My favorite films at Sundance this year were Laura Dunn’s The Unforseen and Craig Zobel’s Great World of Sound. Both were films that made me glad I attended the festival, and that reminded me why I keep working in the realm of indie film. They are very different films, but similar in one key way – they are both artistic, small films about big ideas, with a lot of heart and apparently little chance of being seen by the masses.
Laura Dunn is one of our Fellows, but I don’t think I need much of a disclaimer – we’ve never met, she received her fellowship before I started working for Renew Media and it was for a different film. So half-hearted disclaimer aside, I think The Unforseen is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen at any festival in at least two years. It helps that it was shot by Lee Daniel, the cinematographer for Rick Linklater among others, and that her graphics (no small part of the movie) were done by Kyle Cooper, who has done the opening credits of Seven and Spider Man. Daniel’s footage is ethereal - a combination of old super-8 (from the looks of it) and modern footage which is always well-lit, beautifully framed and gorgeous to watch. Laura’s style evokes Terrence Malick, who was an executive producer of the documentary, and leaves you mesmerized – not an easy task for a film about urban sprawl, politics, the environment and a vanishing way of life in the Southwest. This is not a sensibility seen in many docs today, which often eschew visual style and an attention to form to focus solely on interesting subject matter. It’s one of the biggest problems facing documentary today, this lack of attention to form, and Dunn firmly establishes herself as one of the smartest documentary filmmakers precisely because of her attention to it. This film could have easily been much less of a movie, but through her attention to the craft of filmmaking, Dunn has styled an important film about a weighty subject. It is nuanced – you feel real pain for the “big, bad” developer - without striving for some mythical journalistic “balance.” It is important – urban sprawl and its effects on our environment shown for the political choices they are - without putting the weight of the world on your shoulders, like a powerpoint film. It is also beautiful, an aesthetic choice made not to save money and get it done fast, but to do it right. It is also, unfortunately, doubtful to be seen at a theatre near you anytime soon. It’s not easy to market, too long for most and while it has a star (Reford), he’s not the focus of the film. I never thought that the effects of a developer on little Barton Springs in Austin, Texas could have such an affect on me, but Laura Dunn’s treatment of the subject gives me new hope for documentary film.
Craig Zobel has been trying to make Great World of Sound for many, many years. I remember him pitching it years ago at the Atlanta Film Festival when he was working the fest scene affiliated with David Gordon Green. Zobel shows there truly was something in the water of
Zobel approached GWS as an art experiment, in a way. The movie contains numerous scenes of talent auditions – actors, presumably, playing the role of really bad (and some good) singers, trying to get a break and make their dreams come true. After the film, I learned that most of these people weren’t actors, but had answered an ad in the
One of the lead characters, Martin (played superbly by Pat Healy), has a recurring line in the film about how there’s so much talent out in the world that deserves to be discovered, which is why he initially takes the job. I couldn’t help but find lots of parallels with the film world converging at Sundance, something that Zobel confirmed was on his mind as well when we spoke after the film. Sundance received over 5000 submissions for their 150 something slots this year. Festivals across
Yes, there are many exceptions, but as almost any honest person who has been to Sundance more than once can tell you – there’s more than a little snake oil in