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That's a wrap: Sundance Film Festival 2018

Sundance Film Festival is for you too in 2018 (Photo: Larry D. Curtis / KUTV)

(KUTV) As the 2018 Sundance Film Festival comes to a close this weekend, we have a chance to reflect back on some of the stories and adventures that my team and I had. This year there were 110 feature-length films to choose from, dozens of lounges to escape the cold and nearly as many parties, red carpets and more excuses to keep us out past our traditional bed times. Yes, there were stars to be seen, particularly if you are Lisa Herrera, a local who has a habit of catching the the biggest names as they walk down Main Street in Park City.

One of the highlights of the festival for us was the opportunity to sit down with Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons and director Don Argott about their film "Believer. We've been able to run a few clips on air from the interview, but here is the 10-minute conversation in full (I'm buried deep in the mix because we only had two microphones, but ultimately it is their answers that matter the most).

We also had the opportunity to cover "Quiet Heroes," a documentary film about Dr. Kristen Ries and her efforts to care for those with AIDS in the 1980s, when it wasn't fashionable to do so. I had the surreal opportunity of sitting down to interview two of the film's co-directors, Jared Ruga and Amanda Stoddard, to talk about their experience of having a film in the Sundance Film Festival. Surreal because Amanda and I were friends in high school. It was a shared moment that neither of us could have predicted all those years ago.

In a year where everyone was talking about #MeToo and #Times Up, KUTV reported Chris Jones joined in our coverage with a story on Sundance's effort to protect festival goers from sexual assault.

It's been a quiet year for film sales, but there were quality films to be seen that will hopefully be given the opportunity to be viewed by the masses. Here's a look at the films that me and my team of Larry D. Curtis and Hannah Knowles saw.

Assassination Nation
Midnight

This is one of Sundance's midnight selections which often means it is more violent or edgy or has non-conventional story telling. This film is all of those things but it is also captivating, compelling and it has a lot to say about the experience of teens in the age of constant social media exposure and pressure.

Senior student Lily, and her crew, live their lives in a haze of social posts where almost nothing is private in their small town of Salem and then things get crazy. And while the movie is over the top, it is done with purpose and the message is effective without feeling preachy. - LC

Beast
Spotlight

A troubled young female living in an isolated community finds herself constantly torn between the control of her oppressive family, especially her mother, and the allure of a secretive "outsider" suspected of brutal murders.

Molly's idea of freedom comes in the form of the outsider, loner Pascal. Soon he and Moll embrace the sort of intense, overwhelming relationship that only two outcasts can create.

Nothing can stop their love, not even Molly's suspicion that Pascal might be involved with a string of unthinkable crimes. -HK

Believer
Documentary Premieres

Dan Reynolds, lead singer of Imagine Dragons, embarks on a journey that finds him trapped between his belief in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his love for the gay community and their struggle to find acceptance. Reynolds and director Don Argott have crafted a film filled with frustration and hope that reminds LGBTQIA youth that they aren't alone. A message that will hopefully save lives and start an honest and open conversation between those with opposing views. -RP

Related Links
Sundance review: 'Believer' is an emotional exploration of two conflicting beliefs
Mormon Imagine Dragons singer tells his story at Sundance world premiere of 'Believer'
LDS rock star wants to be voice of change from inside Mormon church
Imagine Dragons singer creates festival to help save LGBTQ+ lives in Utah
LDS church supports Imagine Dragons, LGBTQ festival

Crime + Punishment
U.S. Documentary Competition

Stephen Maing directs this moving documentary about the NYPD 12, a group of New York City police officers who risked their jobs by revealing that outlawed quotas are still in effect. The film works best when it focuses on the officers, but often gets bogged down when focusing on Manuel Gomez, an ex-cop who now works as a private investigator to aid those who have been targeted by police for no other reason except to bolster their arrest totals. Gomez’s story does tie directly into the narrative, but a little more streamlining of his material would ultimately benefit the narrative. Still, this is the sort of film that needs to be widely seen, particularly those who are interested in race issues and especially those who deny that racism and inequality are a major issue impacting all facets of society. -RP

Damsel
Premieres

Over the years I've become increasingly fond of westerns and I absolutely adored "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter," so "Damsel" was high on my list of films to see. The fact that it was filmed in Utah and featured the underrated talents of Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, and Robert Forster made the film that more appealing.

The story follows Samuel Alabaster (Pattinson), a heartbroken travel who enlists the help of a drunk masqurading as a preacher (Forster) to help him rescue the love of his life from the man who has kidnapped her. As you might expect, nothing goes as planned as directors David and Nathan Zellner plays for laughs.

