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Sundance 2014: 10 days, 26 Films, 10+ Parties, 3 Concerts and a multitude of incredible people and conversations

Sundance 2014: 10 days, 26 Films, 10+ Parties, 3 Concerts and a multitude of incredible people and conversations ...Guest Blog by Section 101's Jim Hoffman 

It was my 10th year at Sundance, and probably my favorite, which was a high bar to top.  I had so many great experiences on so many levels.  It was a very rich and rewarding journey, both with the films and the people.


If you’ve never been, the film festival experience is not for everyone; but for those of us who love it, Sundance is the one.  The combination of its history, curation, and location make it a unique experience for filmmakers and film lovers alike.  Most of the best films at Sundance push the boundaries, challenge us to see things differently and drain us with their passion and intensity.  In many ways, it is a big social experiment that really works.  I meet so many people just by jumping into random conversations.  It's the only place I have ever been where jumping into a stranger’s conversation is not only okay, it is sort of core to the culture.  It is not unusual to be telling someone about this great film you saw while looking to read their badge and realize that they are the Director, Writer, Producer, etc. of the film.  

At Sundance we see films cold - without any real knowledge of what they’re about beyond who is part of the cast and crew.  The audience all have that same shared experience of discovery.  Sometimes, we all shake our head and wonder what it is we just saw, but most of the time we feel something very special and transformative.  It is really about the ART of film after all, and very little about the movie in a commercial sense.

One thing I noticed last year was the emergence of female directors.  It was (and is) fresh and exciting.  I was so glad to see this year that it was not an anomaly.  The number of films by women seems to be a glass cleiling that has been solidity breached, at least in the world of independent film.  Mainstream films are a whole other story, with only four women ever nominated for a Directing Oscar. 

This year was also different in that I felt more a part of the festival and film side of things:
- Section 101 launched our website platform for Filmmakers - https://section101.com/film_websites
- Section 101 had numerous clients playing at the Festiva'sl music events including Carina RoundRobert Delong and Artists from Caroline Music. I was also promoting “Connection,” a new film I am producing and hope to have in competition next year at Sundance 2015.

In addition, the annual Section 101/Filmmakers Alliance party was a huge success.  With over 300 people in attendance,  it was 6+ hours of great people, conversation and fun.  We had a number of folks connected with the festival films including “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”, “Fishing without Nets”, “The Foxy Merkins”, “Listen Up, Philip”, “Chapel Perilous (short, YouTube Audience Award Winner)”, “The Immaculate Reception (short)”, and “Pleasure (short)”.  Many people expressed that it was the best party of the Fest.  Maybe they should add parties as an Award Category?   Big Hats off to Liz Leahy and Jacques Thelemaque for all their work in organizing and making it happen.  And a very special thanks to Peter Hornick for putting up with us all. 


I have met so many interesting people over the 10 years I have been attending.  It really creates a unique bond.  Many of us only see each other at the Fest, but the connection instantly returns.  It was a long, intense 10 days, so when it was all over, I was ready to head home.  So looking forward to what experiences await me at Sundance 2015.

'Til next year…


My Top 10 Films:

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night - This was by far my favorite film of the Festival, terrific on so many levels.  Everything works.  The story, the cinematography, the acting, and clearly the directing.  There are scenes in this film that are so brave and yet so simple.  It will not be a film for everyone.  Imagine if Fellini made a Persian vampire film in B&W.  It will not be showing at your local cineplex!  Subtitles alone will pose a challenge in its marketing, but that being said, this is a film that should find a strong and viral audience on both the Art house circuit and online.  I can't wait to see it again.

Rudderless - William C. Macy's hits his first directorial job out of the park.  Not because of his directing, so much as his ability as a story teller.  He takes us on an important journey with a riveting performance from Billy Crudup.  The music is also amazing.  Best music of any film this year during a year of music themed films.  Do not read reviews or spoilers on this one Just go.  Trust me.

Whiplash - This film won both the Grand Jury and Audience awards.  I don't agree with the Grand Jury award, but totally get the Audience Award.  This film delivers.  It has its issues, but the story, acting and music pull it together.  If you love Jazz, see this film.  If you don't love Jazz, see this film and you will probably realize you do.  This is another one to avoid reviews and spoilers.  Don’t over think it.  Just let the story play out on its own.  

I Origins - A gripping Sci Fi/Thriller pic that feels ripped from today headlines.  Left the film instantly wanting to see the filmmakers previous work.   

