Sundance 2011 Preview

[Editor’s Note: With this post, High-Def Digest Blu-ray reviewer Aaron Peck joins us here at The Bonus View blog. Among other things, Aaron will be contributing some film festival coverage, starting this month at Sundance. I’ll let Aaron take it away from here. -JZ]

Around this time every year, I become giddier than on Christmas Day. That’s because I’m anticipating that any second I’ll receive notification from the Sundance Film Festival that I’ve been accepted as a member of the press for another year. Having press credentials means a few important things:

First, I get to see as many movies as I want at the press screenings. That’s nice because they play back-to-back-to-back in the same theaters. Even though it’s the most convenient way to watch movies, it’s not the most exciting.

With credentials, I’m also able to request tickets to public screenings. The public screenings are where the directors and cast usually appear for Q&As afterward, so I make a point to see as many public screenings as humanly possible. It’s also fun to be in the first movie-going audience to ever see that specific movie.

Enough about me. Let’s talk about the festival.

Sundance 2011 has a lot of promising films that I’m excited to see. Over the next few weeks or so, I’ll preview each of the various categories, and point out those I’m most thrilled for. Remember, Sundance usually gives us a good clue of what to expect in the coming year or two. This year, around awards time, Sundance movies like ‘Winter’s Bone‘, ‘Blue Valentine’, ‘The Kids Are All Right‘, ‘Restrepo’, and ‘Animal Kingdom’ are all being remembered and may win some big awards.

Sundance has also produced crowd favorites in the past couple years like ‘(500) Days of Summer‘, ‘An Education‘, ‘Splice‘, and ‘Please Give‘. Last year’s Academy Award winning documentary ‘The Cove’ premiered at the festival. Needless to say, this is an important film festival to cover.

For Sundance newbies, here is the rundown of the categories that will be featured at the festival:

Films in Competition

The following four categories are competition categories. Each of the movies here will be judged by a panel of jury members and awarded at the end of the festival if they win. Last year, ‘Winter’s Bone’ won the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize while ‘Restrepo’ took home the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary.

U.S. Documentary Competition – Documentaries from the U.S. compete, and will be judged by one of the juries at the festival. This section is home to a few promising docs like ‘Beats, Rhymes and Life’ (directed by Michael Rapaport), which is about the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. ‘How to Die in Oregon’ (directed by Peter D. Richardson) takes a look at how Oregon legalized euthanasia. Perhaps the doc that sounds the most interesting is ‘BEING ELMO: A Puppeteer’s Journey’ (directed by Constance Marks), where we meet the man – Kevin Clash – behind the famous little red puppet.

U.S. Dramatic Competition – 16 movies from U.S. filmmakers were selected for this group. I like the sound of ‘Another Earth’ (directed by Mike Cahill), which promises to add some sci-fi elements to the festival with the discovery of an alternate Earth. ‘HERE’ (directed by Braden King) stars Ben Foster. Never, ever miss a Ben Foster performance – that’s my motto. After ‘The Messenger‘, I’ll never miss the chance to see him in another festival film. ‘Terri’ (directed by Azazel Jacobs) stars John C. Reilly from last year’s ‘Cyrus‘.

World Cinema Documentary Competition – 796 documentaries were submitted for this category and only 12 made the cut. Sundance prides itself on discovering new and inventive documentaries, and this section looks like it’s full of them. ‘The Flaw’ (directed by David Sington) comes to us from across the pond in UK and gives a different view of the collapse of the American financial system. ‘Hell and Back Again’ (directed by Danfung Dennis) could be this year’s ‘Restrepo’. It’s one man’s journey into the heart of war, and his struggle to acclimate himself into society when he returns.

World Cinema Dramatic Competition – 14 films were selected to compete in this category that features dramatic films from around the world. ‘The Guard’ (directed by John Michael McDonagh) stars some big names from Don Cheadle to Brendan Gleeson. From Canada comes a film called ‘Vampire’ (directed by Iwai Shunji) that may just answer the question of what happened to that Rachel Leigh Cook girl that used to be such a big deal. ‘All Your Dead Ones’ (directed by Carlos Moreno) sounds interesting enough. Hailing from Columbia, it’s about a man who wakes up to find a pile of dead people in his field.

Films Not in Competition

Documentary Premieres – This is a new section for this year, featuring more documentaries all from the U.S. The one that’s already gaining a good amount of buzz is Morgan Spurlock’s new doc ‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’, which tells the story of branding and product placement in the movies we watch.

Next – This is a category that features the true indie spirit of filmmaking. Movies in this section are required to have been produced with little to no production budget. ‘The Lie’ (directed by Joshua Leonard) is about a man who tells a lie in order to stay home from work, which starts a chain of unforeseen events. ‘to.get.her’ (directed by Erica Dunton) sounds a little ‘Traveling Pants’-ish. It’s about a group of girls who come together one night when anything goes.

Park City at Midnight – Perhaps the most exciting and unexpected category of the entire festival is Park City at Midnight. Added only a couple years ago, this section was created so Sundance could start introducing genre films like horror flicks and extreme comedies to the festival. Last year, we had quite a few winners in this section, such as ‘Splice’, ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’, and ‘Buried’. This year looks fantastic with the addition of ‘Troll Hunter’ (directed by Andre Ovredal). It comes from Norway and is about a man who tries to keep Scandinavia safe from giant trolls. ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ (directed by Jason Eisener) has already gained steam in the PR engine. What’s more exciting than the thought of Rutger Hauer as a hobo exacting justice with his shotgun? ‘The Oregonian’ (directed by Calvin Lee Reeder) is one of those movies that draws you in with its simple premise. A girl survives a terrible car accident in the middle of nowhere and “limps off into the nightmarish unknown.”

Premieres – Sometimes the films in the Premiere section hardly seem “indie” at all. They usually already have distributors, and they also have some big name actors headlining. Still, this is a great section to get a peek at what we’ll see in theaters the next year or so. Last year, movies like ‘Get Low’, ‘The Runaways‘, and ‘The Company Men’ came from this section. This year looks like a stronger list than last year, actually. We’ve got a highly anticipated movie like ‘Red State’ (directed by Kevin Smith). It has already gained quite a bit of notoriety because Smith said that he wants to publicly auction the distribution rights to the movie after its premiere at Sundance. ‘My Idiot Brother’ (directed by Jesse Peretz) stars some fan favorites like Paul Rudd and Zooey Deschenal.

Here’s the ‘Red State’ teaser trailer:

Spotlight – This section is simply described by the Sundance team as, “Cinema we love.” Spotlight is where you can get just about anything. I’m extremely excited for ‘I Saw the Devil’ (directed by Kim Jee-woon), which is about a young agent tracking down a serial killer. ‘Kaboom’ (directed by Gregg Araki) centers on the sexual awakening of a group of college students, all the while being a sci-fi piece. ‘Meek’s Cuttoff’ (directed by Kelly Reichardt) is a period piece starring Paul Dano and the amazing Michelle Williams about a family in 1845 that gets stuck in the mountains and faces surviving in nature.

There you have it. That’s just a sneak peek of the lineup that Sundance is offering this year. I already have about 24 movies tentatively scheduled over the course of the ten-day festival, and I’m sure to be adding more when I get there.

So, join me as I chronicle my third consecutive journey to Sundance here on the Bonus View blog!

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