Top Picks From Sundance Film Festival

The Egyptian Theater on Main Street in Park City, Utah right before opening day of this years Sundance Film Festival.
Courtesy of Amanda Wood Harris - The Egyptian Theater on Main Street in Park City, Utah right before opening day of this years Sundance Film Festival.

In a little over two weeks movie fans throughout the world will celebrate the best films of the past year when funnyman Seth MacFarlane (“Family Guy”) steps onto the stage at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre to host the 85th Academy Awards.

But for those like Connie White, artistic director at the Provincetown International Film Festival, now is a time to look ahead at the films that will captivate audiences over the next year or two.

That is where a film festival like Sundance, which ended a little over a week ago, becomes an invaluable resource for someone like her, who also happens to book films for independent movie theaters like the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, and the Broadway Centre Cinemas in Salt Lake City. “It is really a launching pad for American independent films people are going to see in movie theaters or on HBO or Showtime in the next two years,” she said.

This marked the 11th year White has attended Sundance, a festival she bookends with the much more audience-friendly Toronto International Film Festival in September.

In 2004 she served as a juror thanks to her friendship with then-director of programming John Cooper, who now serves as Sundance’s director. And she currently is one of the organizers of the Art House Convergence, a conference held four days prior to the start of Sundance, and started in 2006 as a way to bring independent art house operators together to discuss the challenges they face and share their successes with one another.

Sundance, held in Park City, Utah, brings together the ski culture with those working in the film industry. “Everyone from Nicole Kidman to you name it are all wearing ski outfits, UGG boots and big furry vests,” she said. “A lot of the people from the film industry go to watch films and ski, and they are torn between the two because the skiing is absolutely incredible there." 

White’s focus is solely on the movies, trying to discover which ones would be best fit Provincetown’s slate. Over the course of a six day period this year she was able to squeeze in 21 films. 

Which one will serve to wow audiences like last year’s Jury Prize-winning “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, now up for four Oscar nominations? White took time to share her thoughts on this year’s top films to come out of Sundance, and some of which may end up at festivals like Provincetown. “On average we play 60 features and always we have at least 10 that come out of Sundance,” she said. “It is such a major event in film that everybody is using it as their launching pad for the festivals this spring and summer.”

FRUITVALE

Based on the real-life police shooting of Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old black man in Oakland on New Year’s Eve in 2009, “Fruitvale” was the darling of the festival, capturing both the audience award and the Grand Jury Prize.

The film, directed by 26-year-old USC film school grad Ryan Coogler, follows Grant in the last 24 hours of his life. “We get to learn who he is and what his life is like,” White said. “It is really a sad movie.”

Coogler’s film was purchased by Miramax for $2.5 million, far surpassing the $1 million FOX Searchlight shelled out for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

LOVELACE

The biopic delves into the troubling life of 70s porn star Linda Lovelace, played by Amanda Seyfried (“Les Miserables”; “In Time”), and the abuse she faced at the hand of her first husband Chuck Traynor, played by Peter Sarsgaard (“Green Lantern”; “Jarhead”).

“It is really good,” White said. “It’s not an exploitation film. It is a film about her, and tells her story which is really, really sad.”

The film is one of two White highlighted that has a Provincetown connection as it is directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the duo who made “Howl”, a film about poet Allen Ginsberg, that kicked off the Cape festival in 2010.

White said Cape Codders should expect the pair to return this summer thanks to their latest effort. “We are hoping to bring it to Provincetown in June,” she said.

KILL YOUR DARLINGS

This is another film that has a connection to the Provincetown Film Festival. Christine Vachon (“Boys Don’t Cry”; “Kids”), who sits on the advisory board for the festival, produced this drama that details the murder of David Kammerer in 1944 at Columbia University, at the hands of Lucien Carr, and its connection to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs.  

Harry Potter fans will undoubtedly delight in seeing Daniel Radcliffe showcase his acting skills in the role of Ginsberg.

AFTER TILLER

This powerful documentary looks at the four doctors who continue to perform third-term abortions following the 2009 assassination of a similar physician, Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas. “It is a really difficult movie, but it is excellent,” White said.

TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM

A much lighter documentary, “Twenty Feet From Stardom”, puts the spotlight on those often in the background: backup singers for music heavyweights like Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler and the Rolling Stones.

This was the first movie bought at this year’s festival, snatched up by the Weinstein Co. which purchased the rights to distribute the film in North America.

BLACKFISH

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwait, this documentary examines killer whales held in captivity at amusement theme parks like SeaWorld. And it highlights one, Tilikum, an orca that has killed three people including trainer Dawn Brancheau three years ago.

ANITA

Most people know Anita Hill as the woman who brought sexual harassment charges against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991. “Anita” explores what has happened to Hill since those hearings and how it helped motivate her to become an advocate for equality and women’s issues.

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