Sundance 2008: Day Eight

Hamlet 2 is hilarious, Triage hard-hitting and Ballast a let down, plus a chat with Marianna Palka.

by Amber Wilkinson and Tony Sullivan

Early start this morning to try to pack in as much as we can. I headed off to see documentary Triage: Dr James Orbinski's Humanitarian Dilemma. Like many of the documentaries at this year's festival, this has been generating an awful lot of buzz. Perhaps it is because some of the films in the dramatic competition are rather lacklustre, but it seems when you ask people what their favourite film has been, they nearly always cite something in one of the factual strands.

Triage is the perfect companion piece for Shake Hands With The Devil - which screened at Sundance way back in 2005. That doc - which is now out on DVD and which I cannot recommend highly enough - concerned Romeo Dallaire, the UN peacekeeper who found himself powerless in Rwanda. Triage, meanwhile is the doctor's story. James Orbinski worked for Medicines Sans Frontiers in a whole range of trouble spots. This film concentrates on his time in Rwanda - during the genocide - and in Sudan, during the famine there. An intensely personal recollection, it touches on themes that should concern us all and paints a picture of a remarkable set of people, willing to risk their lives to save others.

I had to skip the next screening to speak to Good Dick director Marianna Palka. She and her Good Dick co-star and partner, Jason Ritter, are on fine form but heading to see the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired. I'm vaguely jealous since unfortunately, I missed the press screening. Still, I've heard good things about it so perhaps we'll get to see it either on telly or at the cinema at some point soon. It was all a bit of a rush to be honest, but Marianna is clearly a woman who is going places. As the youngest director featured in the festival, she fully deserves all the plaudits she gets. We'll be bringing you the full interview at a later date, but she did reveal that she would love to work with Red Road's Andrea Arnold... but, then, who wouldn't? It's always good to see female filmmakers at Sundance since they, like female film critics are still, sadly, very much in the minority.

While all this was going on, Tony was catching more films. He writes...

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Captain Abu Raed - this first Jordanian independent feature film that concerns an airport janitor, Abu Raed (Nadim Sawalha) mistaken for a pilot by a group of ragamuffin kids who want to hear his exploits. To brighten their lives, and inadvertently his own, Raed begins weaving yarns for his attentive audience. One kid, Murad, spends his time trying to convince the other children that Raed is a liar. Raed becomes increasingly drawn into the problematic lives of the youngsters and Murad’s home situation in particular. The film is a total charmer with a knockout performance from Nadim Sawalha who has played countless Arab stereotypes in films such as The Spy Who Loved Me and Half Moon Street. So I doff my hat to Mr. Sawalha who I also recall as Best Man at the wedding of a friend of mine back in the 80s. The friend also pointed out Mr. Sawalha's daughter, Julia, as a face to watch for the future. With a vibe similar to Cinema Paradiso with a touch of the Bill Forsyth’s thrown in, I was totally won over by this delightful film.

Next up was Hamlet 2, a starring vehicle for Brit comic, Steve Coogan, who plays a failed actor who has now become a high school drama teacher. With the faculty against him and an unruly gaggle of students he sets about the production of his opus, Hamlet 2. If the previous synopsis sounds like a feel good vehicle for Robin Williams, be cheered, this is a screamingly funny anarchic madcap comedy of pratfalls, acid dialogue and bad taste. It has also just sold for $10million, so you can expect it at a multiplex near you in due course. Spotted at the press screening - Tom Arnold, who is certainly getting around a bit this week. Also overheard in The Yarrow, a rep on the phone trying to intice Eddie Murphy to make an advert for $37,000.

Since it was now close to 3pm food was definitely required and we opted for a trip to Main Street - since we haven't set foot their for days. After eating our body weight in beef sandwiches and onion rings, we headed up to ASCAP's Music Cafe at Sundance. Near the top of Main Street, this ensures a bit of a workout. We were expecting to see Dewey Cox and The Walk Harders, but in a change of schedule ended up seeing Orba Squara - a band whose instrumentation appeared to include a Fisher-Price xylophone. It was pleasant enough noodly doodly, indie windie music, although a bit samey. Still, we could imagine them appearing on no end of indie film romance soundtracks.

Next we invaded the Microsoft lodge for Pomegranite martinis - well, after a week surely we deserve a free drink? - and I couldn't resist the opportunity to tackle the rep on the thorny subject of HD-DVDs vs Blu-Ray DVD. Microsoft are still vigorously defending the format and are hinting of hardware price reductions to come in the next couple of weeks. Leaving the lodge we were treated to a four-pack of HD-DVDs... nice, just a shame neither of us have a player.

Heading back for a last blast of films, a conveniently organised second screening allowed me to catch up with another festival gem the story of two sisters who find themselves in the niche market of cleaning up crime scenes and similar bloody messes for a living. With Alan Arkin and Mary Lynn Rajskub on board perhaps the film might be better titled Little Miss Sunshine Cleaning. Nevertheless this gentle comedy of relationships and gore is a winning treat.

Amber, meanwhile, took in another film that has been generating a bucketload of buzz - Ballast. She writes... Maybe it's my European outlook but I really couldn't see the wide-ranging appeal in this very indie drama. So slow moving as to be sluggish it concerns a young boy, James, being brought up by his struggling mum and their relationship with the brother of James' dad, emotionally devastated after his sibling commits suicide.

This is not a bad film, but many will find the pace almost intolerable. It recalls David Gordon Green in some respects, although I would argue that debut helmer Lance Hammer doesn't have Green's flare for characterisation. I found the film rather flat and, on a purely practical note, the accent of the young boy was a particular struggle to grasp. Still, this film will also be seen in competition at Berlin, so maybe it is just me who doesn't see the appeal.

We headed back home to contemplate the potential prize-winners - although previous form suggests despite all the films we have watched, we won't have managed to catch many of the victors. The word on the street for the dramatic competition is that Sugar, Momma's Man and Ballast are all in contention, while in the documentary categories it seems things are much more tight, although Triage and Man On Wire seem to come up a lot.

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