AFI Conservatory Win at Sundance 2012
Congratulations to AFI Conservatory alumni with award-winning films at the Sundance 2012 Film Festival!
— BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, Grand Jury Prize Winner (the festival’s top prize) - Affonso Goncalves, AFI Editing Class of 1993
— THE RETURN, Jury Prize for International Narrative Short Film - Sevdije Kastrati, AFI Cinematography Class of 2011
— NOBODY WALKS, U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing - Linda Sena, AFI Production Design Class of 2001
This is the second consecutive year that AFI Conservatory alum have been affiliated with the top prize winning film at Sundance. Last year, LIKE CRAZY – Drake Doremus (AFI Directing Class of 2005), John Gulesarian (AFI Cinematography Class of 2005) and Jonathan Alberts (AFI Editing Class of 2001) – took home the top prize.
I recently watched The Believer, written byHenry Bean and Mark Jacobson, and had some mix feelings about the film. Daniel “Danny” Balint, played by Ryan Gosling, is an Orthodox Jew turned Neo-Nazi.
Shown through flashbacks, young Danny is depicted as a bright and candid Jewish pupil. He frequently challenges his teacher with his unconventional interpretation of holy text. Contrary to traditional teachings, Danny speculates that Isaac was indeed killed by Abraham and the angel that allegedly stopped the sacrifice is non-existent. Then Balint proceeds to conclude that God is a “bully”, further infuriating his teacher as he storms out of the Yeshiva, leaving his inherited faith behind.
In present day, Balint is a brilliant but quite troublesome fellow as he rises through the ranks of a fascist party run by Curtis Zampf and Lina Moebius. While doing so he attempts to hide his religious past and ethnic heritage with his anti-Semitism, which does not last for long.
The film, like most others, has its negative and positive aspects. A major downside is the unsystematic details added to the storyline. For example, Daniel’s love for Carla, Lina’s daughter, is indubitably outlandish for its lack of basis. The dramatized love in the motion picture makes it seem as though the two are deeply in love whereas in reality Carla continues her licentious behavior while Danny spends little time with her. Following the discovery of Balint’s Hebrew literacy after seeing the stolen Torah, Carla proceeds to eagerly beg him to teach her Hebrew. Weird enough, the two ”anti-Semite’s” later go onto participate in Jewish rituals together, claiming that one must know his/her enemy.
I cannot deny that I enjoyed this movie. The ending scene is my favorite part of the entire film. The final scene shows Danny in the Yeshiva he left as a child, which symbolizes the afterlife. His old teacher appears at the top of the stairs wishing to continue the discussion regarding his theory of the Binding of Isaac. Daniel persistently ignores him and proceeds to climb the stairs infinitely, eternally punished for his short-lived time of malevolence. His teacher advises him to cease climbing up, saying that “there’s nothing up there.”
On a final note, Gosling presents a remarkable performance that belittles everything else in the film. His articulation and persuasiveness can’t help but remind me of the charismatic Denzel Washington in Training Day. The combination of Gosling’s act and Balint’s well-argued malice bestows a sense of strong influence that could possibly sway the audience’s outlook on the hate he spews throughout The Believer.
Catching Up With AFI FEST Alumni: Julia Loktev, Director of THE LONELIEST PLANET
Julia Loktev’s film THE LONELIEST PLANET won the grand jury prize from the New Auteurs Critics at AFI FEST 2011. We grabbed a couple minutes of her time on the eve of the film’s Los Angeles and New York theatrical premiere.
What is your favorite AFI FEST memory?
It’s kind of a funny, silly moment. There was a dinner for all the IFC films. And someone took a picture of me and my lead actress Hani Furstenberg with the Dardennes brothers, Bela Tarr, Wim Wenders and Jacqueline Lyanga. I was very pleased and honored to be in such illustrious company. Then Indiewire ran the photo—with all of our names, including mine—but cropped me out of the pic. You can just see some hair and a little bit of my cheek and a bit of my dress, like an ex-wife that’s been cut out of the picture. So that was quite funny. At the same dinner, the Dardennes told me they loved my film DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, which made my night. Okay, my month!
What are you working on now?
I always have a hard time talking about things before they are done (unless I’m asking someone for money of course), so perhaps I should stay quiet for now.
Why was Sundance 2012 so Lackluster?
