My trip to Sundance was brief this year – just three days – but productive. I decided to stretch my festival travel budget by not purchasing an expensive pass, which kept me from seeing some of the big attractions, like Before Midnight by our honorary board member, Richard Linklater. Admittedly, that was frustrating, but, luckily, much of what I wanted to see was off the beaten track and available to individual ticket buyers.
And what has become my favorite part of Sundance – the New Frontier section of media installations – was free. There were several strong installations there, with my favorite being North of South, East of West, a four-wall, four-screen narrative feature that was, to my surprise, commissioned by Ballroom Marfa in 2011. The artist, Meredith Danluck, does an impressive job of steering the gaze of audience members, sitting on swivel chairs in the center of the room, around the room as we attempt to take in the interrelated stories. The acting (especially by Ben Foster, who showed up in Braden King’s multi-screen performance, Here (The Story Sleeps), at our festival two years ago) is terrific and the script quite funny, so I think our audience will love it, if we can get it for our next festival.
People (including critic Nancy Wozny) were enthralled by Phil Solomon’s three-screen American Falls in our last festival, and so I’m encouraged to continue featuring strong multi-screen experiments. When I was at Miami Art Basel in December, I saw and admired Eija Liisa-Ahtila’s The Annunciation, a 35-minute narrative about a director staging scenes of Mary’s encounter with the angel, shown on three walls in the Bass Museum. I was very pleased when, coincidentally, Ahtila’s gallery sent me two film versions of The Annunication, one single-screen and one split-screen, and asked if we’d consider showing them back-to-back in next year’s festival.
In the New Frontier shorts program, I saw work by two artists, Kevin Jerome Everson (Century) and Yung Jake, a hip-hop new media artist, that excited me, and I extended a festival invitation to Kevin (who was a colleague of mine when I worked at the Virginia Film Festival and the University of Virginia employed us both). I hope he accepts. Meanwhile, you don’t have to wait until November to see Yung Jake’s work, including this mind-boggling HTML5 Internet experience featured at New Frontier.
Since HCAS has me on the lookout for films about artists, I checked out a film about a couple of married painters, Cutie and the Boxer. The Boxer is Ushio Shinohara, a real action painter who box-paints his canvas, as you’ll see in the photo at the top of this post that I took at a live performance after the screening. Discovering, within a captivating documentary, great artists whose work was previously unknown to me, reminded me of my first encounter with Searching for Sugarman at Sundance last year. I hope Cutie and the Boxer, which was picked up by the Weinstein Company, becomes as big a hit. If it’s not out by November, I will happily include it in our program.