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What’s up doc?

Core Samples

By Jay Meehan
Park Record columnist

Well, when you’re as strung out as some of us on Independent films, music and such, it’s really never too early to get out of the starting gate – even when the actual events-in-question are more than five weeks off. Jumping the gun is nothing more than a matter of course in these matters.

So, with the somewhat daunting and overwhelming list of films and events for the 2017 Sundance Film Festival already on the table, I find myself, as usual, hovering at my “fail-safe” point on the cusp of full emersion.

The way this works is, prior to dipping my toe into those murky waters, I need to find my “mosey.” To discover one’s Zen space, the pace must be measured. A quiet methodology is most important. But, where does one begin? Historically, with me, it’s always been among the documentary storytellers.

Above all else, I remain a “doc-head.” And this year, within the Documentary Premiere category alone, are more than enough films to fit my groove.

One that immediately jumped out at me takes a critical look through the mind’s eye of one of my environmental and literary heroes. Entitled “Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry” and screening as part of “The New Climate” initiative at this year’s festival, it ponders the “changing landscapes and shifting values of rural America in the era of industrial agriculture.” Count me in!

Another that readily latched on to my curiosity center was “TAKE EVERY WAVE: The Life of Laird Hamilton.” A truly beyond category big wave surfing legend, Hamilton is that rare piece of work that, seemingly, first conquers and then transcends most every athletic notion that appears on his horizon.

Surfing is yet another of those athletic endeavors like rugby and granite wall climbing that I have come to experience vicariously and, of which, to the best of my ability, I attempt to keep my fingers upon the pulse. Books and DVDs and maps and websites aplenty continually call to me from various shelves and countertops and, thankfully, it’s an area in which the Sundance Film Fest quite capably pulls its own weight.

One thing I truly cherish about my Sundance experience is what I’ve come to call “the educational component.” I’m pretty much unhip to what’s happening music-wise and otherwise in youth culture. It’s illuminating — through film, the Music Café, the Virtual Reality of New Frontiers, etc. — to receive an annual wake-up call.

A perfect case in point is the film “Give Me Future: Major Lazer in Cuba.” It seems that back in March of this year, the group Major Lazer (formed by the DJ, producer, taste maker Diplo – who amazingly enough, I could pick out of a lineup) became one of the first major U.S. acts to play Cuba since the restoration of diplomatic ties.

Suffice to say, they filmed the show (half a million were in attendance) and this is partially the result. You didn’t expect a Sundance filmmaker to not flesh out and expand the narrative to include the obvious changes such world culture exposure would have on Cuba’s soon to be quickly evolving society, did you?

Speaking of Cuba, filmmaker Lucy Walker is bringing an as-yet-untitled Buena Vista Social Club doc that will no doubt find much welcome and familiarity in my collective cinematic and musical wheelhouse.

And, if you recall the 1997 album and the 1999 Ry Cooder/Wim Wenders film collaboration that once again exploded Afro-Cuban jazz upon the world stage, well, then, no doubt, expect your comfort zone to be on the receiving end of a nuzzle also.

Walker’s film, however, features the band’s personal reflections on their ensuing careers and the extraordinary you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up circumstances that first brought them together. With Latin Jazz being an early auditory influence, a ticket to this film is very high on my wish list.

Another documentary film screening as part of “The New Climate” initiative at this year’s festival is “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman.” Featuring a look at how families working the land and sea, from Montana to Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico, manage their respective natural resources in the face of widening political divide, this film is as timely as it gets.

I’m ready! The Music Café! The Owl Bar! Bring ‘em on! And, although we are in a completely digital environment filmmaking-wise at the festival these days, may I utilize a bit of literary license and say “Roll Film!”

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.


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