Sundance Film Festival 2010: Day Five

Shorts in the snow and a Blue Valentine.

by Amber Wilkinson

Bobby Miller's Tub

Bobby Miller's Tub

It's true to say that the chances of eating three square meals a day are virtually nil in Park City, but I hadn't realised the probability of eating three triangular ones was quite so high. Breakfasts have been passing in a flurry of hastily grabbed Doritos, with nachos and pizza slices also coming high on the list of lunches and dinners. Hmm, triangular and corny. At least the latter matches the humour round these parts.

Since I was going to the Short Filmmakers bash this evening, it was about time that I actually watched some of them, so I headed up to the press office to bag a screening booth. It seems there are few technical issues there this year, as when I first put the headphones on I nearly blew an eardrum. On enquiring, I was told to maybe "hang them round my neck" since the volume control wasn't working. Travelling to festivals does make you despair for electrical equipment somewhat. I can't remember the last time I was at one when everything worked first time. Then again, my bad karma with electrics is well documented elsewhere on this site.

So, clutching a handful of shorts, I began - opting for a glamorous headphones-on-temples listening method which I thought gave me a sort of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest chic.

First up was Tub, which I picked because I liked their postcard, the tagline on which is: "Paul jerked off in the shower. Paul just impregnated his bath tub." Somehow reading that, I was expecting something considerably lighter in vein than the end result. This is a dark little number, owing a debt to the body horror of Cronenberg. It sees Paul fall particularly foul of a late night masturbatory exercise that ends in an evil looking baby being disgorged from the bath drain. It's very well acted, particularly by Eric Levy as Paul - it can't be easy to generate emotion when manhandling an animatronic infant. Director Bobby Miller also shows some nice touches, finding echoes in the action, such as Paul using a plunger to drag the baby out of the bathtub recalling his jerking off liaison of the previous night. It could do with a stronger narrative but it's certainly a solid calling card. You can see the trailer here http://www.tubmovie.com/

Next up was Jordan Vogt-Roberts Successful Alcoholics, which has some amusing aspects but feels distinctly long at 25 minutes. It tells the story of Drake (TJ Miller) and Lindsay (Lizzy Caplan) a couple who are a hit in the workplace despite being permanently out of their heads on booze. There are some good one-liners in here but this still feels like a sketch that overstays its welcome.

Echo
Echo

Not so Echo, which is a wonderful, if decidedly grim, short from Poland, telling the story of Arek (Radomir Rospondek) and Damian (Marak Kossakowski) - two boys who are forced by police to relive a heinous crime they committed and confront their victim's family. Magnus von Horn has,unsurprisingly, won a clutch of a awards for this beautifully shot film. He elicits powerful performances from his two leads, particularly Rospondek, and his shot composition - making good use of the full depth of the field - is excellent.

Attending the short filmmakers party this evening, I end up chatting to Irish director Ken Wardrop - who will be bringing his debut feature His & Hers to Glasgow next month. One of the nice things about Sundance is that it fosters friendships between filmmakers who are just starting out, meaning they're networking right from the get go. I come away with a clutch of film screeners after a fun night, and the winners, announced earlier in the evening, were Drunk History: Douglass & Lincoln (Directed By: Jeremy Konner, Screenwriter: Derek Waters), which took home the US gong and Six Dollar Fifty Man (Directed By: Mark Albiston & Louis Sutherland), named best international short.

Animator Leah Shore (MEATWAFFLE) with Mad Men's La Monde Byrd (he produced Family Jewels) at the short film bash
Animator Leah Shore (MEATWAFFLE) with Mad Men's La Monde Byrd (he produced Family Jewels) at the short film bash

Honorable Mentions went to Born Sweet (Director: Cynthia Wade), Can We Talk? (Director and screenwriter: Jim Owen), Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No (Director: James Blagden), How I Met Your Father (Director and screenwriter: Álex Montoya), Rob And Valentyna In Scotland (Director: Eric Lynne; Screenwriters: Eric Lynne and Rob Chester Smith), Young Love (Director and screenwriter: Ariel Kleiman), Quadrangle (Director: Amy Grappell).

I had seen Rob And Valentyna In Scotland earlier in the day, too. It's an odd beast of a short, telling the story of an American and his Ukrainian cousin travelling in Scotland. It's well acted and well shot but features an irritating voice-over narration that I feel it could well have done without.

In the feature film department, I spoke to director Tanya Hamilton and her producer Ron Simons - we'll bring you the full interview in the next week or two but I'm somewhat disappointed to hear that some UK distributors seem to be dismissing Night Catches Us out of hand. I'm sure there would be an audience for it... and can't help hoping that the imminent release of the, flawed, Precious, will help.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Willians in Blue Valentine
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Willians in Blue Valentine

As for watching features, I saw just one today - Blue Valentine. It's been getting plenty of buzz, but then, buzz films come around about once every four hours out at Sundance, a city where hyperbole can take hold and be passed around as quick as the flu. In the case of Blue Valentine, it is at least deserving of some of the praise - although I do wonder how easy it will be to sell to a viewing public. It is an emotionally intense drama starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling as a couple, with a young daughter, whose marriage is on the rocks. Read the full review.

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