Powerful narratives that break the mold

All the finest indie films made their mark at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.


David Vendrell/THE CHIMES

David Vendrell, Writer

Every January, tens of thousands of aspiring filmmakers, Hollywood denizens and lifelong cinephiles flock to the beautiful ski town of Park City, Utah, nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, for the Sundance Film Festival — the premiere showcase of the best independent cinema has to offer from around the world.  Films such as “Little Miss Sunshine,” “(500) Days of Summer” and “Like Crazy” found their starts at the festival, later turning into cultural talking points by the end of their respective release years. Without Sundance, several of the most original voices in filmmaking would have never had their big break, robbing us of exciting entertainment, thought-provoking themes and uncharacteristic points of view.

Sundance 2015 was no different. Enjoying my third year at the festival, I somehow managed to view sixteen films in a little less than a week, providing me with a good understanding of the independent film landscape we can expect over the coming year.  Five in particular struck a chord with me and should be on everybody’s radar when they release in theaters.

Warning: I love coming-of-age movies.

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” catapults to the top of this list. While delicately balancing a tricky tone of self-aware comedy and genuine drama, this coming-of-age masterpiece follows a purposely-anonymous high school senior forced to befriend a classmate with leukemia. What starts as a solitary-afternoon hangout turns into an unlikely friendship that changes both of their lives forever. “Me and Earl” does what movies dream of, making you laugh and cry with inventive and bold storytelling that highlights the incredibly relatable emotions these wonderful characters undergo. This film took home the two biggest awards at the festival.

Close on the heels of “Me and Earl” is “Dope,” another coming-of-age comedy, this time set in the police siren-doused neighborhoods of Inglewood, California. Malcolm represents your normal high school kid traversing college applications, awkward romances, and oh yeah, gang-bangers, a stash of molly and a ticked-off drug lord. Featuring the best 90’s hip-hop soundtrack ever dedicated to film, “Dope” bursts with energy, style and humor, while in the service of crafting a surprisingly emotional tale of defying expectations.

Cop Car” crafts a throwback to the classic Amblin pictures we all know and love as it tells the story of two ten-year-old boys who, after running away from home, discover an abandoned cop car in the middle of the woods. Like any curious kids would do, they take it for a joy ride. Things take a dark turn when a corrupt police officer goes on the hunt to reclaim his vehicle. Sparse, naturalistic and shocking, “Cop Car” is a little gem bound to surprise fans of both coming-of-age tales and dark humor.

Sundance veteran James Ponsoldt returns to the festival with his latest dramedy, “The End of the Tour,” which details Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky’s five-day adventure with famed author David Foster Wallace on his road-trip promoting “Infinite Jest.” Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg lead this true-life tale that creates a vibrant set-up for discussions on writing, love and fame that will fascinate anyone with a dream to both succeed and be understood.

My most controversial pick goes to “White God” — a Hungarian drama/fable/too many things that follows the story of a sullen teenager and her dog Hagen who, after being separated, set out on a quest to find each other. This film drew extremely divisive responses from many viewers, but I was in the slight minority that nearly loved it. “White God” turns into the type of film that you would never imagine, forcing viewers to either go along for the ride or be repulsed in its sudden change of tone. Viewers that stay with the film’s logic are treated to an allegorical fable that will unspool the imagination. Also, 200 dogs were directed in this movie, which is just insane.

Readers, I urge you to explore the realms outside of traditional Hollywood filmmaking. There you will find stories that consistently break the mold, go for broke and inspire a new generation of crazed storytellers — I amongst them. That is what the Sundance Film Festival is all about.

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