Week One afterthoughts | ParkRecord.com

Week One afterthoughts

Jay Meehan, Park Record columnist

Admittedly, very few of the negatives usually associated with the Sundance Film Festival impact my comfort zone. Unless one is caught in a traffic jam, and there are available timeframes when that is not a problem, living out of town alleviates much of the impact.

Scheduling is what gets in my way, and that’s an issue that additional preparation and organization, not exactly my strong suits, could mollify. That’s also a scenario that is difficult for someone such as I to whine about. I’ve seen it coming. I’ve had plenty of lead time. I’ve been doing the Festival seriously for seemingly forever, and should have my ducks pretty much in line by now.

This year, as far as cards falling into place during the first week of the festival, I’m batting somewhere above .500. On the up side, both Friday and Saturday, with morning films and afternoon events, are examples with at least the symptoms of good karma.

Being a "doc head" with a proclivity toward world cinema, catching "Hooligan Sparrow," an extremely low-budget labor of love and passion, most of it shot in "guerilla-style" with hidden cameras in southern China, proved a nice personal kick-off to the week. There’s something about films that concentrate on activist pursuits around the globe that turns my crank.

Led by Ye Halyan, AKA Hooligan Sparrow, a small but gritty female tribe of social activists attempt to confront the entrenched sexual abuse of girls by government officials by traversing southern China to a community where the school principal and another government hack are on trial for the alleged rape of six students.

Utilizing quite boisterous but otherwise peaceful street-side civil disobedience techniques, the film documents the activists’ constant harassment by government-hired thugs who also confront filmmaker Nanfu Wang at every turn. This forces her to adopt her secret weapon, camera glasses.

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The total lack of civil rights afforded the "offending" females runs throughout the film and, in comparison, makes Mexico during the ’60s look like a utopian commune. Victims are continually on the defensive while "perps" enjoy the backing of law enforcement. An important document, indeed.

Friday’s event, an early evening premiere party for "O. J.: Made in America," the ESPN "30-for-30" program’s first foray into long-format filmmaking, quite successfully served to slake those appetites motivated by thirst and hunger.

Coming in at seven-and-a-half hours, the premiere, divided into two halves, served as bookends to the alcohol and food affair. Having missed the film itself due to time constraints, I tried my best to make up for it by supporting ESPN at their premiere bash.

Saturday morning featured the brilliant Don Cheadle’s directorial debut in the Miles Davis out-of-the-box biopic "Miles Ahead." My review appears elsewhere in this issue of The Park Record. Cheadle, who also co-wrote the screenplay and acted in the lead role, gave a most enjoyable and insightful Q&A following the screening, possibly my favorite ever.

Then came Saturday afternoon’s Sundance ASCAP Music Café featuring, due to Sting’s announced presence as that day’s headliner, what will no doubt be the earliest forming and longest line of its 2016 Festival run.

Performing in support of the forthcoming HBO film "Jim: The James Foley Story," which is screening in the U.S. Documentary Competition, Sting shared the circumstances of how Academy Award nominated composer J. Ralph, after showing him a rough-cut, asked him to write a song for the film.

The saga of Foley, a journalist captured and publicly executed by the Islamic State of Iraq, has been a rallying cry denouncing the extreme barbarism of the group ever since videos of the incident went viral.

Then, once Sting’s wife Trudy saw the footage and jumped on the bandwagon, there was little, if any, wiggle room. So, after he took a stroll in New York’s Central Park, he composed "The Empty Chair," which he performed along with J. Ralph at his somewhat short but cozy set at the Music Café.

It’s all about the vibe at Sundance and the vibe at the Music Café on Saturday was palpable. Each act that led up to Sting’s sit-down acoustic performance jacked the crowd up a few more notches on the anticipation scale.

Can’t wait for Week Two. There are some top-shelf happenings aligning like planets in the morning sky and those of us who find the festival worthy of our attention will be suitably rewarded.

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.