Temperature notwithstanding, there’s something kind of cool about taking in a film on a summer evening outdoors on a blanket with a picnic basket full of popcorn substitute in the company of other similarly stimulated celluloid junkies.
This the 15th summer that the Sundance Institute has been sharing festival films with the seemingly always-culturally-thirsty Utah locals is, in a broad musical sense, looking to be rather exquisite.
First out of the chute at 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 21, at Canyons Resort is Sundance veteran Joe Berlinger’s "Under African Skies." If, back in 1986, you were among the millions worldwide who fell under the spell of Paul Simon’s epic South African-influenced "Graceland" album and the simmering political implications that arose from its recording and subsequent release, mark this down as a must-see.
Berlinger, whose previous festival films included the haunting "Brother’s Keeper" in 1992 and the environmental documentary "Crude" in 2009, cut his Sundance music-doc teeth on "Mettalica: Some Kind of Monster" back in 2004, a work that demonstrated his disdain for the shallow.
"I don’t do music films per se. There always has to be another story layered upon it," was the way he put it in a telephone interview last January. With Metallica, it was their inner demons drawing him in. In his Graceland film, the prime question he poses is: "What is the role of the artist in society and who should set the rules?"
Having been given access to Simon’s large cache of archival footage, Berlinger takes the filmgoer along for the complete ride from Simon’s original trip to South Africa, to the recording session and political uproar that followed, to his return trip to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the album with the original musicians in concert, and the ensuing conversations with those involved in the protests. The music, by the way, is brilliant!
Next up on this summer’s schedule is 2008’s "CSNY/Déjà Vu" at 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 12, also at Canyons Resort. An in-your-face look at Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s "Freedom of Speech Tour" from 2006, the film, directed by Neil Young (under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey), showcases the band’s politics as much as its music.
Taking their finely honed Vietnam-era anti-war stance out for a stroll once again, this time with the then-hostilities in Iraq as backdrop, the aging yet still quite politically and musically astute quartet leaves little ambiguity as to where they stand on George W. and his national security team.
One of the best scenes transpires when segments of an Atlanta audience are interviewed while storming out after being confronted with a set list teeming with the likes of "Let’s Impeach the President" a great sing-along, by the way. Young’s appearance on "The Colbert Report" is also a highlight.
Canyons Resort wraps up its venue hosting for this summer’s outdoor film series with "Filly Brown" at 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 26. A film that adheres to this year’s outdoor festival music theme with a dramatic hip-hop narrative, it worked for me, if for no other reason than as an introduction to actor Gina Rodriguez, who totally impresses in the title role. A caveat here: I’ve always been an easy pushover for a Latina with a glint in her eye.
The fourth and final of the series is Stacy Peralta’s "Bones Brigade: An Autobiography" at City Park in Park City on Aug. 3, the Friday of Arts Festival weekend. Although the "music" of this film is manifested as much by the passion of the individual skateboarders involved as by the soundtrack, any recurring dissonance in the harmony resolves itself in the end.
This screening is part of a larger production that will feature special skateboard demonstrations, on-site artists creating original designs on skateboard decks, and filmmaker and Powell-Peralta Bones Brigade skateboard team co-founder and mentor Stacy Peralta on hand for a Q&A.
Getting to see Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero, Mike McGill and the rest evolve from slacker-punk kids to highly successful punk adults is a wonderfully fulfilling ride. And, I might add, not becoming invested in the many unbelievably absorbing storylines is not an option.
This year’s outdoor film series looks, top to bottom, to be one of the more interesting editions in a while. We’ll have to wait and see how the change in venue to Canyons Resort for three of the films works out, but the overall premise of Sundance Institute’s community outreach is, as always, another great perk to being a Park City local.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
A critic of a Park City workforce or otherwise affordable housing project in Old Town said he is considering an appeal of the Park City Planning Commission’s approval of the development.