When my editor asked if I wanted to cover the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, it took me all of about two seconds to say “yes.” Once my credentials were approved and my flight booked, then came the task of determining how to go about covering it. Unlike San Diego Comic-Con, which I had experienced as a regular attendee before covering it as a member of the media, I hadn’t ever attended Sundance, and had no idea what to expect – so I decided that I would journal the experience. I’ll be bringing you my Sundance experience over three parts, ultimately concluding with my top picks and overall impressions.
You know the day is going to be something magical when it begins with the soles of your shoes (yes, both of them) being torn off just as you arrive at the airport for six hours of traveling to Utah. When I finally made it to Park City, I had remedied my shoe problem only to discover a new obstacle: I was given the wrong type of press credentials, and this being my first time attending Sundance, I didn’t realize just what that meant until I showed up for my first screening, Kailash.
Essentially, the type of badge I was given was geared more toward photographers and videopgrapher – I’m neither of those things – and only provided me access to film screenings on a “space available” basis. I quickly discovered that “space available” was about as likely as spotting unicorns running wild on the ski slopes – but fortunately, those would be the worst things that I encountered at the festival. My editor made contact with the Sundance offices to get me the correct type of credential, which I could pick up the following morning – but it’s a shame that my first day of the festival ended with exactly zero films viewed.
Friday morning kicked off at the Park Avenue Theatre with Hearts Beat Loud. Nick Offerman plays a middle-aged single father struggling to know when to let go and when to hold on as his daughter (Kiersey Clemons)prepares to leave for college. The former musician runs a struggling record store in the Red Hook neighborhood of New York City while dealing with a myriad of problems, but at the heart of it all is his love for his daughter. Emotionally fulfilling, fun, and full of heart, Hearts Beat Loud shows off another side of Offerman’s acting skills, and the chemistry between he and Clemons makes this film a great watch.
Next up was the film that quickly emerged as this year’s Sundance darling – and for very good reason – Blindspotting, an incredibly powerful drama about two young men living in Oakland, struggling with racial and personal identity and what defines these two friends of different color. Collin (Daveed Diggs) is an ex-con who works for a moving company alongside his childhood best friend, Miles (Rafael Casal). After Collin witnesses a horrifying and tragic event with only three days remaining on his probation, he struggles to come to grips with who he was, and the man he wants to become. Full of moments that will make you laugh and moments that will have you holding your breath, Blindspotting depicts the harsh reality of the Black Lives Matter movement, and everything about this film works from top to bottom. Riding a wave of festival buzz, you can expect this to have a lasting impact once it receives a wide release.
One of the quickest lessons I learned at Sundance is that it requires a LOT of walking, with screening locations spread all over Park City (the new shoes I bought on Day One were quickly getting broken in). So after a quick lunch and a walk to Eccles Theatre, my third film of the day was American Animals. Based on the real life rare book heist at Transylvania University, director Bart Layton uses an innovative way to recount the tale in a quasi-documentary style, employing the real-life perpetrators to narrate their version of what happened while the cast, led by Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan, portray the events. It was a very interesting story with a strong cast that really drew me in, with my only complaint being that there was never an explanation for why these young men really wanted to steal the books. Sure, money is a motive, but one of the characters is established to already be wealthy, and the others clearly came from good families and backgrounds. I wanted to believe it was just the thrill of the theft, but the true motive is never really established. Regardless, American Animals was well worth the viewing, and I look forward to revisiting it when it gets a wide release.
The day finished with another trek, this time over to the MARC Theater for The Catcher Was A Spy, starring Paul Rudd. Another “based on a true story film,” this centered on Morris “Moe” Berg, a professional baseball player that became a spy during World War II. The premise alone sounded fascinating, and Rudd was enjoyable without overplaying his usual goofy charm, but there the film falls short if that the real-life story of Berg seems much more interesting than the one being told on the screen. So much of the events portrayed are glossed over and never explored, and there’s a lot of ambiguity around events that seem like they should be explored in detail. Catcher is still a decent period piece with a solid cast, but I’m not sure that it will warrant multiple viewings.
And with that, Day Two came to an end. Check out the rest of my Sundance coverage soon!