Sundance 2013: Days 4 and 5

The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, Upstream Color, The Way, Way Back and Blackfish.

by Amber Wilkinson

Time seems to bend at Film Festivals. One minute, 10 days are stretching ahead of you and seemingly a millisecond and movie later, you're half way through the week. Days four and five of Sundance brought with them comedy, creepiness and conundrums, courtesy of The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, Upstream Color, The Way, Way Back and Blackfish.

Somehow, I also managed to sneak in some interviews with This Is Martin Bonner actor Paul Eenhoorn and the men and woman behind The Moo Man - more on which on another day.

The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear
The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear
The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear is, unfortunately, one of those films that is nowhere near as interesting as its title implies. Tinatin Gurchiani's documentary essentially offers a snapshot of rural poverty in the former Soviet state of Georgia. The set up of her film was to entice 15-25-year-olds to speak to her on the promise of a possible movie role, which seems unnecessarily cloak and dagger, all things considered. What follows, is a sequence of talking heads, revealing - as you would expect - that the locals have hopes and dreams just the same as the rest of us despite living in crushing hardship.

The interviews are intercut with much more interesting footage showing some of those caught and camera out and about in their daily lives, along with villages that seem to have been deserted by the younger generation. I expect it will go on to play other festivals but there is little to mark it out over others of its ilk.

Upstream Color, on the other and, is very much it's own animal. Offering observations on companionship, redemption and man's relationship with nature, Shane Carruth's second film is a conundrum for the viewer. You can read my full review here.

While The Way, Way Back is not breaking any new ground in terms of direction or basic story - after all, there are only so many ways to depict coming of age - its a warm and engaging comedy bolstered by great one-liners and good performances.

Liam James stars as Duncan, a teenager who would rather be anywhere else than going on summer vacation with his mum (Toni Collette) and obnoxious wannabe stepfather Trent (Steve Carrell). Seeking escape from the household, he finds himself at the local down-at-heel water park, where motormouth manager (Sam Rockwell) takes him under his wing. The strong cast also includes Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney and co-writers/directors Nat Faxton and Jim Rash. The vibe may be Little Miss Sunshine with a soupcon of Adventureland but this is a sunny crowd-pleaser that keeps you rooting for the kid.

Most of the cast attended the film's premiere in Park City - where it got a standing ovation from a happy Eccles audience. Rudolph was moved to tears as she considered her long association with Faxton and Rash, meanwhile, Carrell - after some barracking about his character for the audience, added that he would only be playing "hunky creeps from now on".

Blackfish
Blackfish
Day five ended on a much less upbeat note with hard-hitting and well-researched documentary Blackfish. Parents who watch Gabriela Cowperthwaite's expose of Seaworld are likely to think twice about visiting the park after this. Cowperthwaite keeps her focus tight on the orca killer whales, documenting the 30-year period from the capture of a whale named Tilikum up to the death of one of his trainers. The director marries shocking archive footage showing various attacks by the whales on those who work with compelling talking heads, who outline the misery of life for may of the whales and allege that Seaworld spin and supress the attack stories to look like trainer error rather than aggression on the part of the animals. Set in counterpoint, is testimony about the orcas in their natural habitat - where there have never been any attacks on humans.

This is a thorough and thoroughly compelling documentary that offers visitors to Seaworld plenty of food for thought.

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