December 4, 2007
Sitting up here in the foothills overlooking the beautifully snow-blanketed Heber Valley with Mount Timpanogos as backdrop gives one a sense of peace. It’s all about pulling back far enough from the personal so that the pastoral may weave its magic. We all take the pictures we choose.
Ansel Adams, for example, employed the light reflecting off a small Spanish-colonial church and the white tombstones of the nearby cemetery to tell his story of "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico." Dorothea Lange, on the other hand, zoomed in to capture the illuminated despair of folded hands and soup cup at the "White Angel Breadline" back during the Depression.
The options are ours to cavort with as we wish. And so, within this postcard, on this day, we will allow the light to reflect off a few of the 121 feature-length films selected for screening from the 3,624 submitted for consideration at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. This will be as pastoral as all get out.
There will be no zooming-in to capture irate Parkites screaming at the right-front tire of a rental Escalade firmly implanted in their flowerbed — or, for that matter, a tight shot of a thirsty local impatiently shifting his weight from foot to foot while standing in line with an armful of bottles at the local booze emporium.
All a film buff has to do is to take a gander at the concise blurbs that accompany each selection and come up with a short list of films for which he would stand in line to see. It’s not that we’re going to actually end up with tickets to any of them, so there is little need in waiting for venue locations and screening times.
Let’s just jump right in and zoom right out. The documentaries at Sundance have always proven easier than dramatic films to flesh out – as far as getting a handle on what visions might be dancing in the filmmaker’s head.
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The cool thing is that, in recent years, the organizers have begun to pander to us "doc-heads." This year, aside from the 14 films selected in the "Documentary Competition" and the 16 from the "World Cinema Documentary Competition" categories, they’ve also added a half-dozen or so under the heading of "Spectrum: Documentary Spotlight."
The title that most jumped out from the competition doc category didn’t even try to hide the hook. "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson," with its theme of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and journalism (that’s not redundant, is it?), will no doubt be a very hot ticket.
As, most likely, will prove to be the case for a couple of other celluloid profiles. "Patti Smith: Dream of Life" and "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired." Ms. Smith, a most definite breath of artistic fresh air both on and off record, has been there and done that and kept the faith over the years with integrity fully intact.
Polanski won a director’s Oscar for "The Pianist" after achieving fame with "Rosemary’s Baby," "Chinatown" and a host of other efforts. He wasn’t on hand at the Academy Awards that year to pick up his statuette, however, as he has been laying low in Europe ever since his conviction on a sexual and arithmetical rap back in the day. It is this latter event, and its aftermath, that is dealt with in the film.
Another title that leaped from the page was "Stranded: I’ve Come From the Plane That Crashed on the Mountains." A World Cinema documentary, the picture deals with the 1972 crash high in the Andes on the Chile-Argentine border of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571.
The story of how the survivors, mostly members of a Uruguayan Rugby team, came through the ordeal has been told before — both in Piers Paul Read’s 1974 account, "Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors," and, in a more terse form, by the bumper sticker "Rugby Players Eat Their Dead." The film features interviews with the actual "players" in the drama.
Stacy Peralta is back with another film. That is a good thing. A couple of his previous Sundance doc entries, "Dogtown and Z-Boys" and "Riding Giants," which opened the Festival a few years back, documented the historical skateboarding and big-wave surfing lifestyles better than anything that had gone before.
This time, as part of the previously-cited "Spectrum: Documentary Spotlight," he’s bringing us a primary-source look at the south-central L.A. evolution of the Crips and Bloods entitled "Made in America." Obviously he’s going to get some flack for so starkly abandoning his element but, with his own film history, it’s hard to bet against him.
And anyway, Peralta’s just-announced next project will be "In Search of Captain Zero," from the memoir-novel and screenplay by Allan Weisbecker. With the yarn centering on the search for a lifelong beach-brother by the protagonist, a surfer with the optional oak-leaf cluster for smuggling, surprises are aplenty and shocks more than a few. Maybe Allen Titensor can get a cameo as a longboard shaper.
Well, that’s how it’s looking from the foothills with the long-shadows of eventide playing across the pastoral valley. No worries if, upon re-examination, you don’t like the print. You can always wrestle with it in the darkroom. As Ansel might have said, it’s not how the landscape looks in reality, but how it feels emotionally.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.