Sundance Films Can Be Hazardous

What have you seen? Who have you seen? How can I get an invite? These are all various topics initiating discussions and heated debates heard throughout the festival–on the shuttle buses, standing in line, at Starbucks, on the slopes and in the restroom. Audience reactions to films this year in Park City are wildly opinionated and can enhance one film’s prospects, while ruining the momentum of another.

So the latest deals racked up so far from the late-night bidding wars go to two documentaries: The Queen of Versailles, a look at how a huge mansion can fall to mortgage, and Searching For Sugar Man, an exploratory search for a long-lost musician from the ’70’s. Plus other films include The Words, an intriguing premise starring Bradley Cooper as a writer who finds a manuscript and poses it off as his own, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, an enigmatic and fantastical film set in New Orleans featuring a six-year-old named Hushpuppy.

Not every film that screens here is for everybody, and the thrill of seeing a film at Sundance is that nobody has any clue what it might say. Certain films can rile an audience so much to the point of hatred and extreme offensiveness. Such is the case for Compliance, apparently a hazardous film in the vein of The Killer Inside Me, a sadistic tale from two years ago. The plot of Compliance borrows from real-life incidents and shows how employees of a fast food joint comply by phone with a police office impersonator to hold themselves hostage. The Q&A session for the first screening started out very tense when the first comment heard in the house was, “Sundance you can do better!”

 Other films that have audiences coming in with excitement, but then exhibiting utter disappointment at the end include the perplexing sci-fi thriller, Red Lights, and Spike Lee’s foray into religious comedy, Red Hook Summer.

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