How to Sundance: Seeing the Premieres First

One of the many benefits at Sundance is seeing a film long before its official release date. Films from last year that were screened first in Park City, UT, include The Kids are All Right, The Winter’s Bone, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and Catfish. Sundance audiences who saw these films were also treated to celebrity sightings and post-screening Q&A sessions. You can imagine the bragging rights back home with their friends.

The Festival screens additional films out-of-competition in categories for Premieres, Documentary Premieres, Spotlight, Park City at Midnight, Indigenous Showcase and New Frontier.

Here’s a quick of sample of the lot:

Becoming Chaz – Chaz Bono was a male trapped in a female shell for as long as he can remember. Growing up as Sonny and Cher’s adorable golden-haired daughter in a body he felt wasn’t his own was a crucible it took years to transcend. Now, as he undertakes gender reassignment, he’s bravely decided to share the process on camera. Becoming Chaz invites us along on Chaz’s remarkable journey of transformation. As hormone shots give way to top surgery, down-to-earth, unflappable Chaz beams with a sense of liberation and goes public with his story to put a face on a misunderstood issue.

Silent House – Sarah returns with her father and uncle to fix up the family’s longtime summerhouse after it was violated by squatters in the off-season. As they work in the dark, Sarah begins to hear sounds from within the walls of the boarded-up building. Although she barely remembers the place, Sarah senses the past may still haunt the home. The filmmaking team behind Open Water, which screened at the 2004 Sundance, are back this year with Silent House, a hauntingly choreographed descent into madness based on the Uruguayan film La Casa Muda.

Kaboom – A hyperstylized, pansexual trip, Kaboom is a live-action film born out of the graphic novel aesthetic. Thomas Dekker plays Smith, a film student lusting after his dumb, hunky roommate (aptly named Thor), but after eating a drug-laced cookie, he hooks up with a hot chick, London (Juno Temple). Meanwhile, a bizarre mystery brews involving his lesbian BFF’s obsessive, witchy girlfriend, weird guys in masks who chase him around campus, and a recurring dream about a dead girl.

Old Cats – Isadora and Enrique, an elderly couple, live a comfortable life with their two ample cats in a handsome high-rise apartment overlooking the park. Isadora is struggling with a bout of dementia when her daughter, Rosario, and her butch female lover, Hugo, drop in for a coked-up visit to pitch their latest get-rich scheme—and attempt to snatch the flat right out from under Isadora. Then Isadora does something quite unexpected for a woman with a busted hip, and everything changes.

Cedar Rapids Miguel Arteta returns to Sundance with a comedy about a group of insurance salesmen who use the opportunity to attend an annual convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as a way to escape their doleful existence . . . like Vegas but with corn. Tim Lippe has been living in a small town his whole life and gets a rude awakening when he arrives in the “giant” metropolis of Cedar Rapids. However, his boyish charm and innocence eventually win over his fellow conventioneers, but he becomes disheartened when he uncovers corporate corruption. When it seems his life—and chances to succeed—are completely topsy-turvy, he finds his own unjaded way to turn things around.

The Devil’s Double – Based on actual events, The Devil’s Double recounts the remarkable tale of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi army lieutenant who was summoned to Saddam Hussein’s palace in 1987 and ordered to become the fiday, or body double, of his notorious eldest son, Uday. Many of his countrymen might have considered this a great honor, but it was merely the beginning of a hellish nightmare for Latif. Under the constant threat of harm to his family, he had no choice but to play the role of silent witness while his nefarious captor indulged in countless brutal and depraved fantasies with no regard for human life.

My Idiot Brother – Despite looking for the good in every situation and the best in every person, Ned always seems to find himself holding the short end of the stick—being conned into selling pot to a uniformed cop, being dumped by his girlfriend, and worse yet, losing custody of his beloved dog, Willie Nelson. When he turns to family, he is passed from sister to sister while he gets back on his feet. Ned’s best intentions produce hilariously disastrous results, bringing the family to the cusp of chaos and ultimately the brink of clarity.

These are yet but a fraction of the films playing at the 2011 Festival. Each and any one of them has its own distinct identity and value as a storytelling medium, so you can’t go wrong with most of these selections. As I prepare to descend upon the cinematic playground for my volunteer assignment, an attempt will be made to sort out all the buzz and hubbub from the fast-paced Sundance camraderie. Come along for the ride!

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