Sundance 2007 : Day Nine

Sexual deviancy explored, black comedy with Martin Freeman, and the hugely controversial Hounddog.

by Amber Wilkinson

Robin Wright Penn and Dakota Fanning have faced controversy over scenes in Hounddog

Robin Wright Penn and Dakota Fanning have faced controversy over scenes in Hounddog

Hounddog has had news channels up and down the US crying foul of a scene in which Dakota Fanning's character is raped. In fact, three States have even cleared the film legally and some Christian groups are calling for a federal investigation into whether it breaks anti-pornography laws. Having seen the film I doubt they would have a leg to stand on, but the whole debate got us thinking about the incidence of 'deviant' sex at this year's festival.

The documentary section has turned its attention to dodgy sexual practices, with Zoo, about a horse farm in the Pacific Northwest which was being used by men from across the globe to have sex with Arab stallions. We could make a joke about it but, we'll, er, rein ourselves in.

Elsewhere, there are golden showers (Night Of The Buffalo), voyeuristic sex (Summer Rain), sex with bite (Teeth), sex with your mother (Phantom Love), rape/sex slavery (Trade) and, of course, the now infamous scene of child rape in Hounddog. From violence in the Gulf and Middle East to violence in the bedroom, there's a lot of bad mojo around.

Thankfully, there isn't very much of it in The Good Night. Directed by Jake Paltrow and co-starring his sister Gwyneth, it revolves around a couple for whom sex is definitely off the menu. Martin Freeman would come pretty near the top of a list of people we never expected to see carrying a movie, but it turns out he's quite good at it. He plays Gary, stuck in a stultifying relationship with Gwyneth he begins to have night time fantasies about a dream girl (Penelope Cruz), which threaten to take over his life.

As dark comedies go, it's pretty good, although there are some odd directorial ticks - such as the use of different types of film to enforce which parts are dream state and which are reality - that don't really come off. Promising, though and featuring stand-out support form Danny DeVito and Simon Pegg.

While I was going to dreamland with Martin, the other half of Eye For Film was checking out Fay Grimm - the sequel to Hal Hartley's Henry Fool. It is comedy espionage thriller - for fans only.

Next up was Once - an engaging Irish film about a friendship that develops between a busker and a Czech migrant. They find common ground through music and the film morphs into a low key part-musical with an emotional heart of gold. Rumour has it is on the verge of securing a distributor, which is great news.

We also checked out Life Support - a worthy pseudo-documentary about an Aids outreach activist - and Chapter 27, an account of Mark chapman's fateful visit to New York to get John Lennon's autograph and "Do something big". This is an excellent portrayal of one man's madness as a result of chasing the American dream.

Press screenings over, it was time to head up to Salt Lake City itself for a public screening of Hounddog. The Theatre was so packed that staff were reselling seats that were empty, so it played to a full house. The story revolves around Dakota Fanning's Lewellen, a dirt poor kid, growing up in the Deep South with her violent daddy. As we said earlier the rape scene is tastefully handled, although we did have problems with other aspects of the story - particularly a stereotypical Uncle Tom plotline - a black man who does stuff with snake poison is her only real friend.

Director Debra Kempmeier attended the screening and answered questions afterwards, vigorously defending the flick against her critics and saying how sorry she was that Dakota and her family had been attacked. Fanning, in fact, should be getting praise heaped upon her for what is an absolutely stunning piece of acting. If she keeps this up she's going to have a clutch of Oscars by the time she is 30.

Screenings finished for the day, we decided to hang out in downtown Salt Lake, although finding a bar there is tricky. As the fog rose and the temperature plummetted we walked block after block until we finally happened upon the Red Rock grill. Weirdly, for a State which is largely 'dry', whenever you do find a place that sells booze, it sells heaps of varieties of it. Clearly if Utah folk decide to fall off the wagon, they like to do it in style - see our picture of a "beer bong", for example. Also the booze is named to irritate the Mormon populace, with Polygamy Porter a popular brew.

With that, it was time to head back to the ranch to contemplate which of the films would walk off with the prizes. Although, if our luck is as rubbish as in previous years, we won't have seen any of them.

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