Sundance Film Festival Reviewed

The Sundance Film Festival, the annual granddaddy of independent film festivals, wraps this weekend in snowy Park City, Utah. Lisa Kennedy, film critic for The Denver Post, reviews this year's festival.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The granddaddy of independent film festivals, Sundance, ends this weekend in Park City, Utah. Nearly 200 films have screened there in the past week. Awards will be announced on Saturday.

Lisa Kennedy is the film critic for The Denver Post, and she joins us now with her review of this year's Sundance Film Festival. Welcome.

Ms.�LISA KENNEDY (Film Critic, The Denver Post): Thank you for having me.

BRAND: Lisa, I understand you saw a lot of films, maybe 20 films in all, and can you tell us which ones you liked the best, which ones really stuck in your mind, and let's start with the fiction films?

Ms.�KENNEDY: Yeah, absolutely. One of the films I really loved, and it's probably my favorite, was called "Winter's Bone" by Debra Granik, and it's set in the Ozarks. It's this kind of mythical film about a young woman who has to go looking for her father who is due in court and seems to looks like he's going to skip bond.

He cooks meth, and it looks like he's going to skip bond, and if he does, then she loses the house, and this is the actress in this is Jennifer Lawrence, a young, up-and-coming actress who's really quite good, and she knocks it out of the park, but what's really extraordinary about "Winter's Bone" is how beautifully directed it is, how assured the direction is. It's just one of the most it's got mood, it takes us places that we haven't been. I don't think it exploits that culture of, you know, poor life in the Ozarks.

And that was one of my favorites. Another favorite was a film called "Blue Valentine," which is really quite different. It's a romantic drama featuring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in really good roles, kind of mixing their courtship and the sort of dissolution of their looking like it's going to be the dissolution of their marriage, and that's another really fine film.

BRAND: Ryan Gosling, I don't really associate with a light romantic comedy.

Ms.�KENNEDY: Well, it's not a comedy.

BRAND: Okay.

Ms.�KENNEDY: Though there are some light moments, it's actually more of a romantic drama, and yes, he's a serious actor but so good and so heartfelt. It's a really lovely role for him.

BRAND: What about documentaries?

Ms.�KENNEDY: Well, documentaries are almost - you know, are notoriously strong at Sundance, and I saw a couple that I thought were especially interesting. One opened - was an opening-night film. They had three this year, which is sort of unusual, but one of them was called "Restrepo" by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, and Sebastian Junger, as you know, is the journalist who wrote "A Perfect Storm."

He and Hetherington stayed with an Army platoon in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan for a year, and it's - you know, I think a lot of us have seen embedded documentaries about the war in Iraq and often Afghanistan, but this still struck me as very different and struck a lot of us, I think, as very different because all the other documentaries tend to sort of, like, bounce out of that. We're only with this platoon. We're only with these guys.

BRAND: All right, that's "Restrepo," a film made by Sebastian Junger. Any other documentaries that you liked?

Ms.�KENNEDY: The other film that I really loved was Davis Guggenheim's "Waiting for Superman," which is about the sort of disaster of our public education system. And I think one of the amazing things about this film is that he followed five children who wind up in five various lotteries for charter schools. And by the time you get to the lottery, if you aren't a parent, you feel like a parent, and if you are a parent, you feel like these are your children.

And it is so unnerving watching any of these children wait to find out whether they're going to be saved from their failing schools and afforded an opportunity for a great school, and I think it's such a great articulation of the unfairness of where our public education system is right now. It's a really good film.

BRAND: And Lisa, if you could just sum up the mood there at Sundance, because we've talked a lot on this program and elsewhere about how the major studios have dropped a lot of their independent divisions and that there isn't a lot of support out there these days for independent film, what's the mood there now?

Ms.�KENNEDY: I don't think that there was a mournful I think that people you know, young filmmakers are still making films. There were really interesting films there. Redford, Cooper, John Cooper, the director, were all interested in this notion of stories. So I don't think there was a lot of mourning.

And I saw a lot of the people who had been at those indie arms of studios still doing the work and excited about the films. So I think it may be just one of those, you know, you sort of reboot yourself in some ways and maybe try to figure out new ways of distribution, new ways of, like, getting stories out at a different you know, and everybody, the word that I detest but I'm going to use because I do think it's the word that sort of maybe describes a mood in some way is the sort of desire to monetize independent films still without having to, like, sort of think that the studios are going to come back in and save them.

BRAND: Lisa Kennedy is a film critic for The Denver Post, and she's been talking to us about the Sundance Film Festival, which concludes this Saturday. Thank you very much.

Ms.�KENNEDY: You're welcome. Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

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