'Beasts Of The Southern Wild' Shines At Sundance

The Sundance Film Festival wraps up this weekend in Park City, Utah. Movies, more movies, and finally some snowfall have been on offer at the gathering famously backed by Robert Redford.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The Sundance Film Festival wraps up this weekend in Park City, Utah. Movies and more movies have been on offer at the gathering, famously backed by Robert Redford. Our own Kenneth Turan is taking it all in and joined us from member station KPCW in Park City.

Good morning.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: Morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Well, let us begin with the dramatic films. What stands out for you this year?

TURAN: Well, you know, there are a couple of films I've really enjoyed that actually are united by having a kind of mild science fiction element. One of them is called "Robot and Frank." It stars Frank Langella. It's set in the near future, and he's an elderly man whose children are worried about him. And they hire a robot, a home care robot, that cooks for him and takes care of all his needs. Initially he's resistant, and then he comes to really appreciate the robot for unusual reasons, which I won't get into.

And the other one with a science fiction element is called "Safety Not Guaranteed," which involves an ad placed in a weekly newspaper that wants a companion for going back in time, safety not guaranteed. So someone from the paper tries to find this person. And it's what happens when they find this guy, this time traveler and what does on with him. Really a charming little film.

MONTAGNE: And I gather there is another feature film, a drama, that is the talk of the festival.

TURAN: Yes, there always is one film that's the talk of the festival, and if there's not one, you know, people create one. But this time there is genuinely one. It's called "Beasts of the Southern Wild." It's really - it's a hard film to describe. It's kind of hypnotic filmmaking. It's set in a remote community in a Louisiana bayou. It's about kind of a six-year-old girl who has to face the end of her world and possibly the end of the world as we know it.

It's really kind of phantasmagorical filmmaking, kind of part mythological, part, you know, "Mad Max." It's really an unusual story and really vibrantly done. And it's just - I mean, that's the one everyone's talking about. If you stop people on the street who have seen a lot of stuff, that's the one they point to.

MONTAGNE: "Beasts of the Southern Wild," that's the big talk. But always at Sundance there are great documentaries. It's a strong category at this festival. Tell us about what's there this year.

TURAN: I think the documentaries are the things I look forward to personally the most. I think this has got to be as good a documentary festival as there is in the world, really. Spectacular stuff. The range this year has been exceptional.

There's a film, called "Room 237,"about the obsessive interests people take in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," the strange messages they see there. And running all the way to something called "The Law in These Parts," which is an Israeli film that's a really fascinating, meticulous kind of dissection of how the law in the occupied territories came to be.

But the two films that really, I think, struck me most here, that are probably the two films people are talking about most, one is called "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry." And it's a look at - really a very close look at the remarkable life and personality of the Chinese artist dissident Ai Weiwei, who had just been kind of a name to me, I hadn't really known that much about him. And the filmmaker, Alison Klayman, spent three years with him. And you really get a really detailed portrait of what he's like as a person and what he's trying to do in China.

The other film is much different, much more disturbing. It's a documentary about a European man who managed to pass himself off as a teenage boy from San Antonio, Texas who had run away a few years earlier. It's about how he convinced the family of this boy that he is that person returned. And it's really a film about belief, about the things we do when we want to believe something. It's just an astonishing look at human nature and it really just kept me, you know, riveted.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan speaking to us from Park City, Utah at the Sundance Film Festival.

Thanks very much.

TURAN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And of course, Ken reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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