Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sundance announces 2008 competition films

Sundance announced the competition films for this year, and nothing really stands out to me. I should get up there more, but the quality has really slipped the last 10 years. It's now about people trying to see "Stars" eating pizza on Main Street in Park City, instead of going to see unique and creative films. Here's the list:

Sundance Film Festival: U.S. Documentary competition

-- "An American Soldier" looks at military recruitment, as writer-director Edet Belzberg (an Oscar nominee for "Children Underground," Sundance '01) follows one of the U.S. Army's most successful recruiters.

-- "American Teen," a cinema-verite look at four Indiana high-school seniors, directed and written by Nanette Burstein (co-director of "The Kid Stays in the Picture," Sundance '02).

-- "Bigger, Faster, Stronger*," in which director Christopher Bell (co-writing with Alexander Buono and Tamsin Rawady) examines how he and his two brothers used steroids to pursue the American dream of victory.

-- "Fields of Fuel," which follows environmental activist Josh Tickell (who wrote and directed) in his "Veggie Van" on a quest to find solutions for America's oil addiction.

-- "Flow: For Love of Water," in which director Irena Salina examines the world's dwindling resources of water.

-- "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson," directed by Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," Sundance Choke '05), chronicles the heyday of the legendary journalist and recreational-drug consumer, including never-before-seen footage and manuscripts.

-- "The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo," in which writer-director Lisa F. Jackson travels to the war zones of the Congo, and meets survivors of the systematic raping of women there.

-- "I.O.U.S.A.," directed by Patrick Creadon ("Wordplay," Sundance '06), explores the nation's current fiscal crisis, and a looming financial meltdown.

-- "Nerakhoon (The Betrayal)" follows Thavisouk Phrasavath's struggle to survive the chaos that stemmed from U.S. foreign policy in Laos, and his father's involvement in the war. Phrasavath co-directs with famed cinematographer Ellen Kuras.

-- "The Order of Myths," written and directed by Margaret Brown, witnesses Mardi Gras in Mobile, Ala., where the parades and celebrations are still segregated.

-- "Patti Smith: Dream of Life," a profile of the iconic rock star by director Steven Sebring.

-- "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," directed by Marina Zenovich and written by Zenovich, Joe Bini and P.G. Morgan, examines the scandal - when the famed director pleaded guilty to having sex with an underage girl, then fled the country - and whether he will ever be allowed back into the United States.

-- "Secrecy," co-directed by Peter Galison and Robb Moss ("The Same River Twice," Sundance '03), is a history of government secrecy - and the balancing act between security and democracy.

-- "Slingshot Hip Hop," directed by Jackie Reem Salloum, looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lyrics of young Palestinian rappers.

-- "Traces of the Trade," in which director Katrina Browne (with collaborators Alla Kovgan and Jude Ray) looks at her ancestors, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history, and travels with some of her relatives to Rhode Island, Ghana and Cuba.

-- "Trouble the Water," directed by Tia Lessen and Carl Deal, is a chilling video diary of a couple and a family surviving the flooding of New Orleans.

U.S. Dramatic competition

-- "American Son," directed by Neil Abramson and written by Eric Schmid, follows a young Marine (Nick Cannon) home for Thanksgiving leave, confronting his violent past just before shipping out.

-- "Anywhere, U.S.A.," directed by Anthony (Chusy) Haney-Jardine and written by Haney-Jardine and Jennifer Macdonald, is billed as "a wildly original look at American manners, prejudices and family dynamics," starring Perla Haney-Jardine.

-- "Ballast," written and directed by Lance Hammer, is set in a Mississippi Delta town where a tragic act has torn a family apart.

-- "Choke," the writing-directing debut of actor Clark Gregg ("The New Adventures of Old Christine"), an adaptation of a novel by Chuck Palahnuik (Fight Club) about a mother and son, fear of aging, sexual addiction and historical theme parks. The cast includes Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston and Kelly Macdonald.

-- "Downloading Nancy," directed by Johan Renck and written by Pamela Cuming and Lee Ross, tells of a suicidal woman (Maria Bello) who hires someone over the internet to kill her - but they start falling for each other. Jason Patric, Rufus Sewell and Amy Brenneman co-star.

-- "Frozen River," written and directed by Courtney Hunt, is the story of a single mom (Melissa Leo) who gets involved in illegal immigrant smuggling through a Mohawk Reservation on the U.S.-Canadian border. Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott and Michael O'Keefe co-star.

-- "Good Dick" follows a lonely girl (Marianna Palka, who also wrote and directed) lured out of her apartment by a doting video-store clerk (Jason Ritter).

