Sundance Film Festival 2010: Day Four

Stalking Four Lions, Smash His Camera, Exit Through The Gift Shop and Night Catches Us.

by Amber Wilkinson

Marlon Brando and Ron Galella in Smash His Camera

Marlon Brando and Ron Galella in Smash His Camera

One thing they don't tell you about when you start coming out to Sundance is that, chances are, eventually, you'll feel like a celebrity stalker. It's not that you derive any great pleasure by repeatedly asking publicists to please let you talk to their talented charges or, indeed, that they get a buzz out of being unable to help, it's like a dance that no one enjoys - a sort of journalistic/PR equivalent of The Birdie Song (I'm told the US equivalent of this is The Chicken Song). Sometimes persistence pays off. And sometimes it doesn't.

It certainly hasn't for me as far as Chris Morris is concerned. Despite cajoling, begging and just about every position in between (no, not that one) - no dice. Oh, but he is a tease. Not for him the straightforward "No." Rather a "perhaps, perhaps, perhaps" refrain that lasted around four days. It strikes me as curious that a filmmaker wouldn't want to speak out to help push a film as good as Four Lions is or to point out that it is nowhere near as controversial in its humour as the subject manner might suggest.

But then lot of things were puzzling me this morning, such as why on earth Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character in Jack Goes Boating appears to be attempting to sport some sort of dreadlocks. Suffice to say, the film is not growing on me at all, in fact, the more I think about it, the less I like it.

Fortunately, the opposite is true of paparazzi documentary Smash His Camera, which just gets better on reflection. Partly the study of a one-man force of nature, it also raises fascinating questions about privacy and freedom of the press as well as touching on the fleeting nature of fame. You can read the full review here

The shadowy figure of Banksy in his film
The shadowy figure of Banksy in his film

The fickle nature of celebrity and success are also examined in the Sundance Surprise movie - Banksy flick Exit Through The Gift Shop. Looking at the higher echelons of the British press, you'd think everyone was familiar with Banksy, but let's be honest, the super-secret street artist is not quite the household name some might purport him to be. But even if the name isn't that familiar, there's a good chance you've seen some of his art, which is often touching and funny in equal measure (you can see some on his official site). It's worth noting that street art goes way beyond what you'd normally expect from tagging or grafitti, and often includes stencils or even installations.

Exit Through The Gift Shop is something of a curate's egg, in that it begins with Banksy explaining how he came to be involved in a documentary at all. It was all a matter of chance really, when a Frenchman named Thierry picked up a camera one day and became obssessed with shooting everything and anything. How 'real' Thierry is, one can only guess, but much of the documentary is a lot of fun and there are plenty of laughs along the way, while early shots showing the creation of street art are compelling. You can read the full review here

Anthony Mackie and Jamara Griffin in Night Catches Us
Anthony Mackie and Jamara Griffin in Night Catches Us

Sandwiched between the two docs in my schedule was entertaining drama Night Catches Us - which I suspect may struggle to find a British distributor due to its Afro-American context although, if any of you distribution types happen to reading, you should see it, this is an accomplished film dealing with universal themes and features some of the best acting I've seen all week.

It's 1976 and the times are a changing. In a working-class neighbourhood the once prevalent Black Panthers are now a largely spent force but when Marcus (Anthony Mackie) returns home old tensions - and flames - reignite as the past threatnens to inflict itself on the present. Mackie is brilliant in the central role, matched step for step by Kerry Washington, who plays his friend's widow, Patty. This is a 'simple' film in the most positive sense. The story is deep but easy to follow, the acting excellent, the direction impressive and the scripting tight. Unlike many Sundance films it goes the distance in terms of its runtime. It is all the more impressive when you realise this is a debut piece by Tanya Hamilton - who easily marks herself out as a new writer/director to watch.

Night Catches Us director Tanya Hamilton
Night Catches Us director Tanya Hamilton

After the screening Hamilton took questions. She said: "From very on in this process I wanted to make a film about people coming home from war in a way and not so tremendously broken apart, but just that ordinary way when people are a little bit damaged and have to figure out how to make their way through life.

"That's what caught my eye the most, the ordinary sort of damage that gets done when you're long and involved in something like this that's intense and then you have follow this thing through life the rest of the way, carry the pieces with you and that's what I wanted for all the characters in this film."

I'm speaking to her tomorrow - and very much looking forward to it. Not least, because it was organised without need for The Birdie Song.

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