The Sundance Film Festival was going to be the big 2022 kick-off in-person event and celebration for many filmmakers, festival-goers and myself included. Albeit the derail due to health and safety, the fine folks at Sundance leaned into what they had readily available at their fingertips – technology. The festival is now 100% virtual and as someone who was very much looking forward to safely rubbing elbows with fellow cinephiles, this isn’t the worst way to experience the festival in my humble opinion. It may seem virtually impossible to watch and listen in on every great program the festival has to offer, but thanks to technology, there is a way to consume as much as you possibly can, with the time you’ve realistically allotted yourself.
I kicked off my virtual experience by visiting the New Frontier Spaceship, where attendees create a personal avatar to bounce around from lounges, viewing experiences, and chat with other festival attendees, festival staff, and filmmakers – you just never know who will pop in. The experience at first was a bit clunky, they did warn us with an email or two the platform was experiencing some technical issues – but once you were in, you were in! I settled into a virtual theatre and fully immersed myself in award-winning documentarian Sam Green’s film 32 Sounds. It’s an audible experience to behold and found myself fully transfixed by what Sam and JD Samson created.
The first sound is of the womb – heartbeat and all - then we are immersed into nature, the chirping of birds and so forth, and then a deep dive into what makes a whoopee cushion and why we associate the sound of flatulence with this rubber magical pillow – science is pretty cool. We then meet Annea Lockwood, an audible genius in her own right. From there on, we learn about binaural sound and if you’ve ever experienced the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland in 2001, in which they also utilized the binaural sound delivered through headphones, you’ll have a great idea of how incredible this audible experience is. It was like they were in my room, shaking a small box of mints in my ears. I did lose count and track of what we were listening to from there on, just as Sam predicted we would. This documentary is well worth plugging into.
Immediately after the documentary, I turned to the festival’s very clean and user-friendly AppleTV app to tune in to the world premiere of Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut When You Finish Saving the World. With the attention to detail that Jesse conveys through his characters, you can tell that he is an adept observer and listener, in that he soaks up people’s quirks, quips, and what makes them connect and feel disconnected. I often find that actors make great writers; they cut right to the jugular in terms of vulnerability, and we clearly see that in both Finn Wolfhard’s and Julianne Moore’s characters, wonderfully performed. Jesse easily articulates art and social activism meshed with the disconnect between parents and their children on screen. The film is adapted from Jesse’s audio project of the same name and produced by Emma Stone and Dave McCary under their new producing shingle Fruit Tree.
Next up and part of the US Dramatic Competition was the film Emergency by filmmaker Carey Williams, written by KD Davilla, based on their award-winning short film of the same name, that also made a splash at Sundance in 2018. I was mentally prepared for a raucous comedy, but in turn, this film took me on another ride about social pressure, social justice, racism, trauma, and horror. The cast was nicely rounded out with RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins, and Sebastian Chacon, it was nice to see these three in lead roles and holding their own, and I hope to see more of the work on the big screen soon. As for filmmaker Carey Williams and writer KD Davilla, the subtlety in both of their filmmaking prowess and writing speaks volumes. I also look forward to seeing what’s next from this duo, either together or independently.
I closed out my evening with the short film Charlie and the Rabbit, which was an official selection at Sundance in 2010 – this was part of their Short Film 40th Anniversary celebration slate. This simple yet poetic short film about a four-year-old boy going out to hunt for rabbits, is simply put - wonderful. It truly embraces the essence of independent filmmaking and how much you can accomplish creatively with not very much in terms of gear, money, access, and everything else in between.
The festival is definitely missing that creative adrenaline shock when standing in line waiting for a movie premiere or sitting in a theatre with a room packed with cinephiles. Ten years ago, I had the pleasure of attending in person and meeting so many wonderful filmmakers, and watching their amazing work under the same roof. Although, I don’t miss slogging through the snow up and down main street – there is something magical to that experience too.
With day two in full swing, I look forward to being transfixed by the slate of films and programs on my agenda. Stay tuned for more recaps and special interviews with Sundance filmmakers!