One of the best things about living in Utah is attending the Sundance Film Festival as a local. I worked in video store in high school and would anxiously await any independent films that came to VHS and DVD. Independent films featured more of the fringe stories I was craving and complicated characters that didn’t fit into the mold of mainstream Hollywood movies. Attending the Sundance Film Festival is a dream come true for any fan of this genre of film. There is a palpable buzz of excitement that permeates the entire festival as you wait in line to see one-of-a kind stories. Another neat aspect of the festival is that many of the directors, writers, producers, and actors give Q&A sessions after the screenings of their film.
During the Q&A of The Discovery at this year’s festival, the writers explained that the budgets of independent film force creativity because producers can’t rely on million-dollar stunts and graphic effects to tell the story. An example they cited from their film was a newscast featured in a pivotal scene playing in the background. The writers needed to insert details like this for authenticity of their worldview without shooting on location in different countries and subsequently spending money they didn’t have. For me, it’s details like this that draw you directly into the world the film is portraying.
2017 Sundance Recommendations
Here are the films I was lucky enough to see at this year’s festival and a description of each:
Rebel in the Rye. This film is a biographical drama about the life of author J.D. Salinger and is a must for anyone is a fan of The Catcher in the Rye. While there are many Easter Eggs in the movie and refences to Salinger’s infamous novel, Danny Strong does an excellent job of telling a captivating story and therefore you don’t need to be familiar with the source material to enjoy the movie. Catcher in the Rye was not my favorite book in high school, but this movie made me want to read it again – especially after you learn about Salinger’s struggles and more about his life. Nicholas Hoult gives a great performance as Salinger and Kevin Spacey is terrific as his writing professor Whit Burnett. The movie will leave you thinking about what it really means to “pursue your passion.”
Long Strange Trip. When I first learned that the Grateful Dead documentary has a run time of a whopping 235 minutes, I was nervous about sitting through the film. That feeling quickly vanished within 10 minutes of the opening. During the Q&A at intermission someone asked Director Amir Bar-Lev what his dream project would be and he immediately responded, “You’re watching it.” This becomes quite evident throughout the film. Long Strange Trip is a fascinating in-depth look at one of America’s most iconic bands and the unique culture that surrounded them. It also has amazing graphics and never-before seen photos, interviews, and facts about the band. Long Strange Trip will be available on Amazon Prime on May 26th.
The Discovery. While the first season of The OA toys with the idea of providing scientific proof of an afterlife, The Discovery explores how such an event would affect everyday life. Part sci-fi, part romance, the film follows the son (Jason Segel) of the man who made the discovery (Robert Redford) as he falls for a woman with a tragic past (Rooney Mara). Netflix purchased the film and it will be available worldwide on March 31st.
XX. This is an all-female directed horror anthology comprised of 4 segments ranging from more tongue-in-cheek horror in the form of suburban hell “The Birthday Party” to more traditional segments like “The Box,” “Don’t Fall,” and “Her Only Living Son.” While the individual segments are worth watching, perhaps the coolest part of the film is the wrap around stop-motion animation segment directed by Sofia Carillo. The objects that come to life are truly creepy, but Carillo is so talented that it’s hard to tear yourself away. XX is set for limited releaseFebruary 17th and is available for rent on platforms like Amazon prime.
Raw. A horror film that is not for the faint of heart and possibly not for vegetarians. Although no one passed out during the screening I attended, there were a few scenes that made me grimace. There is also a fair amount of comedic relief that leaves you disarmed. Based on some of the initial reviews, I was expecting a more traditional cannibalism horror flick and was blown away with the cinematography, the story, and all the performances in the film. One of the directors of XX during her film Q&A said she thought Raw was one of the best horror films she’s seen in years because if you take away all the traditional horror elements there is still a mesmerizing story of sisterhood and a critique of group-think. Her observation rings true throughout the whole film. Raw will be released on March 10th.
Colossal. It’s hard to describe this movie without sounding extremely weird (which should be part of the appeal). After getting kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) returns to her hometown and reunites with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). After drinking too much with Oscar and his friends, Gloria wakes up to discover that a gigantic monster rampaged through Seoul, South Korea and that somehow the monster is connected to her. Colossal poses some interesting moral dilemmas as well as tells the story of what it means to stand up to a bully – something that should resonate with anyone who has ever been bullied. Colossal is set to be released on April 7.
