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Thursday, November 29, 2012

2013 Sundance - A Very Different Preview - Part 1

Because the Sundance Film Festival started to release their program and me getting excited by what I saw yesterday, writing about it became a must as not only there are many female directors but also there are many stories about women which absolutely call my attention.

Today I was reading the news at reputable American newspapers and my spontaneous reaction was that articles were written by male journalists that not only react to the surprising lineup but also to the directors' gender. Take a look at some excerpts.

In what festival programmers say is a Sundance first, fully half of the narrative features were made by women. (...) Many of the films, perhaps as a reflection of the gender of their directors, focus closely on personal, and often highly sexual, relationships.

Sundance, known for championing dark and inscrutable films, has unveiled an unusually accessible — and sellable — competition lineup.

The fact is that this year the lineup has eight (8) of the sixteen (16) films chosen for the dramatic U.S. dramatic competition helmed by women, which is a first for Sundance but also for any top festival in the world! Then you have to agree that -in general- women stories are better told by women, so no one shouldn't be surprised when a 50-50 lineup gives the impression that festival stories are focus on personal relationships plus, as in reality, personal relationships have much to do with sex.

From more than 12,000 submissions, another first for Sundance, 113 feature films were selected and 51 are from first-time filmmakers. But what this year calls the attention is that in the lineup there are some recognizable directors like Cherien Dabis, Lynn Shelton and Chilean Sebastián Silva, among others. The consequence of the 50-50 lineup plus recognizable directors , at least for me, is that this fest edition becomes interesting to follow to learn more about how films are received by critics and more important, if they find distribution in regular and/or new distribution channels.

As soon as the complete lineup is published will do a post, but for starters take a look at some films that called my attention.

Cherien Dabis

The festival high-profile opening slot went to May in the Summer by Cherien Dabis that came to be widely known for her highly praised debut film Amreeka which premiered in 2009 Sundance, was official selection in the Director's Fortnight section of 2009 Cannes where won the FIPRESCI Prize and continued to collect more honors in the festival circuit; but to some of us was already known for being one of the few openly lesbian filmmakers and for being a writer in the television series The L Word.

Written and directed by Dabis, May in the Summer is a USA, Qatar and Jordan production that brings us the surprise that she also performs in the leading role along with extraordinary Hiam Abbass (she was also in Amreeka) in a story that seems compelling as the following synopsis tells.

At the center of the tangled family in May in the Summer is thirty-something Palestinian American May (Cherien Dabis) whose stubborn pride and fear of making herself vulnerable stand in her way of having honest relationships with the people closest to her. As the story opens, May travels to Amman where she’s reunited with her divorced mother Nadine (Hiam Abbass) and younger twenty-something sisters. In the midst of planning her summer wedding, May has one slight problem: Nadine, a devout Christian, disapproves of her Muslim fiancé. Convinced that a mixed marriage is doomed, she plans to boycott the wedding. As if that’s not bad enough, there’s trouble in paradise. But May is too busy trying to prove her mother wrong to take her relationship troubles to heart. Meanwhile, May and her sisters attempt to reconcile with their estranged father only to learn that his new wife suspects he’s having an affair. Faced with family secrets and the fallout of her parents' divorce, May starts to come apart at the seams. But only in facing the reality of what she’s lost can she discover the freedom of letting go. And ultimately, she and her mother learn to accept one another for who they truly are – differences and all.

But from the few publicity material available seems that film will also have some breathtaking visuals.

I'm really excited with Cherien Dabis second feature film and look forward to eventually watch film that know is must be seen for me not only for how much I liked Amreeka but also because Dabis is performing.

Francesca Gregorini

Another film in the US Dramatic Competition that calls my attention is Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes directed and written by none other than Francesca Gregorini, better known as Countess Francesca McKnight Donatella Romana Gregorini di Savignano di Romagna, Ringo Starr's stepdaughter and/or Portia di Rossi's ex. This is her second feature film and many of us have to remember her debut film, Tanner Hall, which she co directed and co wrote with none other than Tatiana von Furstenberg. So, tell me, what are the odds that two of the few openly lesbian filmmakers have films in competition at a top festival? Very low, but finally is happening!

Nevertheless her film could be interesting for the story -especially because the spoilers I read, which I'm not sharing here- but check the official synopsis written by the director.

A troubled girl (Emanuel) becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor (Linda), who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to baby-sit Linda's newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world, of which she becomes the gatekeeper.

Have to admit that I'm a bit concerned with the casting as I haven't seen Kaya Scodelario (Emanuel) in the big screen (seen her in UK TV series Skins) and do not enjoy Jessica Biel (Linda) performances; but maybe both can surprise us here plus Alfred Molina (Emanuel father) and Frances O'Connor (Emanuel stepmother) can make the watching more easy to ride experience.

Stacie Passon

If you are not surprised enough to find two openly lesbian filmmakers in the competition, how about finding an unusual lesbian-interest story? But first let's learn about the director. She became known to me when a few days ago won the Spotlight on Women Filmmakers "Live the Dream" grant at the 2012 Gotham awards but is not until finding her debut film in Sundance that I learn the story that Concussion tells. Check the fest synopsis.

After a blow to the head, Abby decides she can't do it anymore. Her life just can't be only about the house, the kids and the wife. She needs more: she needs to be Eleanor.

But without giving too many spoilers check an excerpt from the news that Stacie Passon won the Adrienne Shelly Foundation 6th Annual IFP Labs Director's grant.

Concussion follows Abby, a disengaged wealthy lesbian housewife stuck in the suburbs. After a concussion-inducing hit to the face, something inside her ignites; she craves more than her boring, saturated existence. She buys a loft in the city to fix up and sell. Then, she sees a prostitute, and then another, and is drawn into the life herself.

So yes, probably story will be very unconventional to most lesbian-interest audiences but definitively we have a film here that besides being honored by being in competition at Sundance has already won in the past week two relevant women directing awards. Just fantastic!

To my surprise there was a film video on Youtube but surely due to the buzz Passon has been provoking, the video has become "private". But check a couple of films stills.

Film absolutely has become MUST BE SEEN for me!

I don't like long posts and post has become too long, so please continue reading in Part 2.

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