February 3, 2016
As the end credits to the final film of my own private Sundance scrolled downward Saturday afternoon, the space in front of the screen of the Prospector Square Theater filled with dancers. The message? Check despair at the door! Bop ’til ya drop!
Emerging from the dark in a bouncing conga line, hands clapping to the beat from the film’s final scene, the principals of "How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things That Climate Can’t Change" were soon joined by many from the audience as the infectious rhythm caused feet and bodies to ignore the dichotomy and join the rapture.
Led by the easily recognized smiles of filmmaker Josh Fox (whose "Gasland" had rocked Sundance in 2010), climate justice hero Tim DeChristopher, and other activists from around the world featured in the film, an obviously implicit invitation was issued to the audience to join in — both the dancing and the global movement.
The film poses the question: how does humanity deal with the reality that our atmosphere has gone south in a hurry and in a big way? With damage done beyond reversal and the rise of temperatures accelerating at a rate no current model can manage, are inspiration and resilience capable of affecting the survival of our species?
An example of the passion involved in the fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground so as not to lose any more of their barely-above-sea-level homelands is more than evident in Fox’s film, when Pacific Islanders paddle out in canoes and kayaks to blockade city-sized cargo ships attempting to leave the largest crude-oil shipping port in the world.
Winning over the Sundance Film Festival attendees is one thing, of course, but convincing those climate denier populations most suffering from the current "bust" in crude oil’s boom-and-bust cycle out here in the West is quite another.
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As I sit here typing on Monday morning, I have to wonder what kind of reception will greet Fox and DeChristopher tonight when they screen their film out in the longtime Uintah Basin petroleum-industry stronghold of Vernal, Utah. How many will show up, and of those, how many will tickle the tiles with those bearing a message they don’t want to hear?
My morning film on Saturday was quite a different slice of celluloid, or, much more likely these days, digital data. To wit, a film from Germany screening in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition with the rather understated (post viewing assessment) title of "Wild."
The forces responsible for my acquisition of a "hard ticket" to this film were twofold. First, the blurb hinted at a shape-shift in behavior once the bored female protagonist encounters a wild wolf. Intriguing, I thought. The second, and perhaps strongest of the forces-in-question, had to do with its German origin.
At Sundance 2014, I quite purposefully made it a point to catch the German film "Wetlands" at a Press and Industry Screening. Starring Carla Juri as a wild-child teen whose ideas of hygiene and sexuality were more than a bit outside the box, I found her performance to be as beautifully confrontational as high-art in the lower-chakras was meant to be.
In his Rolling Stone review of "Wetlands," Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers stated it "made ‘dirty’ fun again." His review went on to share his opinion that "if Oscar didn’t have a stick up his (download port), Juri would be a nominee for Best Actress. Yup, she’s that good. Your move." Well, I was sold. My move was to take it in, and, this year, get a ticket to "Wild" as soon as they became available.
Now, I’m not comparing the two films in any manner other than they both radiate a sense of freedom normally not found in mainstream cinema and they both came straight outta Berlin. And that, dear readers, is what Sundance has always been about. But, I digress.
In "Wild," once Ania makes eye contact with a wild wolf at the edge of her small town, an unrecognizable passion, a wildness, as it were, stirs within her. Before long, following the introduction of a tranquilizer dart into the narrative, an affiliation, of sorts, ensues — one that examines the core differences between civilization and the wild.
They will linger, as they always do, these never-out-of-flux visceral images that fill space between Sundance festivals. Ticket-stubs become bookmarks and shopping lists and freeze you in place somewhere in the middle of Henry Miller or Charles Bukowski or the organic produce section. Art does that!
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.