Sundance Film Festival promises gems, duds

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    By Miriam Meek

    Expect the unexpected.

    This may be the best piece of advice for students who will be making the trek north to the Sundance Film Festival over the next 10 days.

    With reviews in the Sundance program guide that make all 160 films sound like pure cinematic genius, it”s hard to predict which ones are the true gems, said Bradon Griggs, arts writer for The Salt Lake Tribune.

    Although a little research about the directors or cast members can help in the selection process, the best part about a new film is the enigma that surrounds it.

    Sean Means, movie critic for the Tribune, said festival goers could decide just as well how to spend their time by pinning a movie schedule to the wall and throwing darts at it.

    “You just have to go, take a chance and play roulette with the whole thing. Some movies might be good, some might be bad, but it”s an experience because some of these films will never show up anywhere else again,” he said.

    Independent films often take risks that movie studios, with millions of dollars at stake, will not, Means said.

    In other words, some films are not geared toward the popcorn-driven viewer looking solely for entertainment.

    The festival has also consistently been an arena for controversial issues and minority voices that have not found a place in mainstream theaters, he said. A diverse pattern of movies emerge each year that deal with everything from race and gender to sexual preference.

    This year, a large number of African-American films are featured. Some of these focus on the black middle class or black heroes, such as “Marcus Garvey: Look For Me in the Whirlwind,” directed by Stanley Nelson.

    The stereotype that independent films at Sundance receive, however, for being edgy, violent or sexual is not always well deserved, Means said. The range is wider than most people think because uplifting, friendly and family-oriented movies are also shown.

    While these low-key films exist, the nature of independent films is that they do not produce a lot of G- or PG-rated cinema, said Jeff Vice, movie critic for the Deseret News.

    Most movies at the festival do not have ratings because a fee must be paid to the Motion Picture Association of America to receive one. And filmmakers with low budgets are not going to pay money if their work is only playing at Sundance.

    Absent ratings can make it harder for viewers to know what will be seen or heard on the big screen, he said.

    Patrons at one Utah County theater had a run-in with this in January 2000. A Sundance Film Festival official issued an apology to the SCERA, a family theater in Orem, Utah, after almost half of its patrons walked out during a love scene they found offensive at a screening.

    This year, no films will be shown in Utah County except at Sundance Resort.

    R.J. Millard, press officer for the Sundance Film Festival, said it has become increasingly difficult to find movies that go with the conservative values that dominate the county. Movies will continue to show in Salt Lake City, Park City and Ogden theaters.

    Many Sundance films could do fine in Utah County if both sides dropped their perceptions and worked with each other, said Dean Duncan, assistant film professor at BYU.

    “There”s a real snooty posturing from Sundance folk that Utah County is filled with a bunch of hayseeds. But conversely, there are a lot of people here who think Sundance is full of nitwits,” he said.

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