As Sundance 2012 comes to a close, it is a good time to assess this year’s festival at Park City, Utah. No matter the outcome, Sundance remains the most important festival for young indie filmmakers. A film that gets accepted into the festival is a filmmaker’s dream come true and a calling card for Hollywood. I was at Sundance this year. I am a film critic for a popular blog and I write screenplays. I was denied press credentials from Sundance’s Press Office. To this day, they have not given me a concrete explanation as to why I was denied the ‘Wonka Golden Ticket’… the highly coveted press pass. I am not here to gripe about not getting the press pass. My purpose is loftier than that minor setback. My purpose is to make sense of Sundance 2012. Since it was my first Sundance, I feel that my observations could be helpful to others thinking about attending future Sundance Film Festivals. I also believe that my observations could help the Sundance staff tweak the festival to make it more enjoyable to the festival goer. Let’s face it, the celebrities get all the attention but it is the tourist dollars from festival goers that contribute the most to Sundance’s bottom-line.
First, let’s talk about the top Sundance Film Festival winner this year. A film titled, ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ won the grand jury prize in the U.S. dramatic competition. I must confess, I did not get to see this film at Sundance. Since I was denied press credentials, it was virtually impossible to see any of the films that generated buzz. This film has more of a documentary feel to it than a dramatic feature film feel. I’m not here to criticize Sundance’s choice for the grand jury prize and I’m not here to dismiss this film as a fluke. I’ve seen interviews of director Benh Zeitlin and he seems like an intelligent enough guy. I wish him the best of luck once his ‘baby’ gets released in theatres too. My only concern is this… is this film really the best that Sundance had to offer this year? Sundance 2012 seems like a lackluster year in my opinion. Am I the only one that feels this way?
Let’s take a quick look at winners of the grand jury prize from previous Sundance Film Festivals. Sundance 2011 had some excellent indie films. Two of my favorite indie films from 2011 were ‘Like Crazy’ and ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene.’ I gave these two films rave reviews. ‘Like Crazy’ starring Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin won the grand jury prize last year. The award for breakout performance went to Felicity Jones. She was the ‘darling’ of Sundance. Jones definitely has a bright career ahead of her. The other film last year that generated a great deal of buzz was ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ starring talented newcomer Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen’s performance was haunting. In 2010, the film that generated the most buzz and won the grand jury prize was ‘Winter’s Bone’ starring the then unknown actress, Jennifer Lawrence. Besides being the darling of Sundance in 2010, Lawrence went on to receive a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her stellar performance in ‘Winter’s Bone.’ Since that time, Lawrence’s career has skyrocketed. She will be in one of the most highly anticipated films of 2012, ‘The Hunger Games.’
So here is my question… where is the ‘darling’ of Sundance 2012? I have been paying close attention to all the media hype coming out of Park City and I have not heard about one new actress garnering any buzz. What gives? That’s my point. Something was missing from this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Since it was my first Sundance, I can’t compare the mood to previous Sundance’s. I will say one thing. The Sundance Film Festival is out of control. It has become too popular for its own good. If you don’t purchase tickets in advance, you can kiss goodbye any chance of seeing the good indie films. It happened to me when I was trying to see Rashida Jones’ film, ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever.’ They have this system at Sundance called ‘wait-list.’ It was one of the most frustrating experiences at the festival. The Eccles Theatre in Park City, which was the venue for the premiere of ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’ had a showtime at 6:30pm. They told me to come back two hours before the movie starts to wait in line for a wait-list number. They supposedly hand you a ticket with a number on it. You have to come back to the theatre right before the movie is about to start in order to see if you can actually purchase a ticket to the movie. It doesn’t work well at all. I showed up two hours before the start of the movie to be told that the movie had already sold out hours ago. How can the movie sell out when they never gave any tickets to people waiting in the wait-list line? I’m still scratching my head.
For me, Sundance was disappointing for other reasons too. I was expecting a sophisticated film crowd in Park City. The reality is that many of the festival goers are not serious film connoisseurs. They are young, college students wanting to party with Paris Hilton on Main Street. That’s my biggest complaint of this festival. Sundance has turned into a ‘Spring Break’ style destination for party revelers… not a destination for serious cinephiles who appreciate quality cinema. After my negative experiences at Sundance, I will not attend another Sundance Film Festival again. There are too many other quality festivals to attend like Toronto, Berlin, Cannes, and Palm Springs. I read that Robert Redford, founder of Sundance, does not like to spend more than three days at his own festival. When asked why by a reporter, he replied that he feels like Dr. Frankenstein and that Sundance has turned into a monster. After experiencing my first Sundance, I feel your pain, Mr. Redford.
If you’re still not convinced that Sundance was mediocre this year, I’ll leave you with this fact. The Weinstein Company (the kings of the indie film world) balked at purchasing any indie films at Sundance 2012. That’s correct; they did not purchase one film. One of the reasons cited was the lack of marketability of the new title offerings this year.