Sundance 2013, Pt. 3: Inside the Filmmaker’s Toolbox


I haven’t had a day like this in such a long time. Screening films in a live theater setting, that is. There is a part of me that, because of time pressures, reaches for the preview screeners of films in order to view as many as quickly as possible. This, without the convenience of using the remote to fast/forward through the slow or problematic parts. I feel I owe it to the filmmakers to view their works in their entirety, in real time, to fairly assess that they have committed to the screen. But to apply that regimen to the process of sitting in a theater with full houses, as many as six times in a  single day, complete with wait lines and pre-show fidgeting — well, imagine having to go through TSA security checks at the airport six times in a  single day for six short-haul flights, and you know what a grind that can be. Fortunately, the films I screened on this second full day in Park City had much to distinguish themselves by. No surprises from Slamdance this time out; I couldn’t make it up the hill today, and to keep things rolling, I made the decision to duck out of an afterparty for Evan Leong’s LINSANITY. It would have been fun, fer sure, but there was work to be done today, and do it I did.

Between an 8:00 AM screening of Indonesian director Mouly Surya’s WHAT THEY DON’T TALK ABOUT WHEN THEY TALK ABOUT LOVE, through to a late-night press screening of Randy Moore’s Hanna Montana-meet-Godard monochrome mash-up ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW, today’s second full day of screenings provided a chance for me to delve deeper into the documentary works that are providing a healthy dose of variety in my viewing experiences, and to sample (selectively) some narrative gems as well. I don’t think I’d give adequate space to offer my thoughts on what I’ve seen today, so I think I’ll break my thoughts up in chunks, and maybe that way I’ll be fair and comprehensive at the same time.

Sitting through the World Premiere screening of Evan Leong’s LINSANITY, however, I was taken by how familiar I was with director Leong’s filmmaking aesthetic — a conclusion I also reached yesterday while viewing Freida Lee Mock’s ANITA. Both filmmakers are separated by generations and by different socio-economic and political landscapes that influenced their filmmaking styles and approaches — for Mock, the 1980s, a time of the big “multi-cultural” experiment and the largess of public television and government funding for certain kinds of broadcast programming initiatives; and for Leong, his own quasi-ethnographic style honed through years working with Justin Lin’s Trailing Johnson Productions and later, his own production shingle Arowana Films.

I mentioned in a previous posting how I was taken by the structure of ANITA — starting, BOOM! with the circus surrounding Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual misconduct against her former boss, then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, and then using the rest of the film to flesh out Professor Hill’s life post-Thomas to bring the full measure of the woman and her legacy to bear on the big screen. In finding a remarkably similar storytelling structure in her Academy Award-winning MAYA LIN: A STRONG CLEAR VISION, I could devine a storytelling strategy of director Mock’s: to foreground the stories of regular people baptized in controversy, and once that story has wound down, to peel back multiple layers to examine how her characters came to that “decisive moment” in their lives and how those controversies serve to validate their strength and character. Add to that director Mock’s knack for incisive, fully-dimensioned reportage, and it’s easy to see why her numerous documentaries are highly anticipated by her vast legion of cinema aficionados and just-plain people alike.

Leong, on the other hand, has developed a cinematic toolbag that, over the course of two feature-length documentaries, a portfolio of short films, and numerous music videos and industrial commercials, has enabled him to reach out and engage a younger audience enamored by visual flash and contemporary cultural icons. Anyone familiar with these works might be familiar with the Evan Leong “look” — a rich, deep-hued color palette; liberal use of text over visuals to give dimension to otherwise flat and dated images and footage; bass-heavy mid-tempo hip hop and R&B to contemporize his mis-en-scene; an editing style, courtesy of longtime collaborator Greg Louie, elastic enough to accomodate longer, meditative personality profiles as well as quick-paced, to-the-point narration. While I will talk at some length about LINSANITY in another Sundance 2013 posting, I was taken at how director Leong’s ability to harness the various elements of his cinematic “bag of tricks” proved to be critical in profiling a subject who might have been a bit more recalcitrant to opening up about some aspects of his life than the final on-screen portrayal might have let on. The 800 or so people sitting in the audience along with me apparently though so too, given the enthusiastic reception I noted at the film’s conclusion.

Whew! What a long day of screenings! And as for tomorrow, a screening of STOKER, the much-anticipated American feature debut of famed South Korean director Park Chan-wook. That promises to be fun. The 9:00 AM start time promises to be hell. It’s circumstances like these that I wish I was a coffee drinker. I should count my blessings…

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