Wind River. This is a thriller starring Jeremy Renner as a veteran game tracker and Elizabeth Olsen as a new FBI agent who team up to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation. The landscape for the movie is gorgeous and will have you contemplating how humans manage to survive in cold, desolate places. Wind River does not currently have a release date.
The Killing Ground. Much like the Blair Witch Project, this film made me afraid to go camping in the woods. A young couple travels to a remote lakefront camping site only to realize that things are not quite right with their neighbors and other visitors. This movie slowly turns into a hair-raising thriller that had me on the edge of my seat until the final scene. IFC has acquired the rights to the movie.
Rememory. This was probably my least favorite film that I saw and I still very much enjoyed the concept of the film. Gordon Dunn, a famed scientific pioneer, is found dead in his office just after unveiling his latest invention – a device that can extract, record, and then display a person’s memories. Gordon’s widow (Julia Ormond) is left to put together the pieces in conjunction with a mysterious man who claims to know Gordon (Peter Dinklage). Fans will also get to see one of Anton Yelchin’s last appearances on film as Rememory was made prior to his tragic death in real life. Rememory does not currently have a release date.
Supporting Sundance, Independent Film, and the NEA
This year I’ve felt the need to be especially vocal in my support of the Sundance Film Festival and independent film. While most people are familiar with the festival, many people are probably not aware that the initial grant and promotion from the National Endowment for the Arts (“NEA”) is what made the Sundance Institute possible. Founder Robert Redford has said that the “very beginning [of the festival] was due in large part to the support of the NEA” and that the NEA “has played a key role in encouraging organizations like Sundance Institute to grow and expand its influence, not only through financial support, but, more significantly, through consistently articulating the importance of the arts and the artist in our society.”
With the NEA on the chopping block for the current administration, it’s devastating to picture a society without independent film and festivals like Sundance. In his open letter to the administration, Redford perfectly articulates why it’s vital to keep the NEA. Not only would proposed defunding “gut our nation’s long history of support for artists and art programs,” it ignores that festivals like Sundance film festival bring “millions of dollars of revenue…proving that art can be an economic force.”
More than ever, it is important to support independent film so that incredible storytellers can share their art with the world and we can continue to have the privilege to experience it. Support comes in many forms. You can be vocal on social media about attending an independent film. You can write reviews for exceptional and quirky films on websites like Rotten Tomatoes or Fandango. You can donate directly to the NEA (click here) or become a member of the Sundance Institute (click here). You can even sign one of the many petitions circulating to save the NEA. Last, you can show distribution companies that there is a high demand for independent film by attending in person. If you are passionate about independent film, festivals, and the NEA, now is the time to stand up and advocate.
Original post from Liz Letak. Liz Letak serves as the General Counsel for ArtSmart and her blog is reposted here with permission.
Arts in the News: Share art through Facebook Live, Covering Concrete Walls with Art, Effect of Music on Your Mind, MoMA Features Art from Nations Affected by Travel Restrictions, Conductor Made Kids Cry, George Lucas’ Museum
The National Gallery Reflects on Going ‘Facebook Live’
Covering Concrete Walls with Colorful Art in Baghdad
Determined to brighten the gray concrete walls of his community in the Iraqi capital, university student Ali Abdulrahman got the support of his dean and gathered nearly 100 fellow students to paint graffiti along the walls of the campus. So impressed by the result, Abdulrahman founded “Imprint of Hope” in January 2015 and set his sights on a larger canvas: the walls all around the city of Baghdad. Imprint of Hope now boasts over 370 volunteers who work together to fill the city with beautiful paintings. The volunteers themselves come from a variety of backgrounds, including students, carpenters, ironsmiths, artists, and doctors. Before Imprint of Hope, the walls of Baghdad served primarily as canvasses for sectarian slogans and political propaganda. Locals reportedly complained about the litter along the walls, the rodents who tended to live in and among them, and the smell during some of the hotter summer months. Thanks to Abdulrahman and his colleagues, many walls now boast images of landscapes, animals, whimsical scenes, and positive messages of cooperation and community. At the moment, the group does not receive outside funding, but relies on monthly dues from members of about 8 USD each to buy paint and brushes. Truly an inspiring group of individuals who are brightening the daily lives of those in their community with art and beauty.