Sadly, I have to admit that I didn't really care for this gonzo western that goes to great lengths to upend the genre while still paying tribute to it. The many twists and turns that the narrative takes aren't nearly as funny or unexpected as they need to be. I actually found myself wishing I was watching Takashi Miike's even crazier "Sukiyaki Western Django." -RP

Eighth Grade
U.S. Dramatic Competition

Over the past few years A24 has established themselves as one of the more interesting entertainment studios with films like “The Witch,” “Moonlight,” “A Ghost Story” and “Ladybird.”

This year they brought “Eighth Grade” to the festival and while the film is far more traditional than you might expect, it is equally as good as the studio’s less commercial offerings.

The film marks the feature debut of comedian Bo Durnham and follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher), an appropriately awkward teenage girl, simply trying to survive the last week of Middle School.

You couldn’t pay me enough to revisit my Middle School days, but I’ll happily see “Eighth Grade” again when it comes to theaters later this year. -RP

Related Links
Sundance Review: 'Eighth Grade' is a truthful, funny coming-of-age story

The Guilty
World Cinema Dramatic Competition

When trying to explain "The Guilty," a fantastic Danish thriller, there will be many who reference Tom Hardy's 2013 Sundance film "Locke" or even Ryan Reynolds' "Buried" from 2010, but the films are far less alike than you might think. "Locke" featured Hardy as a man making various phone calls as he drove. "Buried" found Reynolds buried in a wooden coffin in the Iraqi desert with only a cellphone as his lifeline. "The Guilty" takes place in an emergency call center. The majority of the film finds Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) trying to locate a woman who claims to have been kidnapped. I enjoyed "Buried" and was very fond of "Locke," but "The Guilty" is on a completely different level. It's simply one of the most intense thrillers that I've ever had the pleasure of watching. -RP

Hale County This Morning, This Evening
U.S. Documentary


Photographer RaMell Ross makes his feature documentary debut with "Hale County This Morning, This Evening." The film is unusual in the sense that it doesn't directly tell you a story as much as it shows you one. The audience is offered a view into the lives of Daniel and Quincy and the sense of inequality that is never spoken of, but is constantly seen.

"Hale County This Morning, This Evening," is not a traditional documentary where everything is carefully explained to the audience. It simply shows a slice of life and asks that we draw our own conclusions. -RP

Hereditary
Midnight

"Hereditary" is one of the most talked about film at this year's festival and while I didn't find it nearly as frightening as my colleagues, I was still entranced by the action as it played out. The story features familiar horror tropes, but they are executed in a way that feels fresh and surprising. There are some real brave and shocking moments to be found in “Hereditary” and that’s unusual for any genre film, but even more so for a horror film. Don’t be too surprised if the gorehounds aren’t nearly as excited as the arthouse critics, but as someone who wants more than hack and splatter from a horror film, I love this nearly as much as I loved last year’s “It Comes at Night.”

Toni Collette is excellent (some are already pushing for an Oscar nomination in 2019), but the real revelation for me was Milly Shapiro’s performance. How has Broadway kept this fantastic actress a secret? -RP

Lizzie
U.S. Dramatic Competition

"Lizzie" is a period peice about the infamous axe murders of Lizzie Borden's parents for which she was tried and acquitted. Kristen Stewart, known for the Twilight films but with a lot of independents on her resume, is the hired servant of the Borden family, befriended by title character Lizzie, played by Chloe Sevigny. The film was purchased and will get distribution in theaters, no doubt lifted by its two recognizable stars, but it is dour and heavy with few moments of anything else. It feels easier to admire the film than to embrace it. - LC

Lords of Chaos
Midnight

Metal, taken to its extreme, becomes authentic Norweigen black metal. "Lords of Chaos" tells the true story of band Meyhem and the murder and church burnings that surround the group, even getting headlines in the U.S. in the early '90s. Rory Culkin leads a talented young cast and stars as Øystein Aarseth, better known as Euronymous, who endures the suicide of his bandmate, more or less the graphic opening of the film, and tries to build his musical empire.

Despite the darkest of material, the film's tone leaves room for levity, and both pokes fun and pays tribute to the hardest of hardcore music and its fans. It appeals when it shouldn't and may connect with audiences world wide. - LC

Mandy
Midnight

So far this film, with 16 reviews, is 100 percent fresh at RottenTomatoes, which is a little miraculous, as it fully embraces everything people hope or fear a Sundance midnight movie will be. There is drugs, a whole lot of drugs, murder, human-demon hybrids, metalsmithing, a hippie religious cult and a hefty dose of Nicolas Cage extracting his revenge. Unless you are already familiar with director Panos Cosmatos' "Beyond The Black Rainbow," you haven't seen a film quite like this. Some of you will not want to. - LC

Our New President
World Cinema Documentary Competition

Made entirely from Russia's lone television news station's propaganda, and the YouTube videos where citizens parrot the reports, this is non-conventional storytelling that does its best not to make a propaganda movie out of the propaganda material. It tells the story of the 2016 U.S. presidential election from the Russian perspective and there is a chilling realization that some of this absurd material eventually bled into reporting by American news networks. But, the film sounds better than it is, grinding down the viewer with a grating sountrack and a narrative that isn't especially smooth.

