Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sundance Film Festival - Day 4 (5 & 6)

Nicholas Kristoff is developing a video game?

A conversation between two people, a documentary photographed largely on low-grade video cameras and an ultra-violent drama about a prisoner who discovers that violence is his art highlighted my past three days of Sundancing.

Two Pulitzer Prize winning authors, Nicholas Kristoff and Samantha Power, debated the merits of the printed word versus filmmaking in a stimulating discussion on the mediums. Both writers are showcasing their first forays into film at the festival. The discussion covered a range of topics and became particularly rewarding when it focused on how best to reach an audience to create change. Anecdotal highlights included Kristoff’s revelation that he is exploring every way possible to reach new audiences, including developing a video game.

“Reporter” follows Kristoff as he travels deep into the Congo to expose the desperate poverty and conflict in the region through his twice weekly column in The New York Times. It is a fascinating first-hand view of the travails of a reporter in a war-torn region, as well as a probing look at the challenging decisions about coverage, risk and subject manipulation he must constantly make. A particularly complex scene involves his interview and subsequent dinner with a notorious and brutal war lord.

“Sergio” is a look at the charismatic United Nations diplomat from Brazil, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who is often described as a cross between James Bond and Bobby Kennedy. Based on the novel by Samantha Power, this beautifully photographed, crisply edited and fascinating look into his life focuses on his appointment as U.N. ambassador to Iraq and a day that will live in infamy, August 19, 2003, the first time the U.N. had become the target of terrorism.

One of the most urgent films I have ever seen in my life, “Burma VJ” follows the harrowing journalistic exploits of the Democratic Voice of Burma (or simply DVB). Comprised mostly of handheld, low-grade video camera and cell phone footage, it surpassed the power of almost all of the talent laden, higher budgeted and tightly orchestrated dramas I have seen so far at Sundance.

The DVB band of renegade journalists provides the world and Burma its only news source in a country where reportage is strictly prohibited by a repressive regime. The film deftly compiles their footage, including the reporters’ firsthand accounts, of the 2007 peaceful rebellion led by Buddhist Monks that turned into a nightmare for the citizens of Burma.

On the dramatic side the highlight was “Bronson,” the latest film from Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. Refn is famous for his “Pusher” trilogy, about underground crime in Copenhagen, which is considered a cult hit many circles.

With stunning imagery and a tour-de-force performance from Tom Hardy (who reportedly gained 100 pounds of muscle for the role!), “Bronson” dramatizes the real life of Charlie Bronson, Britain’s most violent prisoner. Stylistically urgent, this ultra-violent exploration of character can‘t be missed.

1 comment:

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