Thursday, January 23, 2014

7 More Films

When I started my week at Sundance, I thought I would have time to write a detailed review of every film I saw. How naive. I have seen 9 films so far at the festival, and none of them have been as easy to digest as Mary Poppins or Despicable Me 2. 

If I am not watching a movie, I'm either taking the bus to the next theatre or blabbing about the movie I just saw to the person standing next to me. (If you have been that person for me this week, I thank you!) 

While I can't write the length of a Mitt or Return to Homs review before I go to bed, I do want to make a note of all the films I have seen so I can keep track.

Hellion - This screening was held in the Eccles auditorium - the largest screening venue at Sundance. The media and Breaking Bad fans were abuzz about Aaron Paul, but I was excited about the appearance of an up-and-coming actor, Josh Wiggins. Wiggins played the role of Jacob, a young teenager who is using rebellion to grieve the loss of his mother. The acting was top-notch. Unfortunately, the kids' affinity for the f-word and the film's unsatisfying ending doesn't make me want to watch it again anytime soon.

Little Hope was Arson - A documentary about church burnings in rural Texas. It is told largely from the community's point of view, as well as the families of the criminals. My biggest complaint were there were too many "talking heads;" this worked sometimes, but at certain points in the film extra b-roll or reenactments could have helped keep the film from dragging. This movie had a great message about how there are multiple sides to every story.

Web Junkies - The filmmakers of this documentary wanted to show how virtual reality can become an addiction. The movie takes place inside a boarding school in China where parents send their kids to become more disciplined. None of the kids want to be at the camp - all they want to do is go back home and play World of Warcraft. There were several reasons I didn't fancy this film: 1) There was no story arc, 2) I watched it at 10:00pm, 3) I had to go to the bathroom. Who am I kidding...reason number three is probably why I just wanted to get out of there.

Kidnapped for Christ - I won't be able to say much about this film, because to be honest, I am still processing it. And I will be for a while. The premise is heartbreaking: Parents have their children kidnapped and sent to a Christian boarding school in the Dominican Republic to "straighten them out." The documentary deals with the abuse these children experience behind closed doors at the camp. Does it sound like a hard movie to watch? You have no idea. There are more issues in this film than there are copies of National Geographic, so I will have to save my thoughts for another day.

Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart - A huge "Thank You" to my sister Julie for helping me wait-list this film while I was in another movie screening! On the surface, it is a documentary about a woman who was faced with life in prison for having teenage boys murder her husband. But on a deeper level, as I concluded from talking with the director after the screening, it is about how the media shapes our perception of people and events. Through interviews we learn that there are two "Pamela Smarts" - the real Pamela and the shallow Pamela who people perceive from the news and movie re-enactments. The only reason I would recommend this film is the amazing style the director uses to tell a story that has potential to be dull. I could give many examples, but he employs methods usually used in feature films into his documentary to "captivate" the audience and hold their attention. There is some objectionable content in this one.

Documentary Showcase - A collection of short documentary films. My favorite was called, The Lion's Mouth Opens. It was about a woman who goes with her friends to the doctor to find out if she has Huntington's disease. My least favorite was a movie about these two guys who steal sewer covers to get money by selling the iron. (At least I think that's what the movie was about.) The biggest surprise of the showcase was the Russian film, Love. Love. Love. Its description in the Sundance guidebook reads: "Every year, through the endless winters, her love takes new shapes and forms." We all thought, oh great, this is going to be one of those films. Thankfully, it was a very pleasant and clean film where people talk about what love means to them at different stages of life.

The Overnighters - An unforgettable documentary about a pastor who faces opposition from his community and congregation because he lets struggling workers sleep in his church. I'm not going to give to much of the plot away, because there are many twists and turns that made it a compelling story from start to finish. There is nothing I would have cut out. This is a far cry from a happy film, but it still filled me with hope. (The hope that Kidnapped for Christ took away from me.) It ultimately shares a message that God wants to love broken people, and we're all broken. Have your tissues ready, especially if you've worked in the ministry. 

Good gracious me, look at the time. I'd better call it quits so I don't fall asleep in a screening tomorrow. Night.

Filmmaker and Pastor at Q&A after The Overnighters

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