The Sundance Film Festival is in full swing in Park City, Utah, and while I'm not missin' the snow and the cold, I am sad to miss the opportunity this year to binge on independent film for a week. But at least the magic of the Internets is giving me the opportunity to experience a litte bit of the festival from afar.
Sundance usually has at least a few films that deal with science and technology themes, and this year's festival is no exception. Selections from the Sundance's rich slate of documentaries take a more literal approach, while the narrative and experimental pieces at the festival use these themes as a jumping off point for engaging storytelling and flights of fancy. Here's a look at what the 2013 has in store. Descriptions for the films and events below have been taken from the Sundance Film Guide.
Screening in Doc Premieres.
Dir: Robert Stone
The atomic bomb, the specter of a global nuclear holocaust, and disasters like Fukushima have made nuclear energy synonymous with the darkest nightmares of the modern world. But what if everyone has nuclear power wrong? What if people knew that there are reactors that are self-sustaining and fully controllable and ones that require no waste disposal? What if nuclear power is the only energy source that has the ability to stop climate change?
Prolific documentarian Robert Stone and environmentalists, scientists, and energy experts share the reasons why they have changed their minds from being fiercely anti– to strongly pro–nuclear energy. The film directly attacks popularly held reasons to oppose nuclear energy, including fear of another disaster like Chernobyl, the problem of waste, and the weakness of clean alternatives like wind and solar energy. Whatever your stance, Stone’s compelling film opens Pandora’s box and promises to change the conversation for years to come. With the world’s unquenchable thirst for energy and its resulting threat to our environment, the stakes may be nothing less than the survival of the planet.
WHEN I WALK
Screening in Doc Premieres
Dir: Jason DaSilva
It all started on a family vacation. In 2006, the 25-year-old, vital, handsome, talented Jason DaSilva was on a beach with his family when, suddenly, he fell down and couldn’t get back up. Doctors told him he had multiple sclerosis, and it could lead to loss of vision and muscle control, as well as a myriad of other problems. Jason decided to exercise more, but the problem just got worse. So he turned to his mom. She reminded him that he was a fortunate, privileged North American kid who had the opportunity to pursue the things he loved most—art and filmmaking. So Jason picked up the camera, turned it on himself, and began filming the slow, difficult decline of his body and the miracles he encountered along the way.
An emotional and inspirational documentary that is a pleasure to watch, When I Walk is an energizing and self-generating film experience whose creative engine is its young filmmaker’s determination to live and his ability to make sense of being plagued by a devastating disease through the art of cinematic storytelling.
Screening in Midnight
Dir: G. J. Echternkamp
A sarcastic, self-aware character in a video game, Sgt. Books, becomes
frustrated by the screwy logic of his universe: the pointless battles,
superpowerful bosses, and an endless supply of virtual Vietcong. He
can’t get the girl who appears at the end of each level, and he can’t
get through to his gung-ho partner. To find answers to the questions
posed by his odd existence, Books abandons his mission and seeks help
from a straight-talking monk, delightfully played by another onscreen
hero who also once received words of wisdom from a man in a robe.
The first Roger Corman production to screen at the Sundance Film Festival, Virtually Heroes is a war picture, a satire of video-game culture, a buddy comedy, and an existential mind trip wrapped up into one outrageous film that works on many surprising levels. Injecting the low-budget/high-concept film with a full dose of razor-sharp wit, director G. J. Ecthernkamp embraces the base and the profound as he seeks to unlock the cheat codes of life.
Interview with Director G. J. Echternkamp and producer Roger Corman.
Screening in U.S. Dramatic Competition
Director: Shane Carruth
Kris is derailed from her life when she is drugged by a small-time
thief. But something bigger is going on. She is unknowingly drawn into
the life cycle of a presence that permeates the microscopic world,
moving to nematodes, plant life, livestock, and back again. Along the
way, she finds another being—a familiar, who is equally consumed by the
larger force. The two search urgently for a place of safety within each
other as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of their wrecked
Shane Carruth’s sensuously directed and much anticipated sophomore effort (his feature debut, Primer, won the Sundance Film Festival 2004 Grand Jury Prize) is a truly remarkable film that lies beyond the power of language to communicate while it delivers a cohesive sensory experience. With its muscular cinematic language rooted in the powerful yearnings felt before words can be formed, Upstream Color is an entirely original, mythic, romantic thriller that goes in search of truths that lie just beyond our reach.
Hollywood Reporter review
Screening in Premieres
Director: Joshua Michael Stern
In 1976, college dropout Steve Jobs heralded a revolution within the
confines of his parents’ garage. Jobs, along with friend and technical
wizard Steve Wozniak, unleashed the “homebrew” Apple 1 personal computer
kit onto an unsuspecting public, producing 200 units by hand and
shipping each one themselves (monitor and keyboard not included). Apple
Inc. was born, and the world would never be the same. Today hundreds of
millions of users around the world remain tethered to the remarkable
products that Jobs championed—his impact on the world of technology was
undoubtedly colossal, but his effect on our culture was simply
Although the road that Jobs traveled to become CEO of the company he cofounded was a tumultuous one, director Joshua Michael Stern unfurls his story with relative ease, and Ashton Kutcher’s highly nuanced portrayal of the technology icon adroitly captures the essence of a man who changed the way we live.
Screening in U.S. Documentary Competition
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Many of us have experienced the excitement and awe of watching 8,000-pound orcas, or “killer whales,” soar out of the water and fly through the air at sea parks, as if in perfect harmony with their trainers. Yet, in our contemporary lore this mighty black-and-white mammal is like a two-faced Janus—beloved as a majestic, friendly giant yet infamous for its capacity to kill viciously. Blackfish unravels the complexities of this dichotomy, employing the story of notorious performing whale Tilikum, who—unlike any orca in the wild—has taken the lives of several people while in captivity. So what exactly went wrong?
Shocking, never-before-seen footage and riveting interviews with trainers and experts manifest the orca’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity over the last four decades, and the growing disillusionment of workers who were misled and endangered by the highly profitable sea-park industry. This emotionally wrenching, tautly structured story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from these highly intelligent and enormously sentient fellow mammals.
Screening in Shorts Competition
Directors: Jillian Mayer, Lucas Leyva
A comedic, satirical, sci-fi pop musical based on the theories of Ray Kurzweil and other futurists, #PostModem is the story of two Miami girls and how they deal with technological singularity, as told through a series of cinematic tweets.
PANEL: ONCE UPON A QUANTUM SYMMETRY: SCIENCE AND CINEMA
Ever since Méliès shot a rocket to the moon, cinema has had a wondrous fascination with science and technology. Movies can show us the working science of today, and with surprising prescience, the science of tomorrow. During our ten-year collaboration with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which aims to encourage more realistic and compelling stories about science and technology themes and characters, we’ve traveled from synapses in the brain to distant galaxies – hitting different corners of spacetime along the way, and proving that both scientists and filmmakers are creative, imaginative, speculative, and adventurous. Join Jon Amiel (Creation, Sommersby, