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Adventures of a film student: Sundance Film Festival

Sundance Film Festival is an independent filmmakers festival one of the most important festivals that any film fan can ever be a part of. It is one of the most influential film festivals in the world and it is where many a director and/or writer are discovered. Every year since 1978, during the last couple of frigid weeks in January, strangers come from all over the world in order to be around those who love film just as much as they do and hopefully be part of the viewing to see the next big film to break out into the mainstream. Past films that have received critical acclaim and have become a part of public consciousness have been Reservoir Dogs, Saw, Napoleon Dynamite, The Usual Suspects, Memento, and even last year’s Manchester by the Sea, which is currently nominated for several Oscars. I had the privilege of seeing several films that I believe may have a chance of joining this group.

Walking Out: This was the first film I saw and it was a solid way to begin the festival. This is a tense father/son film about a duo that gets stranded on the top of a mountain during a hunting trip and their survival trying to make it down the mountain. Directed by brothers Alex and Andrew Smith and starring a career-best performance from Matt Bomer (White Collar), this is one you should check if you are interested in a survival story with more depth than expected.

Ingrid Goes West: The first two thirds of this are about as quirky as quirky gets. It follows a woman with some serious stalker mentality (Aubrey Plaza) moving to California to try to befriend a lifestyle guru (Elizabeth Olsen). If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, you will. While it gets overly serious in the end, this film, directed by Matt Spicer, is genuinely entertaining for a majority of its runtime.

XX: This is an anthology horror film that contains five different stories told by five different directors, all of whom are women, hence the title. The first two stories told in this film are pretty awful. While they’re technically well-made, they aren’t scary or interesting in the slightest. The back half of the film is where it becomes fantastic. The third story is a great and scary monster story, while the fourth is a tense, creepy story a la The Witch. There is also a fifth Claymation story dispersed in between the core stories that’s well animated, creepy, and surprisingly heartfelt.

78/52: This is a deep dive documentary into the three minute shower scene in Psycho. It is a fantastic look into the making of the scene and just a really well-made documentary in general. If you are a film fan or a fan of Hitchcock, you should definitely seek this out.

God’s Own Country: This is a film about an English farmer who is struggling accepting who he is, being a gay man, until a seasonal farmhand comes to help the family farm. This is a technically beautiful film and it looks gorgeous, it is just boring beyond all reason. The characters are inherently uninteresting and one-dimensional and nothing of any interest happens until the last fifteen minutes of the film.

Golden Exits: When I left the theater after the screening of this film, I felt like I was the only person who liked it. This film is essentially about people who are just living life and showing the struggle of common people. There is endless dialogue and no story and I was ok with that simplicity. There were only a couple of characters who were likable, but combined with the dialogue and lacks of story, it just made the film feel real. If you’re into that kind of style, then I think you’ll enjoy this film, if not, steer clear.

Reservoir Dogs: This was simply a fantastic opportunity, seeing one of the best Tarantino films on the big screen on a new 35mm print so that it looked gorgeous as well, was surreal. Tarantino was also at the screening and did a Q&A afterwards, which was great.

The Incredible Jessica James: This is a simple rom-com that serves more as a vehicle for Jessica Williams (The Daily Show) to showcase her talents, in which she does. She is fantastic in this film and without her this film would be nothing all that special. But because of Williams, this film is genuinely funny and heartfelt and became one of my favorites that I saw at the festival.

Rebel in the Rye: This is a biopic about J.D. Salinger, the author of Catcher in the Rye. This also turned out to be my favorite film that I saw at the festival. It is a well-told story about the rise of Salinger before, during, and after World War II and how he came to write his most famous novel. It also features a great performance by Kevin Spacey and a possible career-changing performance for Nicholas Hoult as J.D. Salinger.

If any of these films peaked your interest, jot them down, so that when they are released in theaters or on demand, you are able to support them and the independent film genre as a whole.


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Scott Brown

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