Thirty-three years ago, renowned actor Robert Redford created what would become one of the premier film festivals in the U.S., if not the world — the Sundance Film Festival. Taking place in the sleepy little ski town of Park City, Utah, the town wakes up with the convergence of tens of thousands of people, many of whom are big-name Hollywood actors like Jack Black, as well as entertainers such as John Legend.
While films are the focus, there are plenty of other things to keep you busy, such as special awards events, parties and panel discussions. I watched a lot of films, and here are several recommendations to put on your radar for the coming year. Without further ado, here are the best from the fest!
Documentaries: Former Vice President Al Gore continues his relentless efforts in educating world leaders about climate change and its effects. His first film 10 years ago, "An Inconvenient Truth," now has a sequel, "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power." The cameras follow Gore as he discusses the importance of education and working together in this world to save it. It's educational, similar to many documentaries about this topic, but at its heart is passion and hope.
Dramas: Two (freezing) films stood out this year: "Walking Out" and "Wind River." The former stars Matt Bomer and Josh Wiggins as a father and son who find themselves injured in a remote mountain area. Roles must be reversed for survival. It's an intense journey filled with chilling situations and, most importantly, the love between a father and his son.
Listen to Pam's interview with "Walking Out" cinematographer Todd McMullen here.
"Wind River" is Taylor Sheridan's newest film that he not only wrote, but also directed. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen star in this crime thriller that takes you on an intense journey with more bumps in the road than Lake Shore Drive after winter. As Cory, an area wildlife ranger and expert tracker (Renner), finds a young American Indian girl frozen in the mountains, her death is no accident. Jane (Olsen) is the new FBI agent attempting to solve the homicide, but relying on Cory's skills and knowledge to do so. Again, we have the love of a father and child, in this case a daughter, that drives the story forward.
Comedy: "The Polka King" stars Jack Black, Jackie Weaver and Jenny Slate. The film is based on a true story about Jan Lewan, who created the first ever Polish Ponzi scheme. Producer David Permut ("Hacksaw Ridge") said that "truth is stranger than fiction," and this film certainly punctuated that fact. It's one hilarious and unbelievable event after another, and knowing this actually happened makes it even funnier! Black is sensational, and Weaver creates a persona that will make your jaw drop as the mother-in-law. Reportedly, the real-life mother-in-law is even meaner! (See an interview with the producer, David Permut, at reelhonestreviews.com.)
Foreign: "Pop Aye" takes us to Bangkok as we journey with a man and his elephant. Yes, his elephant. Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) is a "once-illustrious architect" whose job and marriage are waning. He happens upon an elephant he recognizes as a childhood pet and decides to return the large beast to his homeland. It's not exactly "Thelma and Louise," but it will make you laugh about his predicaments as you grow to love and understand this man in a midlife crisis.
Midnight (aka Horror): Australian filmmaker Damien Power takes his law degree and knowledge of psychological situations to create "Killing Ground." As a young couple camp in a remote wooded area, they begin to inquire about the empty tent not far from them. They say that curiosity killed the cat, but what they are in for is so much more horrifying. "Killing Ground" is one of the most chilling and psychologically harrowing films I have seen — on par with "Don't Breathe." It'll make you jump and scream (and cancel that upcoming camping trip). It's so much more than a horror film; it's an intense work of art.
Short films: The short film category always astounds me with the ability to tell a complex and meaningful story in less than 10 minutes. This year, I had the pleasure to see a few short films and interview one of the filmmakers. "Hold On" tackles the generational divide that technology has created, and then complicates it with the difficulties of aging and dementia. This film will strike a chord with everyone, and as the filmmaker, Christine Turner says, "I hope it's something that resonates with people [and] prompts them to think and communicate better."