Sundance 2012 – Highlights

The hits (and the misses) of 2012's Sundance Festival

At the close of this year’s Sundance Film Festival there have emerged clear winners, audience favourites and a few ill-judged losers; here is a short overview of just a few films that, whether for good or ill, stood out from the crowd.

The Queen of Versailles
AWARDS – Directing (Documentary) Lauren Greenfield

Festival opener The Queen of Versailles is a documentary following filthy rich husband and wife David and Jackie Siegel, and their attempt to build a 90,000 foot square mansion called Versailles. When finished, the house will be the largest single private residence in the United States (boasting ten kitchens and an ice rink). However, their time share funded bubble bursts after the economic crash of 2008, and it begins to look like the Siegels may nver get to enjoy their modern day Franco-American palace (and that their eight kids might actually have to go out and work for a living).

Beasts of the Southern Wild | Sundance 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild
AWARDS – Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic), Excellence in Cinematography Award (Dramatic)
Winner of this year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize (and generally agreed by critics to be the stand-out film of the festival) Beasts of the Southern Wild is the story of a six year-old girl named Hushpuppy who lives in a shanty town in Louisiana. This town is named ‘The Bathtub’ because it is situated in a dip which will fill up with water in the event of a flood; when this happens, Hushpuppy and her father Wink (both played by non-professional actors) must flee a strange, almost magically post-apocalyptic world in search of Hushpuppy’s lost mother.

Red Hook Summer
Director Spike Lee has a reputation for dividing opinion and causing controversy with his films, and his latest is no exception. The story of a boy visiting his preacher grandfather in Brooklyn, Red Hook Summer has been torn apart from all sides by critics for poor direction, poor performance and poor writing. Damon Wise of The Guardian referred to it as a ‘bloated, flapping, directionless weather balloon of a film’, and it would seem that most critics agree. While it does include a nostalgic cameo (old favourite Mookie the pizza boy from Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing) and a shocking surprise twist, Red Hook Summer certainly seems to be one of this year’s Sundance flops.

The Surrogate
AWARDS – Audience Award (Dramatic), Special Jury prize for Ensemble Acting
Snapped up by Fox Searchlight for about $6 million, The Surrogate stars John Hawkes as a paralysed Polio victim who hires a sex surrogate (ably played by Helen Hunt) in order to lose his virginity. Hawkes, who played the cult leader in Sundance 2011 favourite Martha Marcy May Marlene, is drawing a lot of positive critical attention for his recent roles, and it looks as though 2012 may be his year to shine. By all accounts, The Surrogate is a tender and life-affirming look at friendship.

No awards for financial thriller Arbitrage starring Richard Gere, but it is doubtful that will cause the movie any trouble. Already picked up for distribution by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, the film is slated to be an intense and fitting examination of the current economic crisis seen through the eyes of Robert Miller (Gere), a hedge fund manager who is forced into a tough situation after making a serious error. The film also stars Brit Marling, who recently drew notice playing alongside William Mapother in emotional sci-fi Another Earth.

Other presentations at Sundance 2012 included the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Turkish film Can, the story of a married couple who try to illegally adopt a child, and the Grand Jury Documentary Prize for The House I Live In, an in depth examination of the legal and social repercussions of drug culture in America. This year’s festival also saw director Kevin Smith sign a deal with Canadian distributor Phase 4; twelve films will be exhibited under the ‘Kevin Smith and SModcast Presents…’ heading, while Smith will tour with the films, introduce them and hold question and answer sessions.

With the inaugural Sundance UK Festival only a few months away, speculation is now rife as to which fourteen of the nearly two hundred films screened at Sundance in Utah will be selected for the UK (although it seems likely that Grand Jury Prize Winner Beasts of the Southern Wild will almost certainly be topping the bill).

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