Piers Marchant reports from Sundance, Day Five

January 28, 2015

By Piers Marchant for blood, dirt &angels

Number of Films: 4
General Vibe: Well-Documented

Racing Extinction: As I reported on Twitter (@kafkaesque83), I didn’t exactly plan it this way, but today was all about the documentaries. I started out the morning with the latest environmental screed from director Louie Psihoyos, whose last film, The Cove, concerning an illegal dolphin slaughter in Japan, drove me to sobbing. Fearing a similarly depressing experience viewing this film — which, as the title suggests, documents the declining species left on the planet as humans pour more and more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere — I was pleasantly surprised to find that it contains more than a little hope amongst its dire forecastings. True, there are still a few covert operations to expose some of the black market dealings in the illegal animal trade that will likely get your blood boiling (that is if you care about such things), but the majority of the film focuses on some potential solutions to the issue, and more than a few success stories where beleaguered villages have converted from a hunting/fishing economy to tourism with spectacular results. As a film, I would have to say it was somewhat less galvanizing than his last effort (I’m still paying annual donations to savejapandolphins.org), but every bit as necessary and important.

The Wolfpack: A film almost too fitting to play at a film festival such as this. This doc from Crystal Moselle tells the story of the Angulo boys, six brothers growing up on the Lower East Side, whose totalitarian father refused to let leave the house. Instead, they grew up obsessively watching — and painstakingly recreating — movies. As you might expect, the boys are more than a little socially awkward, but after one of them finally ventures out — dressed, you guessed it, in a Mike Meyers mask — an action that quickly leads to a subsequent stint in a mental hospital, the others eventually learn to follow. This leads to several scenes of the whole crew of them, dressed in quasi-Resovoir Dogs attire (appropriately enough, QT is clearly a favorite of their obsessive film watching) and aviator shades, cruising around the subways and Coney Island, looking for all the world like a family of young cartel assassins. The film is frustratingly vague at points — we get very little sense from the father just why it is he did this to them, nor why, if he was so terrified of them interacting with American culture, he had them living in New York freaking City — and the brothers, who all sport hip-length long dark hair and varying degrees of crooked teeth, are not so clearly defined unto themselves. Still, a lot to take in, and the film is understandably one of the hot topics du jour the day after its premiere — which, in a side-note, the brothers reportedly attended.

Hot Girls Wanted: It’s certainly not news that the porn industry is easily the most profitable category of the web, routinely out-viewing every other branch of traffic several times over. It’s also not news that it’s an industry that tends to churn through young women at a frantic rate, especially in the “amateur” division, where 18-year-olds can get flown to Miami from whatever hometown they live in, and make gobs of cash performing in 3-5 scenes a week. Still, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus’ doc offers some insight into the mindset of the young women in question, following a few months (about as long as most of them stay in the industry) in the lives of a single group house of would-be porn stars and their “talent scout.” The girls range from innocently impressionable to cagily disaffected, but all of them have dreams of eventually making it big in L.A. and becoming another house-hold brand, at least until they either tire of the constant grind (one shoot, involving a particularly apathetic actress and a dunder-headed older man is particularly awkward with the couples’ complete and utter lack of chemistry), or their parents and hometown friends find out, and they rapidly move on. The film suggests it’s a get-rick quick scheme that the girls can experiment with, before safely taking their leave, but it’s clear there’s a much darker underbelly to the industry than even what we’re seeing on screen here.

The Nightmare: Rodney Ascher’s follow-up doc to the phenomenally popular Room 237 bears a suitably creepy premise: He speaks with people from all over the country (and one in Manchester) about their chronic sleep paralysis and the accompanying — and eerily similar — shadowy phantasms that hover over them as they experience it.

Photo from The Nightmare, courtesy Campfire

Photo from The Nightmare, courtesy Campfire

Leaving it largely in their own words, Ascher’s film recreates the vivid scenes they depict, offering up a smorgasbord of haunting visions and more than a couple jump-scares that made the sold-out Sundance audience scream their lungs out. At the same time, the sufferers — who range in age, race, and gender — each seem oddly distanced by what they’re describing. In some cases, it’s because either through religion or closed-loop metaphor they’ve managed to escape its clutches, in others, because they have come to accept it and are seemingly at peace. The film, therefore, is both frustratingly inconclusive and somewhat strangely dissociated from its subject’s emotional responses, leaving it interesting but slightly flat.

Tomorrow: Starting the inevitable wind-down, but there are still some supremely intriguing possibilities, including Stanford Prison Experiment, Cartel Land, Digging Fire, Results, and Welcome to Leith.

Into the frigid climes and rarefied thin air of the spectacular Utah Mountains, I’ve arrived in order to document some of the sense and senselessness of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Over the next week, armed with little more than a heavy parka and a bevy of blank reporter’s notebooks, I’ll endeavor to watch as many movies as I can and report my findings.

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