Sundance Film Festival – Days 4 and 5

Sundance continues amidst unseasonably sunny weather and a diverse plethora of interesting films and talent to match. First up was Thom Fitzgerald’s hauntingly moving The Event. Fitzgerald, who won acclaim for The Hanging Garden, returns to Sundance with this quietly evocative and thought-provoking drama. The film centres around a series of unexplained deaths that occur among the gay community in New York’s fashionable Chelsea district.

Nick, a district attorney investigating the most recent case, a suspicious apparent suicide, and her interviews with friends and family of the deceased trigger extensive and intricately interwoven flashbacks that reveal surprising facts about the man’s life and death. Initially, it is unclear what Fitzgerald’s intentions are but as his complex narrative elucidates the director’s clear concerns, what emerges is a deeply powerful and personal film about relationships, including that between mother and son. Featuring an array of exquisite performances from the great Olympia Dukakis who shines as the victim’s mother, through to subtle, beautiful work by the likes of Parker Posey, Canada’s wonderful Don McKellar and a vivid Sarah Polley. This is Fitzgerald’s most honest and gratifying work to date. It’s unfortunate that small films such as this tend to get lost at a crowded festival such as Sundance, especially when cast and director appear unavailable for publicity. But such is the disadvantage of showcasing a film at one of North America’s most popular festivals. One can only hope that a distributor will discover it and help share this gem with a wide audience.

It was time to catch up with Aidan Quinn, back at Sundance for the third time with the extraordinary Song for a Raggy Boy, which was having its world premiere here. Quinn, with whom I spoke here a few years ago for Songcatcher, admitted he was no longer bitter about being shunned by mainstream Hollywood. "As long as I can get great roles on stage or screen, I’m content", he said. Nothing coming up film wise, but a return to the stage is imminent, he confirmed. Time to race off and catch up with some of the cast of Confidence. Promised interview with Dustin Hoffman never transpired, nor was director James Foley available, but Ed Burns, Paul Giamatti and Andy Garcia spoke about their work on the grifter film noir thriller. Burns admitted that he is putting his directing on hold to concentrate more on acting, while Garcia talked up his directorial debut starring Dustin Hoffman as an aging Myer Lansky in Cuba drama.

Back to one more screening before hitting the parties. The Technical Writer is an oddity, a weird concoction that doesn’t quite work but is nonetheless interesting. Tatum O’Neal returns to the big screen as a bored housewife who attempts to lure an agoraphobic technical writer (played by the film’s co-writer Michael Harris) out of his apartment, into the heart of New York City and her bed. O’Neal is beautiful and sexy as the sexually aggressive seductress, and Harris is strong, but the film is uneven and lacks any clear sense of direction or sense of character. Visually, the film’s grainy tone tends to give the film an uninteresting visual flair, but it is also clear that director Scott Saunders has a future given more interesting scripts and money at his disposal. The Technical Writer is an interesting and quite watchable failure.

It was time to hit two parties. Now in order to do the party scene one needs constant stamina which is why this particular journalist goes infrequently. The hub of activity is Main Street, the heart of Park City nightlife, crowded with wannabes, photographers, journalists and celebrities. Some reporters may attend as many as four or five parties, but two was quite enough. The Showtime party was first stop. Overcrowded to excess, in order to go celeb watching, the press was required to go to a balcony on top of the trendy Riverhorse Café. There were some stars to be seen. Managed a quick hi to, yes, the one and only Pauly Shore, attempting to reinvent himself in the mock documentary, You’ll Never Wiez in This Town Again, which he wrote and directed. Also managed a quick hi to Salma Hayek, who was presenting her directorial debut The Maldonado Miracle. The petite actress was complaining of being tired, understandably, but made my day when she told me I was cool. She MUST have been tired. Sitting in the background was her beau Ed Norton.
Also present at the party was Illeana Douglas, here as director of the short film Devil Talk. A hilarious little film about Satan’s search for a publicist. Douglas told me she was developing the short into a feature, has left LA for the Big Apple and is shooting a number of episodes of Law and Order SVU.

The next party was for the premiere of Neil LaBute’s wonderful The Shape of Things. Briefly caught up with beautiful Rachel Weisz who was there with boyfriend Darren Aronofsky. Had a long chat with Aussie director Gregor Jordan, in town for Buffalo Soldiers. He confirmed things were moving ahead for Ned Kelly. "Heath is really amazing in the film, I think people will be surprised." Gregor said he intends moving permanently to LA sooner than later.
For me, the party was over by 1, about to face another day in front of a big screen.

First film of the next day was a Festival highlight: the US premiere of Jim Sheridan’s stunning In America. Newcomer Paddy Considine is a real find as family patriarch Johnny who along with wife Sarah, [Samantha Morton] emigrate with their two young daughters, from Ireland to New York City so that Johnny can pursue his dream of becoming an actor. They wind up living in a run-down apartment but, using their resourcefulness, resolve to make the very most of their new life. A truly magnificent film, Sheridan explores the purity of childhood against the backdrop of the realities of immigration. The two children who play the sisters – Sarah and Emma Bolger – are nothing short of extraordinary, in this emotive, captivating and exquisite film. In America is the finest example of strong narrative cinema, rich in character and layered themes. In all, a perfect and captivating masterpiece from one of Britain’s great filmmakers.

It was time to hit Main Street for a few interviews, beginning with the gentlemanly Javier Bardem, who spoke passionately about Mondays in the Sun as well as The Dancer Upstairs. From Bardem to ingenious comic Eddie Griffin, whose Dysfunctional Family was premiering here. Hilariously politically incorrect, Griffin was unapologetic and confirmed that he was preparing for the sequel.

After Eddie I caught up with two very distinctive directors: Britain’s Danny Boyle, who spoke about the problems with The Beach, amongst other things, and the remarkable Neil LaBute, who had plenty to say about his Shape of Things. By the way, the play is about to open in Australia.

One last film of the day and what a find: American Splendor, an original mix of fiction and reality illuminates the life of comic book hero everyman Harvey Pekar, magnificently played by Paul Giamatti. Audacious, hilarious but real, American Splendor is one of those films that comes from nowhere and into the hearts and minds of Sundance audiences. A clever and original film, one can only hope this dark comedy sees the broader light of day. It was the perfect way to end the day.

STILL TO COME AT SUNDANCE: CHATTING WITH TATUM O’NEAL, JIM SHERIDAN, MATT DILLON AND MANY MORE. SO WATCH THIS SPACE.

PAUL FISCHER