Documentaries Shine At This Year's Sundance
ARI SHAPIRO, Host:
This week, Park City, Utah has been swarming with Hollywood stars, independent film producers and movie critics, including our own Kenneth Turan. The Sundance Film Festival wraps up this weekend and Ken is cramming in as many moves as he possibly can before the curtain falls.
Morning, Ken. Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk with us.
KENNETH TURAN: It's good to be here.
SHAPIRO: Okay. Well, it seems as though documentaries always shine at Sundance. What are some of the best you've seen this year?
TURAN: Well, it's really true. I think this year has been even a better year than usual. It's like I feel like I'm getting a postgraduate education in the world by going to documentaries here. One of my favorites was called "Secrets of the Tribe." It's a look at a tribe in South America, the Yanomami, that for hundreds of years were unknown to civilization. And once they were discovered, waves of cultural anthropologists went in. And it's about the interaction between the anthropologists and tribe and what it did to the tribe. It's quite fascinating.
SHAPIRO: What about a documentary I've heard about from Australia that sounds a bit irreverent - on cane toads? Is that right?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
TURAN: It's called "Cane Toads: The Conquest."
SHAPIRO: "The Conquest."
TURAN: And not only is it about cane toads, it's in 3D. If you've never seen a cane toad, seeing one in 3D is quite a momentous way to be introduced. This is an Australian documentary filmmaker named Mark Lewis who does wonderful films involving animals.
The cane toad is kind of a love it or hate it beast in Australia. And this film really examines how it got to Australia and why people have such passionate feelings about it. It's quite droll.
SHAPIRO: And then there is another irreverent movie I just have to ask you about that's not a documentary, but it combines jihadis with slapstick humor?
TURAN: Yes. This is kind of in the category of a film you never thought you'd see. But, I mean, if there's a film you never thought you'd see, you'll see it at Sundance. It's called "Four Lions." It's a British film made by a man named Chris Morris who's quite well-known in Britain as a comedian. And it is exactly as you describe it.
It's jihadists who are bumbling, shall we say. And, you know, you laugh at moments, because it's so kind of insane a concept, but finally it doesn't sustain for feature length. But it certainly is something to talk about.
SHAPIRO: All right. Well, tell about some of the dramatic films you've seen.
TURAN: Well, the one that really made the biggest impact on me was a film actually also from Australia called "Animal Kingdom." It's by a first time director called David Michod. And it's kind of an operatic gangster film.
It's about a young 17-year-old boy who goes to live with his trio of really frightening criminal uncles and their even more frightening criminal mother. And it's quite a film. For a first film it's very, very impressive. The guy's name is David Michaud. And I think we'll be seeing a lot more of him.
SHAPIRO: And just to be clear, when you say an operatic gangster film, this is not a movie musical?
TURAN: No, they're not singing. They're not singing. It's just very kind of deeply emotional and you really feel the passions.
SHAPIRO: Well, a lot of huge movies have come out of Sundance. Last year, the movie "Precious" was a breakout hit. Any this year that look like they're going to be big winners?
TURAN: Nothing that big this year. You know, besides "Precious," also "An Education" came out - debuted here last year. And, you know, it's very unusual to have a year when two really big Oscar contending films come out at Sundance. I think we get a little spoiled. We expect this every year. There'll be sales. There'll be films that do okay, but films like that are just not here this year.
SHAPIRO: Well, Ken, is there one movie that you've seen that you home or expect we will all be talking about year from now?
TURAN: Well, one of the films that I think will probably win something this year is in the dramatic competition, which is kind of a Sundance centerpiece. It's a film called "Winter's Bone." It's kind of a mystery story, a quest of a young woman who has to find her father.
And it's set in a very vivid culture. It's set in a mountain culture of the Ozarks. And the film goes to great pains to make itself feel authentic. And that really helps the story, helps us become involved.
SHAPIRO: Thanks and enjoy the rest of the festival.
TURAN: Thank you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. And you can find continuing coverage of Sundance at NPR's pop culture blog, Monkey See. It's at npr.org.
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