-- "The Last Word," written and directed by Geoff Haley, shows the offbeat romance between a man (Wes Bentley) who writes other people's suicide notes and the sister (Winona Ryder) of one of his former clients.

-- "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh," an adaptation of Michael Chabon's first novel by writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber ("DodgeBall"), follows a teen (Jon Foster) and his adventures with a debutante (Sienna Miller) and her hoodlum husband (Peter Sarsgaard). Mena Suvari and Nick Nolte co-star.

-- "North Starr," written and directed by Matthew Stanton (who co-stars), in which a young African-American man flees Houston and lands in a racially intolerant town.

-- "Phoebe in Wonderland," written and directed by Daniel Barnz, stars Elle Fanning (Dakota's little sister) as a girl with dysfunctional parents (Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman) who finds enlightenment from an unusual drama teacher (Patricia Clarkson).

-- "Pretty Bird," the writing-directing debut of actor Paul Schneider ("All the Pretty Girls," Sundance '03), a comedy about three friends who market a rocket-powered belt and must deal with their success. Paul Giamatti, Billy Crudup and Kristen Wiig ("Saturday Night Live") star.

-- "Sleep Dealer," directed by Alex Rivera and written by Rivera and David Riker, is a science-fiction drama about three people (Luis Fernando Peña, Leonor Varela and Jacob Vargas) trying to break technological barriers in a near-future of closed borders and virtual labor.

-- "Sugar," directed and written by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck ("Half Nelson," Sundance '06), chronicles a Dominican baseball player (Algenis Perez Soto) as he enters the minor leagues.

-- "Sunshine Cleaning," directed by Christine Jeffs ("Sylvia") and written by Megan Holley, is a comedy about a woman (Amy Adams) who recruits her sister (Emily Blunt) to start an unusal business: biohazard removal and crime-scene cleanup. Steve Zahn, Alan Arkin and Amy Redford co-star.

-- "The Wackness," directed and written by Jonathan Levine, a comedy about a teen drug dealer (Josh Peck) who trades pot for therapy sessions with a psychiatrist (Ben Kingsley) and falls for the doc's daughter (Olivia Thirlby). Famke Janssen, Mary-Kate Olsen and Method Man co-star.

World Cinema Documentary competition
-- "Alone in Four Walls (Allein in Vier Wänden)" (Germany), directed and written by Alexandra Westmeier, follows adolescent boys in a Russian home for delinquents.

-- "The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins" (New Zealand), directed and written by Pietra Brettkelly, about an artist obsessed with adopting twin orphans from Sudan.

-- "Be Like Others" (United Kingdom), directed by Tanaz Eshaghian, an intimate portrait of Iran as seen by young Iranian men choosing to undergo sex-change surgery.

-- "A Complete History of My Sexual Failures" (United Kingdom), in which actor Chris Waitt (who directed and co-wrote with Henry Trotter) tries to figure out how women - from ex-girlfriends to his mum - really see him.

-- "Derek" (United Kingdom), director Isaac Julien's profile of the confrontational British director Derek Jarman, who died of AIDS in 1994.

-- "Dinner With the President" (Pakistan), in which director/writers Sabiha Sumar and Sachithanandam Sathananthan measure their country's feelings on a range of issues - through interviews with regular folks to a dinner with Pervez Musharref.

-- "Durakovo: The Village of Fools (Durakavo: Le Village des Fous)" (France), directed and written by Nino Kirtadze, which examines Mikhail Morozov, who rules his young followers in a castle outside Moscow, tending the roots of a growing right-wing movement.

-- "In Prison My Whole Life" (United Kingdom), directed by Marc Evans and written by Evans and William Francome, which looks at the life of journalist and death-row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal.

-- "Man on Wire" (United Kingdom), written and directed by James Marsh, chronicles aerialist Philippe Petit's famous 1974 high-wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Center.

-- "puujee lowercase is cq " (Japan) is a young girl who tames horses on the plains of Mongolia, in this doc written and directed by Kazuya Yamada.

-- "Recycle" (Jordan), directed and written by Al Massad, follows a man trying to provide for his family in the hometown of Muslim leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.

-- "Stranded: I've Come From a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains" (France), directed and written by Gonzalo Arijon, interviews for the first time survivors of the infamous 1974 Andes plane crash.

-- "Triage: Dr. James Orbinski's Humanitarian Dilemma" (Canada), directed by Patrick Reed, follows the former head of Doctors Without Borders on a return trip to Africa.

-- "Up the Yangtze" (Canada), directed and written by Yung Chang, introduces us to young men and women working a cruise ship at the edge of the Yangtze River where the Three Gorges Dam has radically altered China's landscape.

