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Actors, directors, studio executives and autograph hounds have converged this past week on Park City, Utah, which means just one thing: the Sundance Film Festival is underway. Dozens of independent movies and documentaries are being showcased over the 10-day event. Steven Zeitchik of the Los Angeles Times is there and he's been binge watching films. He's taken a brief intermission to tell us about some of his picks. And, Steven, welcome back. How are you holding up?
STEVEN ZEITCHIK: Holding up all right. You know, the combination of late nights and early mornings take their toll but someone's got to do it.
BLOCK: Yeah. It sounds pretty fun. And I want to start by talking about one of the standout movies for you. It's the film titled "Boyhood" from director Richard Linklater. And it sounds like a fascinating idea, if it works. He filmed characters a little bit over the course of 12 years.
ZEITCHIK: That's exactly right. You know, most times when you see a Hollywood movie with, you know, someone playing a young personality and an older one, there's makeup used or there's different actors swapped in and out.
ZEITCHIK: This, he went for a totally natural feel and he basically has a young - he follows this 7-year-old boy over the course of 12 years, as well as other actors. And so the result is you're actually seeing someone age in real time, and the results are really quite spectacular. This has been one of the breakout films of the festival - gotten great reviews, I think, in part because it feels so natural and so unlike anything we've seen before.
BLOCK: Steven, other highlights of the festival so far? Movies you've seen that you think are really great?
ZEITCHIK: Well, one movie that's really stood out to me is "Wish I Was Here." This is Zach Braff's film that he raised money for on Kickstarter, causing a bit of a backlash last year when he did so because he is, of course, a well-known Hollywood personality. Braff's came back with his first film since "Garden State" 10 years ago. Very divisive film, very sentimental, very affecting. I was at a screening where people were crying all around me, they were laughing, total crowd pleaser. Critics really didn't like it, I think, in part, because Braff can be a sentimental director, but also because he raised money on Kickstarter and some people question that. So I think it's a good film, I think it's going to get a big release, but certainly one that was divisive.
BLOCK: OK. So crowds liked it, critics did not.
BLOCK: Steven, I gather you've been seeing some themes and trends jumping out at you from the crop at this year's movies at Sundance. What are they?
ZEITCHIK: Well, one thing that's really been interesting to me is how many kind of genre films you have or genre influences that you've not had before. And I think that's somewhat directly the result of things like "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" and some of these, you know, "The Hunger Games," some of these big hits we've had. And it's starting to seep in in some ways into the indie world, which has usually been more dramatic.
There's a movie from the "Flight of the Conchords" guys that's actually a midnight vampire film you would never have expected. Another movie called "Life After Beth," which is kind of a zombie tale that is playing in competition, which is usually more dramatic. So some of these genre influences are now kind of making their way into what's typically a kind of more Sundancey/prestigey(ph) kind of air.
BLOCK: OK. So that's the feature film side. What about documentaries? What are you seeing?
ZEITCHIK: Well, you know, Sundance is always known for its documentaries. This year, there have been a couple of really good ones focused on personalities and on sort of environments that these personalities live in. And the one that really jumps out to me is a movie called "Happy Valley," about Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno and the whole Penn State controversy of the last few years.
This is the guy who made the Tillman story, another very charged, kind of football-tinged story, and it's really a look at how this town is very much affected by and has a kind of very complicated reaction to everything that happened in the wake of that scandal. And not so much what happened with the controversy itself, but the fall out from it. And I think it's one of the standouts.
BLOCK: Steven Zeitchik covers the film industry for the Los Angeles Times. He joined us from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Steven, thanks.
ZEITCHIK: Thank you for having me.
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