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by Dan Nuxoll
January 24th, 2010

boy.jpgMy first day at Sundance
went pretty smoothly, especially considering that I had to wake up at 4 AM to
catch my plane and that they had to make an emergency landing when someone fell
seriously ill over the Midwest. I didn’t get into Park City until 2 PM, yet
still managed to catch four films and get back to my hotel at a relatively
reasonable hour. Intermittent text messages inform me that at 2:15 AM the
B-Side/FantasticFest karaoke slam is still raging, but I think that perhaps I
will wait until tomorrow to hit the parties.
First film up today was
“Boy,” a genuinely charming narrative feature from New Zealand filmmaker Taika
Waititi. We screened Waititi’s short film “Two Cars, One Night” in 2008, and
this feature is somewhat based on some of the characters and scenario that
worked exquisitely well in the short. Set in the 80’s, “Boy” tells the story of
an imaginative but restless adolescent boy living in Waihau Bay who must deal
with the return from prison of his irresponsible father (played winningly by Waititi
himself). The film is charming without ever becoming too cute, broad without
ever becoming trite, and it compares well to somewhat similar films like Son of
Rambow and Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. I found it much less forced and
substantially more amusing than either of those films, and the response here
has been generally positive, except for a rather luke-warm review in Variety.

Next up was Catfish, which simply blew me away. A genuinely shocking and
suspenseful true-life story involving one of the most unusual instances of
Facebook stalking yet documented, Catfish is so entertainingly twisty that many
here at Sundance are still arguing over whether or not the doc is legitimately
non-fiction (it is).

If you are in Park City
this week, GO SEE “CATFISH.” It just does so many things right and offers so
much to talk about that it demands to be seen. It is vibrantly of-the-moment
and almost magically relevant to debates swirling about a half dozen different
issues of our time, some big and some small. It never shies away from the idea
that our culture is obsessed with self-documentation and social networks, but
Joost, Schulman and Pontier wisely refrain from slowing down the story with any
meandering discussion of the issue–they simply let the story tell itself and
leave the audience to ask each other questions after the credits roll. It is a
very personal story but it is much too entertaining and briskly told to be
accused of being indulgent. It features some simple but highly innovative visual
storytelling mechanisms that manage to convey life as it is lived online
without resorting to irritating animation or quirky contrivances. And yet,
despite it’s various accomplishments, “Catfish” leaves you because it manages to
end on a note of bittersweet empathy that rings true despite the freaky string
of events that preceded. “Catfish” is the talk of the town and deservedly
so.

I followed up Catfish with
Chico Colvard’s “Family Affair,” a bleak but strikingly honest documentary
about the filmmaker’s tortured family history. Colvard accidentally shot his
sister with his father’s rifle when he was a young child, and this incident set
in motion a series of events and revelations that soon led to his father being
sent to jail for molesting each of his daughters. Well told and courageously
inquiring, the film benefits tremendously from Colvard’s willingness to show even
the darkest and most unnerving sides of each story; at one point, his sisters
even admit that they often enjoyed their sexual encounters with their father
and that it was actually a welcome respite from his physical and emotional
abusiveness. Neither they nor their brother think that this in any way excuses
their father’s behavior, but allowing his sisters to speak candidly shows that
Colvard’s goal was to explore emotional complexity, not excuse or further
condemn his family for their well-documented failings.

Finally I grabbed a beer with Mike Tully of Hammer and Nail and Jake Perlin of
BAM and then went to see a spectacularly awful sci-fi horror film called
“Splice,” starring Adrian Brody. Written and Directed by Vincenzo Natali,
“Splice” tells the unlikely tale of two of the stupidest scientists on the face
of the Earth splicing animal DNA together with human DNA and accidentally
producing terrifying creatures, one of which runs amok and endangers all
mankind (sort of). The audience at my press and industry screening sat silently
through the silly first half of the film, but when Brody made an odd face and
proclaimed, “Elsa, those were not mysterious tumors inside her body—THOSE
WERE FULLY FUNCTIONAL AMPHIBIOUS LUNGS!” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing
and immediately the rest of the crowd joined in, and from then on a good time
was had by all. Laughs could be heard throughout the auditorium, even as Sarah
Polley was being raped and impregnated by a fish-bird-frog-man-hybrid (spoiler
alert! Oops, too late).

Brody in particular seems lost from start to finish,
never appearing sure if he should ham it up for laughs or tone it down in a
last ditch effort to retain some little bit of self-respect. Talking to the
crowd after the film, it was apparent that not one of us was sure if the film
was intended to be campy or if it was merely accidentally hilarious, but
clearly the overall vibe in the crowd was not good. Jake recommended that the
film skip standard theatrical altogether and go straight to midnight movie
screenings. This film is in trouble. That being said, I can’t say I am not
looking forward to TV ads that feature the sentence, “Academy Award Winner
Adrian Brody in….SPLICE!”

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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