At the Sundance Film Festival: Gang Life, Big Deals, Stella Artois and Cory Booker

01/25/2011 12:29 PM |

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The first weekend of Sundance, along the sloping hill that is Park City’s Main Street, is a mad frenzy of tourists rubbernecking at the site of celebrities; music from the likes of Lil Jon and even, this year, Lou Reed pulsating from bar after bar; and women in tight white coats emblazoned with Stella Artois logos promoting their cold asses off. It is also the weekend that press, industry, and filmlovers wait in long lines to delight in seeing the best in new independent films, grabbing a protein bar here and there so they can just get one more film in.

As predicted, the buzzed-about Sundance indies are well, still being buzzed about. Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene (nicknamed via text message as MMMM), James Marsh’s Project Nim, and Pariah are three of the films that have everyone talking. Project Nim will be coming to a television near you, courtesy of HBO Documentary Films, but neither of the two fiction films have been officially picked up yet. [Update: Since Danielle filed last night, Fox Searchlight grabbed MMMM. —Ed.]

Also on everyone’s cocktail party conversation list has been Steve (Hoop Dreams) James’s three-hour Chicago street-life epic, The Interrupters (pictured above). The documentary follows, in James’s empathetic verite style, a team of former gang members who struggle daily to stop others from following the path they once took. Liz Garbus’ Bobby Fischer Against the World is another seemingly uniformly loved documentary about the genius—and madness—of history’s greatest chess player. It is also the last film of the great documentary editor, Karen Schmeer. Docs coming up from further under the radar to critical applause include the dark, comedic, catchphrase-heavy Shut Up Little Man!—two punks recording drunken, hilarious, and cruel arguments between their middle-aged next-door neighbors: this year’s Winnebago Man?—and Danfung Dennis’s Hell and Back Again, a stunning look into the post-traumatic stress of a Marine after Afghanistan.

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In the fiction world, Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur—a dark love story between two very damaged people in Northern England—wins the Most Divisive award (so far). Half of the critics and industry I’ve talked to have walked out due to its overwhelming bleakness, while the other half have raved. One British programmer made the sweeping statement that the film is simply too bleak for Americans, save any raging Anglophiles. Joe Swanberg’s latest, Uncle Kent, has been surprisingly well-received, with numerous critics lauding it as a new, more sophisticated turn in what is sure to be a long and (even more) prolific filmmaking career. Finally, Maryam Keshavarz’s Circumstance (pictured at right) is being picked as an early favorite for the U.S. Dramatic Competition Prize. A breathtakingly beautiful film about two female Iranian teenagers exploring their romantic love for each other, it is daring, layered, and profoundly moving—a real discovery.

A handful of distribution deals have been made at this point: IFC Films picked up Matthew Chapman’s thriller The Ledge, starring Charlie Hunnam and Liv Tyler; The Weinstein Company, unsurprisingly, has taken the rights to Jesse Peretz’s My Idiot Brother, and over the weekend, National Geographic picked up the Ridley Scott-produced documentary Life in a Day. More announcements are inevitable in the next few days, but for now, there are more films to see, more snow banks to trudge over, more cocktails to be had, and a party celebrating Cory Booker to be attending.