WHAT MIGHT BE HOT AND BUZZ WORTHY AT INDIE KICKOFF OF 2015?
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
I’ve caught a serious case of the film festival bug and I’m not sure how to get over it. Last year, being able to add the Munich Film Festival to my regular Toronto International Film Festival fix stirred a brand new jonesing. Not only am I trying to figure out how to get back to Germany this summer, but I’m itching to sample a few of the high profile fests that have taken up seemingly permanent residence on my bucket list.
What’s a critic to do? Well, I can always dream.
Dreaming, in this case, leads to scouring the press releases for announcements about the titles selected for screening within the festival categories. This is the preliminary work I do each year for Toronto, weeks before the schedule gets finalized and the great shuffling begins. It’s all about surveying the landscape, searching for the wonders of this world of discovery. And when it comes to the Sundance Film Festival, well you’re talking about the kickoff of the indie film scene for the coming year. Lots of titles, the large majority of which will not ever grace screens in our region, but thanks to advances in streaming and curatorial services popping up like culture-feeding chains all across the Internet, we are no longer denied access to these mythic indie fantasies.
So, what would make my initial cut out of this year’s early line-up?
Among the premieres, I’m curious about Joe Swanberg’s “Digging for Fire.” He’s a multi-hyphenate favorite (having written and directed films like “Hannah Takes the Stairs” with indie ingénue Greta Gerwig and “Drinking Buddies” with Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick) among the MUBI set and a first-rate investigator of smaller-scaled explorations of the human heart. I have a soft spot for Michael Almereyda, so “Experimenter” would tease and tempt me. Charles Stone III has had me waiting for a worthy follow-up to “Drumline” and so I would likely find the time for “Lila & Eve.” And, I suppose, it would be impossible to ignore Noah Baumbach, teaming up once again with Ms. Gerwig (“Frances Ha” was a marvelously sympathetic re-imaging on “Girls” that still maintained its indie credibility) for “Mistress America.” These four titles, based primarily on the talent involved, would provide the must-see foundation upon which the rest of my festival-going experience would build on, with the hope that each selection would secure distribution and eventually find its way to our screening market.
While perusing the rest of the schedule, I’m drawn to a few of the U.S. Dramatic Indie picks – Rick Famuyima’s “Dope,” Craig Zobel’s “Z for Zachariah,” Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s “The Stanford Prison Experiment,” and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” – due to personal connections (Famuyima and I bonded during an extended walking tour around NYC after wrapping up interviews for “Brown Sugar” back in 2002), name recognition (the combination of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie and Chris Pine in “Z for Zachariah” is too intriguing to ignore) or the possible thrill of discovery (what will Alvarez bring to the table for what is only his third feature, while working with Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, Tye Sheridan, Ezra Miller and Olivia Thirlby?).
Of course, no festival screening schedule is complete without scouting for a film with true regional affiliations to tout both at the fest and afterward on the home front. This year, the little Midwestern film that could might be the documentary “How to Dance in Ohio,” which looks at a group of teens (in Columbus) on the autism spectrum preparing for their Spring formals. Director Alexandra Shiva, almost ten years ago in the doc “Stagedoor,” tackled the lives of teens who attend a theatrical summer camp in the Catskills, so this “Dance” has the potential to shine a lovingly honest spotlight on the steps to realizing this dreamy rite of passage.