-- "The Women of Brukman (Les Femmes de la Brukman)" (Canada), written and directed by Isaac Isitan, shows what happened when workers took over their Buenos Aires clothing factory and instituted a self-management model.

-- "Yasukuni" (Japan), in which Chinese filmmaker Li Ying looks at the controversial Japanese shrine, where swords used to kill Chinese soldiers were forged.

World Cinema Dramatic competition
-- "Absurdistan" (Germany), directed by Veit Helmer and written by Helmer, Zaza Buadze, Gordan Mihic and Ahmet Golbol, is an allegorical comedy about two people in love - and what happens when the women in their village protest a water shortage by holding a sex strike.

-- "Blue Eyelids (Párpados Azules)" (Mexico), directed by Ernesto Contreras and written by Carlos Contreras, about a woman (Cecelia Suárez) who wins a vacation trip and invites a stranger (Enrique Arreola) to join her.

-- "Captain Aub Raed" (Jordan), written and directed by Amin Matalqa, about an airport janitor who is mistaken for a pilot by some poor kids - so he tells tall tales to give the kids hope.

-- "The Drummer (Jin. gwu)" (Hong Kong), written and directed by Kenneth Bi, about a teen gangster who matures through the inspiration of Zen drumming.

-- "I Always Wanted to Be a Gangster (J'ai toujours rêvé d'être un gangster)" (France), written and directed by Samuel Benchetrit, a comedy in four vignettes of aspiring criminals who might want to reconsider their career choices.

-- "Just Another Love Story (Kærlighed på film)" (Denmark), directed and written by Ole Borendal ("Nightwatch," Sundance '95), is a drama about a family man (Anders W. Berthelsen) who causes a car crash that leaves a woman with amnesia - and has her thinking he's her boyfriend.

-- "King of Ping Pong (Ping Pongkingen)" (Sweden), directed by Jens Jonsson and written by Jonsson and Hans Gunnarson, tells of a table-tennis-playing teen in conflict with his more-popular younger brother when their father resurfaces.

-- "Máncora" (Spain/Peru), directed by Ricardo de Montreuil and written by Oscar Torres, about a Peruvian man who tries to escape reality by going to a beach resort with his stepsister and her husband, but the trip unleashes more troubles.

-- "Megane (Glasses)" (Japan), written and directed by Naoko Ogigami, a comedy-drama in which a woman on a beach vacation discovers an unusual community with strange traditions.

-- "Mermaid (Rusalka)" (Russia), written and directed by Anna Melikyan, tells of a young woman who must reconcile her modern life with her childhood belief that she can make wishes come true.

-- "Perro Come Perro (Dog Eat Dog)" (Colombia), directed by Carlos Moreno and written by Alonso Torres and Moreno, follow two bungling hoods who break the unwritten code of Colombia's crime world - with deadly consequences.

-- "Riprendimi (Good Morning Heartache)" (Italy), directed by Anna Negri and written by Negri and Giovanna Mori, captures a young couple with a new baby in the middle of their break-up - which is being captured by a documentary crew.

-- "Strangers" (Israel), written and directed by Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv, a romance between an Israeli man and a Palestinian woman during the World Cup finals in Germany.

-- "Under the Bombs (Sous les Bombes)" (Lebanon), directed by Philippe Aractingi and written by Aractingi and Michel Léviant, in which a Dubai woman convinces a cabbie to drive her through a bomb-scarred region of Lebanon to find her sister and her son.

-- "The Wave (Die Welle)" (Germany), directed by Dennis Gansel and written by Gansel and Peter Thorwarth, a drama about a teacher whose experiment to demonstrate life under a dictatorship spins out of control.

-- "The Wind and the Water (Burwa Dii Ebo)" (Panama), a collaborative film about an indigenous teen in Panama City who encounters a wealthy girl in two different circumstances.

1 comment:

franQ said...

I keep seeing this mention of Art Bechstein in MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH as being "a teen," yet the character is a recent college graduate... Maybe he's a super-genius!

Regardless... If you're a fan of the Michael Chabon novel, don't waste your time with this film.

I've read the screenplay and RMT has seriously CHANGED the story that MOP fans have loved for almost 20 years.

Completely CUT is Art's namesake, gay Arthur Lecomte. Phlox has been reduced to Art's ex-g/f and the uber-hetero Cleveland is now a bisexual. (You don't want to know the things he and Art will do together!) As for Jane... How RMT ever decided this throwaway character from the book should be elevated to leading lady status, I will never know!

Guess Sienna couldn't handle playing an American and since Jane is half-British...

Don't trust me? Email me for a copy of the script and see for yourself: bechstein[at]yahoo[dot]com