Sundance starts tomorrow. And as the sun rises over the peaks that shroud Park City, Utah, we comb through the inflated lineup for the films that seemed like they would be worth booking a red eye to Utah for.
You know that kid in high school who, for whatever reason, just doesn't "gel" with the rest of the student body? Rich Hill, a Missouri highway town on I-49, is the focus of documentary filmmakers Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo. It follows three of these outer fringe kids: one who wants to be an art teacher in China, the other whose mother is in prison. Their stories are as relatable as a sad yearbook quote, and as funny as the town "Athol" in Idaho.
What if your mom turned a sharp corner in her sexual life and decided to start her transition to become a man? Thus is the premise for 52 Tuesdays, a directorial debut from Australian filmmaker Sophie Hyde. 16-year-old Billie finds out her mom is going to take the plunge and start her transition, so Billie must go live with her father. Every Tuesday they agree to meet each other during the year-long transition. While this is happening, Billie takes her own sexuality out for a walk and challenges her own independence. What's really cool about this one is it was actually filmed during 52 chronological Tuesdays – about as true to the script as you can get.
She's killed someone with a jawbreaker. She's dated Marilyn Manson. She's cast her fair share of spells. Now it's all up to Rose McGowan to wow us with her debut behind the lens for her short film, Dawn. We're not entirely sure what it's about, apart from a girl trying to escape from her sheltered life (aren't we all…) But with Rose McGowan's touch, it will be sure to do one thing: attract an audience. We're there!
Basically going for the Jason Schwartzman, staying for the crippling awkwardness that his author-trying-to-publish-his-sophomore-effort will provide. Elizabeth Moss is in there, too, so it's bound to be hilarious. Written and directed by Alex Ross Perry (The Colour Wheel), this is going to be like Frances Ha for the Wes Anderson generation. The comedy is about "New Yorkers living their lives somewhere between individuality and isolation". So you'll come out questioning who your friends are and why New York is so lonely (internet addicts see Web Junkie…)
While almost no documentary could properly profile one half of the "Two Thumbs Up!" that gave us a reason to go to the cinema in the first place, Steve James' (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters) directed biopic is the closest we'll get. Crowd-funded and approved by Ebert's wife, this documentary is as much about the badass (did you see him publicly defend Asian filmmakers at 2002's Sundance?!) as it is about the sensitive cinephile whose words persuaded millions over the years to pull out their pocketbooks in the popcorn queue.
Scottish Highlands, Summer Term, 1986. Two girls – still young and naive enough to call a body pillow "my husband" (but, really, does that ever grow old?) – attend a remote private school in the bullseye of rape zone. They learn self-defense from a school coach, whose raw truths, while comedic, put the brutality of rape into context. Exchange & Mart, by Scottish directing duo Cara Connolly & Martin Clark, is a teetering balance of Reg and her natural curiosity to have sex and the very real worry of rape. At the end of their first lesson, their coach leaves the girls with this sad brutal truth of the aftermath of rape: "…and nobody believes you because you're just a daff wee lassie in a mini dress."
"Veronica and Efren go on a trip." Not entirely sure what's going on here, but I'm into it. Efrén Hernández directs this 14-minute look into the life of a body builder.
Aaron Swartz is an internet antihero. He was prosecuted for hacking into MIT's computer network and saving thousands of JSTOR articles (which is a paid for service, for the non-uni-going among us) and was also an early pioneer in putting together the interet's meta-playground, Reddit.com. Swartz decried SOPA and PIPA, and had enough of his own ideas to influence some heavy waves of change in digital industries. Unfortunately, he took his own life in the wake of his trial. While we don't have the answers as to why, the late, great internet freedom fighter is at least worth watching the 8 min 19 sec clip below.
So Mikey Please – the east London animator who won a BAFTA for his short The Eagleman Stag – is back with a new short, Marilyn Myller. His monochrome visions are a painstaking labour of love. Marilyn, the central foam creature, is trying her darndest to create something good. "It will be epic. It will be tear jerkingly profound. It will be perfect. Nothing can go wrong."
China – the last frontier. Kids everywhere are increasingly diagnosed with the "clinical condition" of internet overuse. To wean them off cold turkey, these kids are sent to detox at a boot camp. Web Junkie, directed by Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medali, is actually a chilling tale about a very real problem – butthurt that these kids experience glued to the screen, with no social interaction outside of the web forums they infinitely scroll past, longing for that one soul-to-soul connection that will lift their drooping spirits…
Follow Trey Taylor on Twitter here @treytylor