31, the top dramatic prize for a US film went to Winters Bone, a stark violent story directed by Deborah Granik of a daughters search for her father in the Ozark Mountains, not too far from Branson Missouri.

Graniks rigorous ethnography of Ozark life, as Rhee (Jennifer Lawrence) plumbs poker-faced through the depths of meth-cooking and wife-beating, couldnt be more of a cold shoulder to the demands of the box office – even though the novel which it adapts is by rural noir king Daniel Woodrell, who has an army of readers out there.

To balance that study in dark ethnography, the festival also showed the midnight movie Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, a hilarious Canadian cavalcade of peckerwood Appalachian stereotypes, which won lots of laughs but no prizes.


Restrepo: Korengal Valley, Kunar Priovince, Afghanistan: A soldier from Battle Company smokes a cigarette during Operation Rock Avalanche. (Photo Credit: © Outpost Films/ 2010 Tim Hetherington)

The highest documentary honor was won by Restrepo, the “ultimate embed” with US soldiers in eastern Afghanistan in 2007, directed by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington.  In his first film, Junger and hos co-director took cameras to the remote post and shot it themselves, as shooting went on around them. Junger will discuss the film in an upcoming post.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

World cinema top honors went to Animal Kingdom, David Michods accomplished debut feature, a saga about the collapse of an Australian crime family. Michod seems assured of a Hollywood movie as soon as he wants to make one.

Honors also went to the Danish documentary by Mads Bruegger, The Red Chapel (see top photo), which follows a satirical troupe of two Korean-Danish performers (adopted from South Korea as infants by Danish parents) as they journey on a good will tour through North Korea.



The festivals screenwriting award went to Obselidia, a bittersweet love story about a librarian who complies an encyclopedia of “obselete things,” and tries to live his life surrounded by objects that technology has rendered extinct.

Jessica Alba in The Killer Inside Me

Jessica Alba in "The Killer Inside Me"

Although it seemed destined to win no prize, The Killer Inside Me, by Michael Winterbottom, did finally land a distributor, IFC Films. The violent adaptation of Jim Thompsons brutal novel, shot in Oklahoma and New Mexico, seemed too extreme to ever make it to commercial cinemas. Its eventual release may turn out to be limited – as was that of Lars von Triers Antichrist (also by IFC), to which its been compared, but the acquisition deal already defied expectations.

For his latest, an adaptation of a classic American crime novel, Winterbottom filmed the story of small time Texas sheriff who is a killer. Casey Affleck plays a young office who looks like a boy scout, but kills without any moral hesitation.

Violence is at the core of independent American cinema. Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantinos debut movie about a crime caper that goes violently awry, premiered here in 1991, and Sundance launched Tarantino on a career that is still exploring brutality in a range of genres and most recently, in a historical period drama, Inglorious Basterds. The film also spawned a generation of imitators.

Winterbottoms new film, his first shot in America, wasnt expected to lift his career, but it could to stall it. Extended scenes in which Afflecks character beats women are likely to keep all but specialized audiences away once the critics get to it. To complicate matters, the film was shot in two US states which have rebate programs to finance films, involving returning a percentage of the funds spent in the state to the films producers.

Could the notoriety of the Jekyll-and-Hyde murder-fest of The Killer Inside Me bring new scrutiny to these state-funded programs, and to the kinds of films that they underwrite? Probably not in New Mexico – did anyone see the hyper-violent prison drama, Felon (2008), shot in an abandoned New Mexico prison? If that didnt rally opponents, nothing will – but perhaps in ambitious but fundamentalist Oklahoma, where the Old Testament severity meted out to real prisoners is considered too extreme if its on the screen.

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