Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sundance Film Festival Brings Southern Rural Life to the Big Screen

Year's ago I attended a small film festival sponsored by Robert Redford at Park City Utah. The week long event had just changed its name from US Film Festival to the Sundance Film Festival . Back then it was nothing more than a whole lot of skiing and beer drinking with a few movies each evening made by little known producers, directors and actors, who in many cases were the same person. The hype and celebrities were no were to be found.

Now the once small festival is huge and very main stream. Robert Redford has often smiled when asked about his greatest achievement, his answer is often the annual Sundance film festival.

Last year Frozen River became one of my favorites. Frozen River was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic film. The film is a gritty look at life on the economic abyss as well as the edge of the United States where only a frozen river divides the US from Canada.

This year Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone,” changes the venue from up North to down South. The film is one that Sundance patrons have called the best movie in the festival.

Jennifer Lawernce in Winter's Bone

Based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel and set in Southern Missouri’s Ozark woods, the film follows indomitable 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) as she scours the pine-strewn hills and hollows near her cabin home in search of her missing meth-cooking father, who put their house up for bond after he was arrested. At the same time she's hunting for her father, Ree must care for her ailing mother and her young brother and sister. Ree’s terrifying outlaw kin are none to happy that she’s asking questions and dredging up the past, but her mission remains singular: find her father and protect her family.

The naturalistic thriller is saturated with small, telling details that collectively create an undeniable authenticity and regional authority; one set of neighbors is dressing a recently slaughtered deer, and more than one rusted-out car litters the otherwise bucolic landscape. This is no accident. Granik, who won the director’s award at the 2004 Sundance for her film “Down to the Bone,” explained her filming process as “visual anthropology.”

Granik, who first started working on “Winter’s Bone” in 2006, ultimately shot the film in 2009 entirely on location in Missouri. They cast locals in supporting roles and used them as dialect coaches. The costume department exchanged Carhartt jackets and plaid flannels with residents, to make sure the garments were stained with the dirt, soot and work of the local land.

“It was these details,” Granik said, “that helped us flesh out the characters.”

A little closer to home The Southeastern Film Critics Association gave "That Evening Sun" its Gene Wyatt Award, honoring the film that "embodies the essence of the South."

Hal Holbrook in Evening Sun

Adapted from the short story by William Gay called "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down." Writer-director Scott Teems, who makes his feature debut, has been shown in limited relase since Thanksgiving. You can catch Evening Sun this week at the Ballantyne Village Theatre.

If you have moved to Charlotte in the last ten years and have never left the protection of SouthPark or the Brikdale Village you might not recognize the real world that is out there past I-485. But each of these films will leave you feeling a little out of touch with the real world, a world that is hard and never fair. A world free of bling and six figure incomes and multi million dollars homes that are so often portrayed on MTV Cribs.

If you're tired of Avatards telling you how great James Cameron's epic motion picture is or friends that can't wait for Twilight Eclipse (aka Twilight 3) these 3 films might be just what you need.

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