Seeing the Effect of Music on Your Mind
Using an electroencephalogram (EEG), Dr. Mark Doidge creates what he calls a “Portrait of Your Mind:” a dynamic, three-dimensional “movie” of brain activity. When a subject listens to music, the portraits come to life, looking like fireworks and bursting with color. Doidge credits his collaborator, biophysicist Joseph Mocanu, with the development of the software used to generate the portrait movies. It works by plotting the origins of electrical activity in differen parts of the brain, and then assigning colors to different kinds of brain waves. Doidge is particularly struck bye the effect of music on the brain (and the portraits): “when I listened to Antonin Dvorak’s Waltz No. 1 from his Op. 54 set, the music coaxes rhythmic bursts of alpha waves from my brain….The sweet, lilting melody and steady pulse of Dvorak’s waltz seemed to be working a pleasant kind of magic inside my head.” Interestingly, whether or not someone actually likes a song does not seem to affect on how the brain responds to it, according to Doige. Yet another fascinating step in linking art and science!
MoMA Features Art from Nations Affected by Travel Restrictions
In the aftermath of an executive order from President Trump barring immigrants and visa-card holders from seven Muslim-majority nations (Yemen, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria), the New York City Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has decided to use its own walls to make a stand, hanging work by artists from the very nations affected by the ban. Seven works, each one by an artist from a different one of the seven countries, were installed in the MoMa’s fifth floor galleries late last week, replacing work by Western artists like Picasso and Matisse. Placards next to the pieces explain their symbolism in the face of the travel ban. The MoMA’s Chief Curator of Drawings and Prints, Christophe Cherix, explains that the “clear reaction” to the ban, as he calls the MoMA’s actions, are meant to express “solidarity with artists from different countries.” Selecting the seven works to feature required a multidisciplinary team of curators across several MoMA departments, and the result is both striking and profound. A lovely way to show solidarity for fellow artists and send the message that art knows now borders.
Conductor in Hot Water After Making Kids Cry
At the end of an orchestral performance of Disney’s Frozen in Rome, conductor Giacomo Loprieno asked for the microphone to speak to the audience. He then announced–to a room of parents and their children–that Santa Claus isn’t real, and immediately exited the stage. “Father Christmas doesn’t exist” he said, after apparently becoming increasingly frustrated by families who left the performance early to escape the crowds on the way out. The outburst left parents furious and their children in tears. Mr. Loprieno was promptly replaced by another director for the next show, which took place a week later. The organizers of the concerts also went so far as to post pictures of the new conductor, Marco Dallara, embracing a man dressed as Santa Claus. Tickets for each concert cost between 30 and 48 euros; the show itself, “Disney in Concert: Frozen,” was billed as “a fantastic surprise.” It’s probably safe to say patrons were indeed surprised…
Suspense around George Lucas’ Museum Plans
Sometime this month, George Lucas, the legendary filmmaker most famous for the Star Wars franchise, is expected to announce whether he will put a museum for his extensive personal art collection in San Francisco or Los Angeles. Lucas has tried for nearly a decade to build a museum for his personal collection of 40,000 paintings, illustrations and film-related items, but legal entanglements and other complications have arisen. Now, both LA and San Francisco are vying to be host of the proposed museum. “This is the largest civic gift in American history,” explains LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, as the museum will be called, will provide hundreds of jobs and significant tourist attraction, and is essentially free for the host city. Lucas will be financing the project himself, planning to spend more than $1 billion to build the museum, endow it, and provide over $400 million in initial artworks. Lucas joined forces with Chinese architect Ma Yansong to develop a futurisic design for the museum–appropriate for the man who created Star Wars. It will be interesting to see where the museum ends up and a delight to see the final product!
Many people have asked me about my favorite travel hacks. Here are five that I’ve been utilizing lately:
TSA PreCheck. I’m surprised more people haven’t taken the time to apply to TSA PreCheck. It costs $85 and is good for five years. You can enroll online here (takes about 20 minutes) and then you have to appear in person with proper identification (takes about 15-20 minutes). There are many non-airport locations, which means there’s a high likelihood you’ll be able to find a place that conducts onsite screening close to your home. In 2016, over 44% enrollees reported that TSA PreCheck significantly reduced their security wait. Anecdotally, many of my colleagues swear by it and one of my friends who frequently consults onsite across the country claims it has saved her an average of 45 minutes of waiting per trip she’s taken in 2017. Enrollment for the program is still down, which means it behooves travelers to enroll now and take advantage of the benefits.
