Biola student takes on Sundance Film Festival

Grace Delmar shares her experience of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Grace Delmar, Writer

Sitting in dark rooms with strangers for hours may not be appealing to everyone, but I could not have been more content. I was at the Sundance Film Festival, and I was living a film lover’s dream.

Every January, thousands trek to Park City, a charming town nestled in the mountains of Utah, to watch edgy, groundbreaking independent films looking for studio distribution. Critically acclaimed films to come out of Sundance include “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Napoleon Dynamite” and “The Blair Witch Project.” As a hopeful filmmaker, I jumped at the chance to go with about 20 other Biola cinema media arts students and faculty to this esteemed film festival.

The six days we were there consisted of getting up early, going to “class” where we got the opportunity to meet and talk with filmmakers from the festival, and then rushing off to screenings. I got the opportunity to see 12 films during the week, but I wish I had had time to see more. Though there were no obvious standouts compared to years prior, I was able to feel some sort of appreciation for every film I saw. Even though a week full of heavy and emotionally manipulating films could be very draining, I always left the theater passionate and excited.

While I could write something I loved about every film I saw, I’ve narrowed it down to my top three films of Sundance 2014.

1. The Skeleton Twins

A huge theme at the festival this year was the importance of family. Ninety percent of the films I saw focused on familial relations, which I found very refreshing. Another common theme was mental illness. “The Skeleton Twins” delved into both of these topics. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader star in this drama — yes, drama — about two estranged siblings struggling to make sense of their lives and being reunited through unforeseeable circumstances. The Saturday Night Live actors are surprisingly fantastic in these unexpected roles and there are some lighter moments where they show off their comedic chops. Though the film contained dark subject material, I left the theater feeling hopeful and with the desire to call my siblings. This film was actually the biggest purchase of the festival so far. It was picked up by Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions.

2. Private Violence
Perhaps the hardest yet most moving film I saw at the festival, this HBO documentary explores domestic abuse and how often it goes unpunished in the courts. The film follows Deanna, a woman who’s gained the courage to take her abuser to court. It is a very powerful and eye-opening film, and it further sparked my desire to make films that give a voice to the voiceless in society.

3. Camp X-Ray
I almost didn’t go to this screening. A film starring Kristen Stewart playing a Guantanamo Bay prison guard did not appeal to me. But I’m so glad I went. This narrative tells the story of two completely different people, a prison guard and a detainee, forming an unexpected bond and becoming friends. Though the film had mixed critical reviews, I found it gripping and a beautiful example of unity and connectedness of humanity. It forces the viewer to consider two different perspectives, and it causes them to feel for and sympathize with both characters.

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