John Cooper, the long term festival staffer and newly appointed festival director, views the fest as a “great independent pause between the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.” I guess in my terms, the fest is like the Days of (cinematic) Awe that are between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.The festival opened Thursday with a press conference by Robert Redford, who opined that the festival was getting staid and scared of trying new things and was creatively “in “danger of flat-lining.â€ For this reason, Sundance is shaking things up in 2010. One change is its section for â€œNextâ€ films, films that are low-budget or no-budget; a partnership with YouTube to show films; and even a 3D film. Yes, Sundance will screen a 3D film, albeit it is a documentary and about toads. See it before lunch.
Redford, paraphrased a poem by T. S. Elliot., â€œThe Four Quartets,â€ which ends with the idea that we must return to the beginning with new fresh eyes and see it anew, when it reads,
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Sort of like the rabbis, who tell us to turn and turn the Torah, to see it from various angles and facets with new eyes.As for Jewish films, there are plenty. The festival opened with â€œHowl,â€ directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Set in 1957, it is the story of Allen Ginsberg and his gamechanging poem, “Howl.” The filmmakers began the project as a documentary, a form with which they are familiar. They are the directors of award winning documentaries on the â€œcelluloid closetâ€ and Harvey Milk. They had been approached by Ginsberg’s estate to make a film to mark the 50th anniversary of the poem. After much effort, they decided to turn it into a narrative feature film with documentary-like aspects. James Franco, who Adam Sandler would point out is half-Jewish, stars as the gay, Jewish, Kaddish-reciting, beat-movement poet, Allen Ginsberg.
Another greatly anticipated film is â€œHoly Rollers,â€ directed by Kevin Asch. It stars Jesse Eisenberg as a young Hasid who, angry at his father’s failing economic status, turns to the drugs trade, and with other Hasidic youth, act as drug mules to smuggle Ecstasy to the US from Amsterdam in the late 90’s. A shanda? yes. But based on the true events of the Israeli grug traffickers and their scheme to use young Hasidic men and woman as drug mules. It is a story of faith and â€œblind faith.â€Documentaries of special interest include â€œCasino Jack and the United States of Money,â€ about Jack Abramoff, the Washington DC super lobbyist and observant Jew who was convicted of corruption and fraud; â€œFreedom Riders,â€ directed by Stanley Nelson, about the 1961 fight against segregation in the American South; â€œJoan River – A Piece of Work,â€ directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, about the private dramas of comedian and entrepreneur, Joan Rivers; â€œA Film Unfinished,â€ a documentary by Yael Hersonski, is a German/Israel co-production about the Nazi-produced propaganda films of the Warsaw Ghetto, and their later postwar discovery and use by historians; and â€œFix Meâ€ by Raed Andoni, an Arabic language documentary set in Ramallah that follows the filmmaker through twenty therapy sessions as he tries to cure his condition of being Palestinian.
More on these films, and the Israeli filmmakers with shorts in the festival in my next posting.