Movie Beat: The lure of trying to see everything at Sundance Film Festival

by Jenniffer Wardell

Sundance Film Festival always makes me a little crazy.

I don’t mean the mid-festival, I’ve-watched-so-many-movies-I-see-credits-in-my-sleep kind of crazy, though that definitely comes later. No, the crazy that hits me now is the same one that hits a hungry person in front of the world’s most delicious buffet — you want to taste all of it, but there’s a little thing like reality standing in the way.

This year’s Sundance has more than 100 films on the docket, ranging from offbeat comedies to tense thrillers to deep-digging documentaries. All audiences know about most of the movies are the cast and crew, any pre-festival buzz, and the tantalizing little summaries posted online at the festival website. There’s no reviews, no ad campaigns, and no trailers — just a few verbal clues to tone and tantalizing, tantalizing potential.

And oh, I get so tempted. Not by everything — there are always some movies that seem a little too dark for me, and when push comes to shove I’ll usually go with English language over non-English language films. But Sundance divides their lineup into several different categories, and every single one has at least three or four movies that I really, really want to see.

This year is no different. Daisy Ridley (from the new “Star Wars” movies) is Ophelia in a version of “Hamlet” that’s been rewritten from her perspective. Paul Rudd is a baseball player turned covert agent in a spy flick apparently based on a true story. Comedian Bo Burnham has written and directed his own movie.

Mr. Rogers finally has his own documentary, as does Robin Williams. Peter Dinklage (the witty one on “Game of Thrones”) and Elle Fanning are alone together in a comedy about the end of the world. On a related note, someone even managed to make a romantic comedy about the 2016 elections. Over in the kids’ movies, there’s even an actual mermaid.

It’s true that some of the movies will end up being terrible. “The Lobster” and “Last Days in the Desert” are two of my least favorite movies of all time, and I saw both of them at Sundance. There have been other movies that were simply forgettable, or that proved to be uninteresting to me for one reason or another.

But I’ve seen some wonderful movies here, too. “My Life as a Zucchini” and “Sing Street” were both magical movies I never would have seen if I hadn’t seen them at Sundance, and I now count them among my favorite films. “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl” was beautiful and made me cry. “Chuck Norris vs. Communism,” about black market VHS in Communist countries, is still among the most entertaining documentaries I’ve ever seen. “Swiss Army Man” is easily the strangest movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s an experience I’m very glad I had.

In a perfect world, I would magically have tickets to everything and be able to take off an entire week of work. Though many of the movies do end up getting released after the festival in one format or another, there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to access it. Some movies, particularly those without a famous name in the cast, slip through the cracks completely.

So when the festival comes, I’ll do my very best to see everything I can. No matter how many I make it to, however, I’ll always wish it was more.

Cutline: Elsie Fisher in comedian Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade,” premiering at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)


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