Still there is a value learning that Russia reported Hillary Clinton was cursed for visiting a mummy in a museum in 1997, suffered from both dementia and retardation that Donald Trump is a great friend to Russia. - LC

Related Link
Sundance opens with world documentary made from Russian propaganda

Paint
Indie Episodic

"Paint" is a half-hour comedy about a group of young artists living in Brooklyn. It's nicely shot, well-acted and decidedly modern. It also might be the most insufferable experience that I've ever endured at the Sundance Film Festival. Written and directed by Michael Walker, "Paint" features a cast of characters who are so incredibly self-centered and selfish that it's amazing that any of them would stop talking long enough to let anyone else take part in a conversation. This, of course, is but the first chapter in a much larger story, but even if you were to tell me that by the end of the series that the characters would come to understand that they aren't the center of the universe, I still wouldn't want to take the journey with them. -RP

Quiet Heroes
Documentary Premieres

The story of Dr. Kristen Ries and her efforts to treat the AIDS epidemic in Salt Lake City finally makes its way to the screen in this documentary from Utah filmmakers Jenny Mackenzie, Jared Ruga and Amanda Stoddard.

Related links
'Quiet Heroes' celebrates lone doctor, assistant who cared for Utah's AIDS patients

Rust
World Drama

I suspect that we'll be seeing many films dealing with teenagers and the potential dangers of social media, sex tapes and the like over the next few years. "Rust," a Brazilian film, tells the story of Tati, a teenage girl with a particularly explicit video of herself and an ex-boyfriend saved on her phone. When the phone is lost and the video released online, Tati begins to unravel as the clip goes viral.

"Rust" also follows Renet, a friend and potential boyfriend of Tati, who watches the situation develop before him as his own personal life is falling apart.

"Rust" is an effective film that doesn't pull punches. It shows how easily a life can be derailed by a simple lapse in judgement. The young cast offers strong performances and striking cinematography. It's not an easy watch, but it contains an important message. -RP

Three Identical Strangers
U.S. Documentary Competition

I had certain expectations going into the documentary “Three Identical Strangers,” the story of three young men who discovered that they were identical triplets in their late teens. Most of those expectations were matched over the course of the film’s first 60 minutes. Then the last third of the film kicked in and my jaw hit the floor. The clues had been there all along, the details were in plain sight. I just hadn’t connected the dots because up to that point the film had been a jovial ride filled with silliness and endless television appearances.

You absolutely must see this film. -RP

The Trade
Indie Episodic

America has a heroin problem and Matthew Heineman’s “The Trade” series guides us through numerous aspects of the epidemic including manufacturers, dealers, users, police and their families. We were only shown the first two episodes of the five-part series, but halfway through the first episode I was hooked (and disappointed to learn that it wasn’t a ten-part series). There is so much raw emotion that Heineman wisely just lets his subject do the storytelling as he weaves together the many pieces of the complex narrative. Rivetting filmmaking here from the director of “City of Ghosts.” -RP

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist
World Cinema Documentary

While Malcom Mclaren would like you to believe that he invented the wheel and punk rock, but it was Vivienne Westwood, his wife, who gave the movement its sense of style that matched the anti-authority angst of the music.

Which makes the fact that she’s now known officially as Dame Vivienne Westwood somewhat comical. Truthfully, she doesn’t seem to have changed much since the ‘70s. So, clearly it is the world that has come around to embrace the anarchist’s work as something to be celebrated, rather than embarrassed of.

Westwood is somewhat combative interview, which makes it more amazing that director Lorna Tucker was able to piece together a fairly cohesive profile of the designer’s career. It’s often hard to tell if Westwood is annoyed that she has a place in history or if she simply doesn’t recognize her enduring influence on what has become culture. Maybe she’s just angry that culture has been assimilated by the mainstream. Maybe she’s just a restless perfectionist who has yet to be satisfied by her work. -RP

Won't You Be My Neighbor
Documentary Premieres

A lot of sniffles could be heard during the documentary that tells you more about Fred Rogers and his amazing ability to speak to children. The tears aren't pulled out by sad moments or false emotionaly manipulation but by the beauty of a man determined to use the platform of television to broadcast love and concern to little people and to tackle the issues of the day. It is a remarkable film about a remarkable subject and even if you think you know all there is to know, it still has remarkable revelations. - LC

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