In documentaries, as in life, there’s usually a difference between what really happened, how people perceive what happened, and how that event gets filtered through memory, stories and the media. If you’re still with me, here’s the point: This is all the more apropos to the Sundance Film Festival. I didn’t go this year, so I got glimpses and snippets from reading reports like Yance’s, or seeing Facebook updates from excited filmmakers. Here’s my filter:
This year’s Sundance was as much a grand celebration of documentaries as it always has been. (It’s good to see is that the documentary category clearly survived the transition of Festival heads, from Geoff Gilmore to John Cooper.) Not only did docs capture the biz buzz by offering up the first major acquisition, Waiting for Superman, they also provided the biggest underground buzz with Exit through the Gift Shop. Davis Guggenheim‘s Superman, a film about public education, was snatched up by Paramount before the festival even began. And Gift Shop wasn’t even on the screening lists until about a week before the fest; the doc, about British street artist Banksy, took a guerilla approach to self-promotion, just like its subject, and was one of the most talked-about films at the festival.
Lest we forget, the festival officially opened with a quasi-doc — Howl. Documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman had originally intended to make a documentary about Allen Ginsberg, but instead decided to make it a fictionalized feature starring James Franco. Judging from the response, they should have stuck to their doc instincts. Of course, the festival is also largely about the celebs who show up, and it’s often the non-Hollywood stars who get noticed the most, as was the case when two of the richest men in the world, Bill Gates and George Soros, were both on hand — to see a documentary, no less (A Small Act).
I had been looking forward to a particular slew of docs: I heard very little about some, while hearing a lot about others. Both Catfish, a story of Facebook romance, and Restrepo, an Afghan embedded war doc by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, fall into this latter category and sound very promising.
But reader beware: In more ways than one, the air up there in Park City is pretty thin — as we’ve seen Yance endure — and I’ve experienced how susceptible people can get to thinking that a particular film is the Second Coming, after which it disappears quickly into the night. Some films (Catfish, perhaps? Gift Shop definitely) are just festival films, and will last as long as a Park City snow ball on a Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk.