Sundance, Almost Too Big For its Britches but Still a Rip Snortin' Good Time

Screenwriter and Quality Time stringer Carolyn West went to Sundance 2005 looking for good times, better contacts and excellent films. She found all those things but she also found a festival grown so large and popular that she had problems seeing the very films she was there to watch.

She had to wait three hours to get tickets for some films and she was not able to get a ticket to see MirrorMask at all. In previous years Carolyn was able to get into a showing of just about everything she wanted to see. This year felt a little unwieldy, a little too big, too crowded, and too anonymous. But despite all that she still got to see some incredible films and make some wonderful memories.

Reviews by Carolyn West (A GRACEFUL MEANS)

Feature Films

DIRTY LOVE, from director John Asher, who introduced the film by asking the audience to wave while he took a photo for his mother who couldn't be there, was as warm and funny as he and his wife/star/writer Jenny McCarthy. The film is a not so romantic, gross out comedy told from the perspective of Rebecca, played by McCarthy who is dumped and crawling along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Led by a vision she receives from a fortuneteller, in mid-post-relationship melt down, she embarks on a search to find her "white pony". The cast, including Eddie Kaye Thomas, gives a handful of very funny performances. Carmen Electra delivers a standout, nearly unrecognizable portrayal, in her role as one of Rebecca's well intentioned though misguided friends.

PRETTY PERSUASION Evan Rachel Wood after starring last year in THIRTEEN, retravels the road of corruption in a film that could be compared to HEATHERS, and bears some resemblance to certain "plastic" elements of MEAN GIRLS. This film delivers sharply funny, scathing dialogue from start to finish. Kimberly Joyce, played by Wood, orchestrates her own production turning girlish charm to seduction and manipulation in order to achieve her dreams of fame and success. Also starring James Woods, Ron Livingston and Jane Krakowski.

LAYER CAKE. After having produced LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH, Matthew Vaughn shifts to director in this organized crime drama. Daniel Craig delivers a charismatic and unexpectedly, darkly comedic performance as a London drug dealer searching for his way out and winding himself ever deeper. Stemming from an interrupted delivery, Craig's character now has stolen ecstasy for the highest bidder. As he takes each step closer to delivering the property that is now his to sell, he finds himself with a new set of challenges, a new buyer, a new boss, a new friend, an old rival.

SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS Directed by: Hank Rogerson (Documentary) This is more then a film about prison life, or innovative reform programs, or even the personal stories of their crimes. This is a film about the still human side of the prisoners that shines beyond the disturbing reasons that brought them here. A film that manages to find the identifiable pieces of them through an unusually graceful means.

SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL Directed by: Peter Raymont (Documentary) A gripping, deeply disturbing, provocative and sometimes graphic look at the Rwandan genocide. The journey of Lieutenant-General Romeo Dellaire, struggling against United Nations' policy limits, the disengagement of support troops, a lack of supplies, and a global aloofness; he is unable to act on information that might have prevented, what in the end would amount to, hundreds of thousands of deaths. Abandoned by even hope, he is left counting bodies in mass graves that conjure a sea of personal demons.

THE 3 ROOMS OF MELANCHOLIA Directed by: Pirjo Honkasalo (Documentary) With ghostly superb, slowly unraveling visuals, this film brings its audience the hauntingly painful truths of war as they appear on the faces of the children who bear witness to them. From those who are left behind, their parents searching bombed and gutted streets, to those who are pulled, crying and pleading, arms reaching, from families who realize keeping them alive means giving them to orphanages; it leaves nearly every audience member weeping openly for their tragedies, for horrors we can not imagine, for the rived spirits of their nations and of their peoples.

Short Films:

AMONG THIEVES (23 minutes) A thief, running from the police, slips inside an unlocked door and into the house of a bed ridden cancer patient. Having done him a favor, she asks one in return. Directed by: Oscar Daniels.

SPELLING BEE (16 minutes) He takes the stage "like the Brad Pitt of the spelling world." How will his opponent, Jimmy, fare with only his simple mnemonic devices? Will the Queen Bee take them both? Will the Sultan of Spell prevail? Directed by: Phil Dornfeld

THE CHILDREN OF LENINGRADSKY (35 minutes) are living in the train station, and sleeping on the hot water pipes that run under the streets. They are thirteen. They are eight. They are five. They number in the millions. (Documentary) Directed by: Hanna Polak, Andrzej Celinski

Some of the short films of 2005 are available online at http://www.sundanceonlinefilmfestival.org/2005/index.aspx. I think the site is clunky and hard to navigate but if you stick with it you'll be able to watch an assortment of live action, animation and documentary short films.

It's unfortunate that so few shorts are online. They tend to be very good, entertaining and thought provoking and when you are at Sundance they are some of the easiest films to get in to see. It would be nice if they were just as easy to access outside of the festival. Right now they don't even show them on the Sundance Channel. I suggest if a description of a short appeals to you then write to Sundance and ask them when you will able to watch it online or on cable. I think if there is a demand then in the end we will have a supply.

Keep your eyes open for Carolyn's feature film picks. As they are sold and go into widespread distribution you'll be the only one on your block who knows anything about these films. It's good to be in the know.