I bought a day pass to the Sundance Film Festival. On one hand it’s cool to see all these premieres… on the other, this was just sitting in bed watching TV all day. And sure, fests are curated, but it’s nice to read the first round of critic reviews (like I’m doing right now with Berlin) and decide which few sound the most exciting, instead of relying on the one-paragraph plot descriptions like I did when choosing these.

I started the day with a TV pilot, a shorts series, a feature, half of another shorts series… and going into the next feature, I reloaded the schedule page and noticed all the non-premieres (the movies that had premiered a couple days earlier and were now on-demand) had changed status from “sold out” to “watch now.” Not sure which status was a bug, but I quickly made some adjustments. Catching Strawberry Mansion (and having to eat meals to stay alive) threw my schedule, and I skipped my reservation for We’re All Going to the World’s Fair in favor of Knocking, wanting to get in something from the Midnight section, oops.

I like that the opening titles tell me to “please turn off all electronic devices,” even though I’m watching the movies on one. Since the Roku is on the fritz, I hooked the laptop to the TV and could therefore get screengrabs – funny that I can do this with restricted world-premieres, but can’t while watching The Saddest Music in the World on Criterion Channel. The intros must’ve been pre-taped… Ana Katz said “hello and good evening” at her movie’s noon premiere (2pm in Buenos Aires). I first noticed during Mayday that the picture looked film-grainy… but more like static than grain, and saw the same pattern on all subsequent movies, what was that all about?

These Days

The pilot (from the “Indie Series” section) was chosen for costarring William Jackson Harper. Marianne Rendón (who recently played Patti Smith in a movie) is lonely, going on a series of bad quarantine zoom-dates when she meets charming Harper. But he’s only there to write a magazine story about lonely women who go on virtual dates, as we learn in his next call to his editor. His mom zoom-bombs them on his personal link, a dated detail thanks to the software update that sticks everyone in the waiting room. Marianne’s zoom dance is good, as are all of Harper’s line reads, but I dunno how this would sustain a series, nor who would fund it now as a hundred million vaccine shots are heading to the states. Director Adam Brooks, who wrote the Bridget Jones Diary sequel and is not the Adam Brooks who made The Editor and starred in the latest Guy Maddin movie, calls it “our film,” and says the whole cast was mailed camera gear and filmed their own scenes.

In the Earth (Ben Wheatley)

I started this after Knocking, giving myself a midnight bedtime, so watched about fifteen minutes. So far, an unmasked guy got tested extensively by some park rangers before setting out on a journey with one of them joining him. They were pitching tents on their first night when I ditched, so it hadn’t gotten good yet… but why was everyone masked at the beginning except the outsider they were testing? Shouldn’t the rule be that he stays masked until he passes the tests? The poster shows a backlit axe murderer so I’ll surely get back to this at some point.

Rachel Handler in Vulture, on pandemic movies:

I could conjure the 2019 version of myself that might’ve enjoyed them, but the 2021 version of me, who has the hair and temper of a cartoon Disney villain, could not find the patience for dreamy, moody movies where an imaginary sickness stood in for something else, where it was desperately mined for meaning … I wondered if every movie ever made had actually been about people being alone and sad and I just hadn’t noticed.

The President Has AIDS (2006, Arnold Antonin
Totally ineptly made movie with honorable intentions, defended by lead actor (the Haitian from Heroes) in post-movie discussion. Apparently the Haitian independent film scene isn’t all that it could be. Not about the “president”, but a super popular entertainer (and, inexplicably, a regular guy who looks identical to him). Good to hear that it did well in Haiti and got people talking, anyway.

Salud (2006, Connie Field)
Documentary on Cuban medical system, but mostly set in other countries where Cuban doctors set up to help poor populations that local doctors can’t or won’t treat. Pretty okay doc, but I mostly remember the less-okay post-movie discussion led by an alternative-medicine advocate who loomed in front of Katy and me.

Daughters of the Dust (1991, Julie Dash)
I spaced out during the entire movie, and whenever I looked up I saw some languid images and heard conversations that I could only barely understand when I tried hard. Didn’t seem worth trying that hard. Sorry, acclaimed african american director Julie Dash!

First movie I’ve seen from Chad. Simple story with few characters told in chronological order and classically shot: so obviously not similar to anything else that’s out right now.

Atim and his grandpa hear on the radio that the civil war criminals have all been pardoned, so grandpa gives Atim the family pistol, and he very simply sets out on a quest across the country to the city, to find and kill the man who shot Atim’s father. Hits town and immediately meets Moussa, an overly friendly kid who gives Atim clothes (I think) and food and a place to stay. Soon finds killer Nassara and fidgets with his gun a lot when no one’s looking. Idly stalks Nassara outside his bakery for a while, refuses free bread, finally agrees to work for him. Why? To get closer to him, to understand how he lives, to get closer to his family and kill them too? More likely, Atim seems like a nice kid and Nassara is a wonderful father figure, so the attraction was mutual.

Atim works the bakery for a while and learns some lessons along the way. Don’t get too familiar with Nassara’s new wife: he’ll beat her. Don’t hang out with Moussa anymore: he’s a thief. Listen to Nassara: he’s been around and knows what’s what… but he also gets hurt, gets drunk, and has his business wrecked by wily competitors. Only human, then.

Atim gets too close, ends up bringing N. home “to get Atim’s family’s permission for N. to adopt him” and sets up the execution in front of his blind grandpa. Pushes N. down and shoots into the air. Really the only way it could end without us hating somebody.

Should we hate somebody? Are we all good at heart? Is revenge a fool’s game? The writer/director’s obviously big into forgiveness, but I can’t tell if he agrees with the post-war amnesty completely. Anyway, it brings up some complicated feelings and ideas, and very well shot and acted. A completely worthy movie. I think I liked it even more than Katy, who initiated our round-trip drive to Nashville to see it.

More: Atim has been beaten by some nasty cops when Moussa first meets him, and later Atim gets his chance and beats one of the same cops down in the street. Justice is served. Another cop walks by slowly, missing a leg, slowly over a bridge, Atim aims his gun, fires. At the cop? Don’t know, it was offscreen. Katy thinks he was aiming away and I think he was aiming for the cop (even though aiming away makes more sense for his generally moral character). Also Katy thinks Atim’s rejection of Moussa on the basis of M’s being a petty thief is ridiculous, since everyone in the city steals to get by, but A. is from a small, very rural town, where he might have been taught otherwise.

Waited too long between seeing and writing, so I’ve lost some textual details. There was a little music, some interesting shots, I think a pretty great film overall.

Oh, we saw a short beforehand, Namibia, Brazil, which had no real point (except to show how pretty Rio can be), but the credits say it’s an excerpt from a longer film so maybe that’s why.