All the Beautiful Things - A thought provoking documentary that explores the relationship and lives of two friends whose friendship hits a wall when one is accused of rape.  That is a gross simplification of a very complex story that plays out in a mix of narrative styles and creates a thought provoking picture of the complexity of relationships.  It has its faults, but is a powerful film that only suffers from reaching too far, trying to say too much.  Not all of it works, that what does is magic.

Dinosaur 13 - A team of Archeologists find “Sue”, the 1st fully complete T-Rex skeleton.  (Some of us are old enough to remember that part of the story!)  This is a shocking documentary about our out-of-control government in a story that  you can’t believe has not been told before.

The Green Prince - A documentary telling the story of the son of a Hamas leader who becomes an double agent and his Israeli handler.  It is a gripping, true life spy saga told by the two people that actually lived it.  It is an amazing film, made more amazing by the bravery of the two key players in the story.

20,000 Days on Earth - An intimate documentary about Nic Cave. Made by 2 film makers who have a strong personal relationship with Nic.  The access and intimacy come through and delivers an interesting journey with real insights and minimal ego.

The Voices - A new comedy/horror film from Marjane Satrapi, writer of “Persepolis” (which, if you haven’t seen, is amazing) staring Ryan Reynolds that is one strange, twisted and wonderful film.  Far from perfect, but a fun, wild ride with an extraordinary performance by Reynolds. 

Wetlands - Definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but this was the must see film for those who like over the edge comedy.  A teen age girl’s coming of age that aggressively works to push boundaries not yet tested.  Not a perfect film, but another fun ride.


Honorable Mention:

Hits - A clever comedy about local politics and the power of YouTube.  

Ida - A moving film that finds a fresh take following a girl’s journey to discover the truth of what happened to her parents under the Nazi occupation. 

God Help The Girl - A Musical by Stuart Murdoch, lead singer of the group Belle and Sebastian.  I do think he should have stuck to the music and directing, and let someone else write the script. It is not a deep or complex film, but the music and the actors are solid, and at the end of the day it works.  

Appropriate Behavior - The story of a young Persian woman in Brooklyn struggling with the cultural complexity of her bi-sexuality.  Could have been so much more than it is.  Still a lot there, just one of those where you see the unfulfilled promise in so many places.

Life after Beth
 - A potentially clever new take on the Zombie genre. This is the film that was the biggest disappointment.  I still enjoyed it, starts out strong and then becomes so uninspired. 

Finding Fela - Enjoyable, but should have been more about the life and music of Fela vs. “Fela," the Broadway Musical.  Clearly a film whose origin started with a focus on the show and then realized they needed more and went deeper.  Just should have started over from scratch.

My Prairie Home
 - A documentary film about transgender Canadian singer/songwriter Rae Spoon.  It is a strange and quirky film that handles an important, and rarely covered subject, with grace and beauty.  

War Story - Catherine Keener delivers yet another great performance in a film that could have been more, but she makes it worth a viewing.

- A Bulgarian film that follows a mother and child through years of political upheaval. Not a happy film and much longer than it needs to be, but still well made and well told none the less.

Through a Lens Darkly - An interesting documentary that explores the history of Black photographers and their impact on society.  I liked it, but it covers so much ground and is done in a way that feels like a PBS special.  I actually would have preferred for it to be a multi-part PBS special, and give the subject the time and breadth it deserves.

R100 - A Japanese businessman with a taste for S&M hires a firm to help him fulfill his fantasies.  It just gets crazier and crazier.  A lot of fun.


Oh Well:

Happiness - How can you make a bad film with Bhutan as the backdrop?  Took real effort to make this one so bad. 

White Bird in a Blizzard - I am a big fan of Shailene Woodley.  Mainly went to see it because of her and her amazing performance in one of my favorites from last year “The Spectacular Now.”  Sadly, this story just didn’t work.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter - Great premise, goes nowhere.

Liar's Dice - A woman in a remote region of India travels to the city to find her husband who has disappeared.  Predictable and uninspired.

Young Ones - Well made, just lacked a solid, compelling story.


Wish I had Seen:

 - Richard Linklater’s ("Slacker," "Dazed and Confused," "Before Sunrise") new film made over the span of 12 years following a young boy from age 6 to 18.  Everyone who saw it raved.

Lambert & Stamp - A documentary about two would-be filmmakers who set out to make a film about the British music scene, came across a band that would become The Who and decided to be their managers.  Don’t know anyone that saw it, but never knew the story and am really intrigued.  A bit worried that there was no buzz about the film. 


New Media:

The Source - Doug Aitken : A very interesting project by Doug Aitken done as a series of conversation with Artists around the world.  If you like TED type content, this one is for you.  https://patternsandrepetition.com


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