Sundance Film Festival 11 begins: A Pariah and a Chimp

She's not feminine like her mom wants, and she's not butch like her best friend wants, and she can't quite tell what it is she wants for herself. I'd say it feels like the work of a young director who hasn't quite found her voice yet — it's a bit overly melodramatic, trying a bit too hard to make the audience feel something, and too often has characters say things that a stronger writer would find a way to show without saying. Still, the performances were very strong, and the cinematography striking. It's a promising first film, and I expect Dee Rees to someday deliver a truly exceptional film.

What's astonishing, and makes Sundance such a unique place for film, is that in spite of its many merits anyone would have to admit that the film was a hard sell. In the Q&A, the producer spoke about difficulties raising the money. As the director pointed out, only partially joking, there are three things almost guaranteed to turn off investors at a film pitch session: female black lead, lesbian and "coming of age" — and this film had all three. Given the hard sell, I found it impressive that nearly a thousand excited moviegoers were willing to stand in line in the snow in order to see the film.

[image-1]The alternative opening film, a documentary playing in the much smaller Egyptian theater, explores the life of Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee raised like a human child from birth. It's directed by James Marsh, who also directed the Academy Award-winning Man on Wire. I missed this one — both were playing the same time and I had to pick — but I can't wait.  I'll definitely keep you posted.

Nathan Andersen teaches film at Eckerd College. He and his students will be reporting their impressions of Sundance 2011 throughout the festival.

So we made it out to Park City, and things are just beginning to kick into high gear. Snoop Dogg's at the famous Harry-O's Bar, Lou Reed's rumored to be around somewhere. Minor swag's everywhere — hats with logos, flavored waters, Luna bars, Brita bottles and cans of Red Bull. Decked-out stars and gazers stroll up and down Main Street. What it's really all about, though, are the movies.

It's been usual for Sundance to open up on day one with a heavy-hitter featuring major stars in a film big enough that the term "indie" only barely qualifies, and play it in the massive Eccles theater — this year they didn't do that. They still played in the Eccles theater, but for opening night film they picked an accomplished first feature by a young director, Dee Rees, that draws upon her own experience coming out in New York City.

Pariah tells about a young black woman who knows she's gay, but doesn't quite like the lifestyle of the only open lesbians she knows.

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