For the last four years I’ve gone to the Sundance Film Festival, and whenever there was a film that was too saccharine, too coming-of-age, or trying too hard to be both personal and commercial at the same time, I would wonder how it got into the fest. As the credits rolled (if I got that far), I would inevitably see the “Made in cooperation with the Sundance Labs” logo pass by.
I once talked with a guy who had a job projecting films at the Sundance Institute, and for a handful of years he would see each new batch of filmmakers come through the Labs, and would see how the development process would make every film seem like every other coming-of-age film. Everybody meant well and people loved participating in the process, but even the most interesting young filmmakers would end up writing and making that very same Sundance movie as everybody else. Crap. Or maybe the bad ones were the only ones that were able to raise money to go into production.
Things have begun to change. At least, that’s what it seems like. It’s as though they’ve given up on making the next The Brothers McMullan or anything commercial. In a sense, Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know was the first break-out success for the Labs. July, a successful and moderately commercial performance artist, created a vaguely edgy story that took a cheerful look at the budding sexuality of children. Hardly a commercial concept, but successful nonetheless.
Does that indicate a signal change in the focus of the Labs? Hard to say, but I do hold out hope for one of the new batch of folks invited to the labs. I met Braden King in Chicago before he self-distributed his evocative, black-and-white documentary film Dutch Harbor: Where the Sea Breaks its Back, which he toured with a live score by the Boxhead Ensemble. I saw it when it played at the Little Theatre several years ago, and was duly impressed with its moody and assured filmmaking.
King was just chosen to work on Here for the Labs, which is described as such: “Real and imaginary landscapes merge as a solitary satellite mapping engineer charts the Armenian countryside with an expatriate art photographer revisiting her homeland.” That sounds both interesting and uncommercial. I can’t wait to see it...