Sundance 2008: Day One

Frustration, a flurry of films and George A Romero introduces Diary Of The Dead.

by Amber Wilkinson & Tony Sullivan

Sorting out interviews at Sundance can be a little like trying to find a golf ball in the snow and today was no different, beginning with the sort of frustrating admin mishap that can put a serious crimp in your day. Fortunately there are two of us out at Sundance this year - so that even if we weren't able to quite divide and conquer, we were at least able to divide and get a score draw.

After a quick discussion of who was going where at the Kimball Arts Centre, while listening to the Festival jurors, including actress Sandra Oh, outline their hopes for the Festival (to see and promote good films, you'll be unsurprised to hear), I headed off to speak to young up-and-coming British actress Lucy Gordon, while Tony stuck around for the In Bruges press conference with Martin McDonagh, Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell.

It was only after my interviewee failed to show that I called the publicist to discover they had thought the interview was Saturday. I re-checked my email and discovered we were both right, in that originally the interview had been scheduled for Friday, 19th January. Since today, Friday, is the 18th, I should, by rights have spotted the conflict, still we rescheduled for tomorrow, so all is not lost and what would Sundance be without a little light rescheduling?

Fortunately, over at the press conference things were going rather more productively. More of which, later.

Only slightly sulking from my distinctly unproductive morning I headed for the madness of the Marriott press centre to catch a film in one of the video booths. Situated at the heart of the press office, these are black-curtained booths - as the American reviewer in the black box next to mine said: "ooh, how intimate."

The film I watched was also intimate. Up The Yangtze is a study of the flooding of the Yangtze by the Three Gorges Dam, as seen through the eyes of some of the local citizens, and in particular, two youngsters working on the Farewell Cruises which plough up and down the river, giving American tourists and nostalgic Chinese ex pats a chance to see the land again before it floods. Clearly showing the huge impact this is having on the local populace - around two million of whom have been displaced by the plans, the picture painted is one of hardship for the common man. In fact, the film would make an excellent companion piece to Still Life - a drama also set against the backdrop of the Three Gorges flooding - which is out on general release in the UK next month. Furthermore, Zeitgeist films has acquired it for theatrical distribution - it was the first deal made at Sundance.

Tony, meanwhile, found time to catch Black List. He writes...
The Black List comprises a series of interviews with twenty prominent African Americans ranging from rapper, Sean Combs to Colin Powell. Each subject offers up sometimes surprisingly candid anecdotes and opinions of the Black experience. Illuminating and refreshingly simple in its approach and when things become too serious there are the astute and hilarious observations of Chris Rock.

After that, with the reviewing gathering momentum, we headed to press screenings at the Yarrow. I opted for British documentary In Prison My Whole Life. Directed by Marc Evans it is ostensibly an investigation into the way the US justice system has treated black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal - who was arrested on the day Evans was born. Although the film touches on some very interesting issues as regards the way the justice system treats black Americans it lacks proper focus and buckles under the weight of unnecessary shaky camerawork and style posturings. While portions of those interviewed are very interesting, it feels too based in feelings and opinions with not enough facts to back it up.

Tony, meanwhile, was getting down wiv da' kidz courtesy of Sling Shot Hip Hop. He writes:
Slingshot Hip Hop takes a look at several groups of young Palestinian rappers and their trials both with the Israeli authorities and their own culture. Even more alienated from society are a pair of young girl rappers. A fascinating but naive look at a youth culture who may one day be the engine of true change in the Middle East.

After Chinese and a quick nip back to the ranch to stick on some additional layers to ward off the cold, we headed back into town for the screening of George A Romero's Diary Of The Dead. Spotted in the corridor, teetering on a pair of blue high heels was actress Michelle Morgan. Perhaps she was tired, but it did look as though some alcohol had been taken. Romero himself freely admitted to having had a tipple or two.

Introducing the film, he said: "I'm a little drunk... you come to a cold place and you've got to keep warm."

Speaking about the film, he said: "I'm honoured to be here. I was here only once before, it was Sundance 1977 - it wasn't even called Sundance then," adding "It brought me a great deal of luck."

The film concerns a group of students who opt to document the chaos after zombies begin to take over the streets. Its as much a commentary on the myspace/blogging culture as it is an examination of news media, all drenched in a suitable amount of gore, of course. It's clear that Romero has some 'issues' with the veracity of blogging and 'citizen journalism' in particular. He described it as an "octopus that has us all captive".

Personally, I found it enjoyable enough but lacking bite, although Tony said it was a vast improvement on Romero's last outing in the genre.

Following the screening, he took questions from the audience. When asked about the remake of Dawn Of The Dead, he said: "I wouldn't have done it." Despite going on to add that Zack Snyder is a "really good action director", it seems he feels his original point was lost in translation.

Proving how pop will most certainly eat itself, as Romero left the stage, a bloke in front of us, sporting a rather odd combination of fleece and bowler hat, turned his video camera on himself and said: "I've just watched Romero's latest zombie flick. It's the best, it was awesome! Word up." Maybe Romero has a point after all... but what would we know, we're 'only' internet journalists ourselves.

As it was 1am, we headed for the hills, to catch a couple of hours of shut eye before an early morning screening of Michael Keaton's The Merry Gentleman. About which, more tomorrow.

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