Sundance : Day Seven

A short reminisce on the sheer volume of new and exciting cinema that is largely ignored by the press at Sundance; and the powerful drama Journey From The Fall.

by Amber Wilkinson

The superb Journey From The Fall

The superb Journey From The Fall

Hard to believe I have been here a week, although I've packed so much in that in some ways it seems like a lot longer. Someone sent me a link to a site, which says Sundance has lost its Indie edge. I'm not so sure. Yes, there are some solidly mainstream films on show. - Lucky Number Slevin, for example, although shot as an independent has all the feel of something much more Hollywood, and several of the other films in the Premieres strand are along the same lines. But that is the beauty of Sundance. There is room for crowd-pleasers from independent backgrounds along with edgier and, perhaps, artier work.

Documentaries have come into their own in recent years with Super Size Me and Fahrenheit 9/11, just two which have made good box office. I would argue the strength of the documentary strand here is fuelled by televisual moves to dumb down their output. If there were less "documentaries" about people trying to lose weight and more about weightier issues, then I'm sure more documentary makers would opt for the mass-market route. After all, you reach more people in their own homes than at the multiplex. Sundance has certainly supported this shift and, who knows, with Redford putting an emphasis on short film now, maybe we'll see newer, fresh directors get their moment of glory in the coming years.

The Darwin AwardsIt strikes me that there are many, many journalists out here who only want to cover the Premieres and, perhaps, some of the American content in the Dramatic Competition. Why is that? Surely, this is the place where those movies that are most likely to find an easy distribution - The Night Listener, the Edward Norton vehicle The Illusionist and opening night film Friends With Money - should take a back seat in favour of foreign language films, such as the brilliant El Aura, arty Allegro and powerful Journey From The Fall. Certainly, the organisers intend that to happen, with most of what would be described as the "big box office" films - The Darwin Awards, pictured left, The Night Listener, The Illusionist - receiving their press screenings at the back end of the festival. There's only so much the organisers can do, though, and I think it is up to the media to make space for the films which are good rather than just emphasising those with a sexy starlet.

Hopefully, I've spread my viewing to include some of the more unusual choices and while I may not have seen so many of the Premieres, I can say that I have seen a high proportion of exceptionally well made films.

And it's not over yet.

Got up this morning with a storming hangover despite having only two glasses of wine last night. I blame the altitude and am beginning to see the reason why the beer here is so weedy. A 6am start was just the thing for a headache and, in a fresh new twist on the "it's bloody freezing" theme, the wind was up this morning, too.

I headed into town, filed an article and then killed some time before the premiere screening of Journey From The Fall. While I was at the HQ I spotted Kim Yoon-jin again - she may be in Lost but I certainly keep finding her. I also spotted Hadji - writer/director and star of Somebodies. He posed for a picture, which was nice of him although seemed unconvinced when I told him that I'd enjoyed his film. Maybe my sincerity chip is getting faulty after a week of dealing with publicists.

Went to the Journey From The Fall premiere this afternoon at The Egyptian Theatre on Main Street. It's the same place I saw Son Of Man the other day and is a nice, old building. The entire cast of the film, along with the director and producers came to the screening of what is a powerful and epic drama. The fall of the title, refers to Saigon, which the film takes as its jumping off point. It's amazing that in 30 years since the end of that war, no one has bothered to tell the story of the average Vietnamese man or woman caught up in the awfulness of it all. While Vietnam seems indelibly printed on the American consciousness, the Vietnamese seemed to slide off like water. Director Ham Tran's film is certainly going to change that. It tracks one family's journey following the fall, both from the point of view of the father. who ends up in one of the Godforsaken - and rarely talked about - "re-education camps" and his wife, mother and son, who embark on a treacherous "boat people" journey to find a new life in the US.

It is by turns powerful and effecting and features some wonderful cinematography, along with standout performances from Long Nguyen and Kieu Chinh, as father and grandmother. Cleverly, Tran takes the story past the point of reaching America, rounding out the struggle for a new life. As he said following the screening, which received a standing ovation, travelling to the US was like "climbing a hill and then finding a mountain."

There was a Q & A after the film, in which he was asked about the decision to shoot the film in Vietnamese with subtitles. He said that when he tried to get the movie off the ground as a result of his short film, The Anniversary, receiving critical acclaim, the big studios wanted him to "shoot it in English, cast Lucy Liu and include an American character."

Thankfully, he resisted and the end result bears out his decision. Right now, it's a four and a half star movie, but with a small cut - it is a little overlong at just over two hours - it will notch up to a five. After the screening I went to the party at the VW lounge, where I interviewed Ham Tran and Kieu Chinh. It seems virtually everyone in the cast and crew has a Vietnam story to tell, from living in refugee camps to escaping on boats. In fact, two of the men in the harrowing re-education camp segment, were actually put in camps themselves. It is a film with a lot of heart and it fully deserves to be a major hit.

I headed out to the party for the Shorts III showcase. With music pumping so loudly my brains felt as though they were liquidising, so I picked up a screener disk and left. I'm not sure how directors are supposed to network when you can't even hear yourself think.

On the way back to the car I acquired a new ailment to add to my collection, when I fell on my backside. Thankfully, no one was around to witness it. Headed home to have another go at watching KZ - got the furthest in so far but it still stopped short of the end. I'm talking to the director tomorrow but have hopefully seen enough to ask some sensible questions.

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