Bundle Your Travel Costs. You’ve probably heard that credit cards with miles and benefits are all the rage right now. Have you considered using that card to pay for flights on a site like Expedia? Expedia will let you plug in your frequent flier number for whatever airline you choose while giving you access to deals if you bundle a flight and a hotel or a flight and a car rental. Therefore, you’ve gained points on your credit card through the purchase, miles for the airline, and probably received 10-20% off the cost by bundling. One other trick if you are using Expedia is that Expedia almost always generates a link after you purchase a flight to save on a hotel. So long as you click on that link within 30 days, you can save 10% or more on a hotel – even if it’s in a different location than the flight you previously booked. Sites like Expedia also reward loyalty, so you’ll accumulate more benefits the more frequently you use the site.
Invest in “Open Space” Luggage. While luggage with many compartments may seem attractive at the onset, it’s limiting. Not only does it take time to allocate items into the compartments, you might not be able to bring home purchases you make on your trip because they won’t fit. Although there is much debate about the most efficient way to pack, a suitcase with fewer compartments on the inside that has more open space will give you more flexibility and will be less time consuming to pack at the last minute.
Research specials for local transportation. During the holiday season, Uber and American Express ran this incredible special on the East Coast and other select airports where you got up to a $65 credit per ride for using an AmEx if your travel originated from the airport. Many tourists, for example, also don’t know that it is substantially cheaper to purchase a ticket for Metro North from a kiosk than on the train. A quick Google search can save you substantial money for local transportation costs – something a lot of people don’t figure into the initial cost of a trip.
Only Bring Items You Love. Similar to the advice I give about what clothes to keep in your closet, you should only travel with items that you love. Instead of hauling three pairs of so-so pants, find a pair of jeans or lightweight khakis that you love and bring those. This is an obvious space saver, but will also ensure you are confident while traveling. No one feels great about walking around in a pair of pants they feel are “just ok.” Apply the same rule to the rest of the clothes, cosmetics, and shoes. Do you need two pairs of sneakers? Probably not – pick your favorite. Bring travel packets of Tide so that you can wash a pair of pants or a shirt overnight in the shower of your hotel. This is going to ultimately save you time (less decision making each day about what to wear), space (lighter suitcase), and give you more flexibility to purchase items or put other items you need in your suitcase.
Housing for Teachers: A Solution or a Band-Aid?
As the housing market continues to grow, teachers’ salaries are largely remaining stagnant. According to Redfin, only 7% of homes in Seattle, 6.5% of homes in Miami, and 1% of homes in Denver are within the realm of affordability for teachers to purchase. Rental prices are also high. As a result, many districts are having trouble recruiting and retaining teachers. A recent survey of 211 school districts in California found that 75% of the districts had trouble finding enough teachers for the year, 40% of science and math teachers are inadequately prepared for classroom instruction, and 64% of special education teachers hired lack the proper qualifications.
One of the solutions that many districts are proposing is to provide housing or some type of subsidy for teachers. The San Mateo District in California is exploring building housing onsite. Miami Beach is discussing whether to turn parking garages into affordable housing for teachers. Eagle County School District in Colorado is even considering building tiny homes for teachers located near the school. Hundreds of other districts are considering similar proposals.
While this may seem like a good idea, critics argue that instead of providing housing, districts should pay teachers competitive pay. Others criticize the lack of implementation by many districts because the costs as simply too high to provide housing. While San Francisco is investigating options, the city already has a housing crisis and schools in the city employ over 9,500 people making it unlikely that they would be able to provide housing for everyone.
One innovative plan is currently underway in Newark, New Jersey called the Teacher’s Village. The 65,000 square foot retail development includes 3 charter schools, 204 apartments with a preference for educators all within a cluster and a block from Prudential Arena. The 150-million project has helped revitalize the area as evidenced by retail that is emerging around the development. Thus, instead of viewing housing for teachers as a isolated issue, cities and districts should approach the problem collaboratively like Newark has.
- Guest Blog: Sundance Film Festival 2017
- Arts in the News: Share art through Facebook Live, Covering Concrete Walls with Art, Effect of Music on Your Mind, MoMA Features Art from Nations Affected by Travel Restrictions, Conductor Made Kids Cry, George Lucas’ Museum
- FabFive Travel Hacks
- Housing for Teachers: A Solution or a Band-Aid?