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Jonathan's Sundance Reviews, 2012 

Table of Contents

7 films this year.

LOVED... LIKED... Not for me... Want to see / Good Buzz
The House I Live In The Law in These Parts Violete Went to Heaven 5 Broken Cameras
Ai WeiWei Marina Abramovic   Beasts of the Southern Wild

Something from Nothing: the Art of Rap

  Queen of Versailles
The Surrogate     Searching for Sugar Man
      Slavery By Another Name
      Big Boys Gone Bananas!

The House I Live In (IMDB)

Winner, Grand Jury Prize: Best Documentary. (Got my vote!)
See this film! And get involved! Director Eugene Jarecki (previous doc, Why We Fight) presents the flaws of our criminal justice system in crisp detail, with a foundation of historical context, and perfect characters from every point of the spectrum. Jarecki draws some alarming patterns that resonated heavily with me. His Q&A and conversation after the film cement him in my mind as a critical thought leader, equally compassionate and articulate, and focused on the right things. Every year at Sundance there is one film that makes the whole festival worthwhile. This was it.  

Ai WeiWei

Winner: Special Award: U.S. Documentary.
Another new hero for me - Ai WeiWei. This doc chronicles the recent history in China of Ai WeiWei's daring, direct and creative use of his art to rebuke the government and champion freedom of expression, individual rights, and tranparency, all of which remain anathema to the state. Ai WeiWei is equal parts guts, grace, tenacity, and faith, plus an irresistable honesty, playfulness, and humility. This doc shows the powerful role of social media (Twitter), and real-time nature of society, consistent with my longtime characterization: "public, instant, global, and increasingly so." I am grateful for Ai WeiWei. I love his thoughts on being an optimist - that it simply means you are still exhilarated by life, curious, and see possibility. Right on!

Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (Netflix)

Drop that beat. From the first opening measure to the final credit roll, I loved every lyric, every bar, and every image in this film. Ice-T interviews hip hop artists on both coasts and paints a retropsective of the whole genre, from the 70's to current day. In nearly every interview, Ice-T captures these hip hop icons freestyling, talking about their own roots, influences, creative methods, and also recounting lyrics from another artist that have stuck with them. If you grew up with this music like I did, it's just too good. Q&A insights - the scope of artists profiled in the film were limited to Ice-T's own network/rolodex, which is damn impressive, but not exhaustive.

The Surrogate (Netflix)

Winner:  Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic Film  (Got my Vote!)
Wow. Uplifting and moving in a brilliant way. This is the story of a grown man living with polio, who spends most of his waking and sleeping hours in an "iron lung", with barely any muscle control from his neck down. This is the story of his exploration of sexual activity, with a sex therapist, "the surrogate" (Helen Hunt), several unexpected love stories, and the compassion, humor, and friendship he finds with his local priest (William Macy). Bravo. The audience gave a standing ovation complete with tears and cheers. Well deserved.

The Law In These Parts (Netflix)

I am very glad this film was made and is reaching audiences, and I also have fundamental problems with it. And the beauty of Sundance is that I was able to spend a considerable amount of time after the Q&A in a smaller group with the director, Ra'anan discussing it and challenging him. The film explores a fascinating topic, and does so bravely, but it is a topic that is highly complicated with much important historical context that I felt was lacking, and I fear the film is easily misinterpreted. Here's the topic: the legal system that governs the occupied territories as administered by Isreal. OK, awesome. And the fact that the most senior and high ranking judges agreed to participate, and make up the interviews that are the majority of this film, is amazing in and of itself. The fact that the judges were interviewed in front of a green screen without knowing what footage would be edited in behind them was a little suspect. And I found the footage and content a little unbalanced. However, a difficult topic no matter how you approach it. And highly provocative on two subjects: 1) the conflict between Order and Justice, 2) the increasingly unetnable prospect of continuing to oversee these territories. Worth seeing and discussing, unquestionably!

Marina Abramovic

Born in Belgrade, now living in NYC, Marina Abramovic has been a performance artist for nearly 40 years, pushing boundries the entire time. She has been embraced in the past decade, and in 2010 she exhibited at the NY MOMA, "The Artist Is Present" - an unprecedented experience for 3 months in which every day she sat in the museum's atrium, and spectators were allowed to set opposite her, all in total silence.  The documentary covers her earlier work as well, including her love story with Ulay, and drives home her unique perspective on body, communication, relationship between performer and audience, and discipline. Marina's infectious personality shines through. 

Violeta Went to Heaven

I did not care for this at all. The lifestory of Chilean folk singer and artist Violeta Parra traces her family life, artistic evolution, and her short, tormented adult life. Apparently others felt differently as it won the World Cinema Jury Prize for Drama. Go figure.


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