2015 marked my 9th Sundance. I’ve been going since 2005, and missed a year due to shooting in Tanzania.
As usual, I met a lot of great people, spent great times with a lot of friends and Sundance regulars, and saw a handful of great films. Here are some of the highlights, broken into two parts. In Part 2 I write about Virtual Reality, (which I find fascinating and have a bunch of interesting psychological commentary about) and some of the parties, photos and other highlights.
FAVORITE FILM I SAW: Dope
It will be released. Everyone will love it. Many of us were surprised it didn’t with the Audience Award, but then again the film that did also won the Jury Prize: “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl.” What I loved most about Dope, photographed by my friend Rachel Morrison, was how smart it was. Set in present day, the main characters are obsessed with 1990s hip-hop. They are the nerds in their inner city, Inglewood, CA high school. And when they inadvertently find themselves responsible to a local drug dealer, they overcome their predicament by outsmarting the system with computer hacking and Bitcoin. This film was so multi-faceted, so cross cultural, with an amazing soundtrack reflecting its mash-up of eras and cultures; just a brilliant piece of independent filmmaking. Also it won for excellence in editing.
Here is a proper review by the pros who right about these things.
MY FAVORITE CINEMATOGRAPHY: Liveforever
Every once in awhile, I will see a film who’s cinematography resonates with me on a deeply personal level. Not just that it was good, or well done, or beautiful, etc. but that it was so perfectly and specifically MY TASTE that I love it in a very personal way. The last time I remember feeling that strongly about a film was Batman Begins. (Notably, I did not feel this way about The Dark Knight, which while undeniably well done, failed to inspire me.)
My new favoritely photographed film is a Columbian film called Liveforever. Based on a popular Colombian novel called Que Viva La Musica. Lyrical but slick, nuanced but edgy, beautiful but raw, it just felt authentic while being expressive at these same time and serving the very visual story perfectly. I will be keeping an eye on the work of DP Juan Carlos Gil, and I will need to buy this film for visual reference, and to explain to people who ask me in future interviews: what are some of my favorite looking films.
I just spent 20 minutes searching online for a trailer to share, to show what its all about, but alas, nada. Here’s a review instead, which goes into the storyline.
I ALSO SAW AND LIKED:
The Witch (US Dramatic, WINNER Directing) A very unusual period piece set in Salem, Mass in the 1600s
The Hallow (Park City at Midnight) a really suspenseful “monster movie”/family horror in the woods
The Summer of Sangaile (WINNER: World Cinema Directing) A lyrical Lithuanian lesbian coming of age story
GOOD NEWS FOR THE FILM INDUSTRY
Not since my early days (before the economy tanked, and with it, independent film budgets) have I heard of so MANY films being immediately bought during the festival, and for such great prices for the filmmakers. I think its a really good sign. I remember a few years ago when there were nearly zero sales at the fest, the year after EVERY SINGLE FILM that was bought the previous year failed to make back what it was purchased for. Which coincided with nearly all the distributors that acquire indies closing up shop. Now we are seeing new buyers coming in to fill the void in the market. I hope that means we will actually see some production budgets increase on indie films, if they are actually becoming profitable again overall!
I was a panelist for a Slamdance film festival Fireside Chat on the topic:
KALEIDOSCOPE EYES: THE POWER OF DIVERSE VOICES IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
hosted by Digital Bolex and moderated by Elle Schneider.
Here is a write-up of the panel, including some highlights, and if you would like to listen to the whole thing, there is a link for that below. The panel was quite interesting, speaking about a lot of things that a lot of panels never get into such as the DP’s role in creating a safe space for the actors, the politics and delicate balance of the DP when it comes to blocking, and working with the director and the actors, and other topics such as planning for VFX, and how to interview a DP. One of the most interesting things I spoke about, when asked about what kind of unique perspective do I bring as a woman DP, was a discussion of nude scenes and my sensitivity toward the importance of makeup and the makeup artist’s job.
Listen to the audio of the panel here. We were shot on camera as well, so hopefully a video is forthcoming.
NOFILMSCHOOL CINEMATOGRAPHER’S ROUND TABLE
The same day I did the panel, I got a message inviting me to be on a round table that evening. Myself and 4 other DPs “shot the shit” on camera, with some guidance by our host from No Film School, and I look forward to posting the link once the video goes live online! I met some great new people, and really enjoyed hearing the perspective of the other DPs and bonding with them over our discussion.
NOTEWORTHY PANELS I ATTENDED
Official Sundance Festival Panel: The Golden Age of Story
This amazing panel featured some of today’s most creative show runners and directors in Episodic Television, which is where I have been focusing my career energies lately. It was great to hear insights from Cary Fukunaga, director of True Detective, Jill Soloway, creator of Transparent, Jennie Konner, Exec Producer on Girls, who is someone I’ve been wanting to meet, The Duplass brothers who are doing a new HBO series called Togetherness, and Jason Katimas, show runner from Friday Night Lights and several other shows.
Oh, and I sat near and talked to Lena Dunham.
The Art of the Pitch: Filmmaker as Entrepreneur
Featuring Joanna Vicente from IFP, Christine Vachon (producer of many of my favorite films) and Kerry Trainor, the CEO of Vimeo, and moderated by Slava Rubin, the CEO of Indiegogo.
I like to go to panels outside of the cinematography domain to learn more about he industry at large, but also because of the people I meet in attendance, as well as the panelists. Christine Vachon gave my favorite quote of the festival, when asked for her advice for filmmakers. She simply said: “BE GENEROUS TO EACH OTHER.” Awesome.
Independent Cinematographers Panel at the NY Lounge
I wasn’t on this panel, but Dagmar Weaver-Madsen, a talented woman DP I have met in the past, told an awesome story when she was asked about whether she had encountered any challenges in being a woman DP. She said she once showed up to shoot 2nd Unit on a film, hired by the main unit DP, and from her name the producer hadn’t realized she was a woman. “Oh you’re a woman,” he said. She replied: “Is that a problem? Cuz I left my dick at home, if you need me to go back and get it…” I LOVE IT!!!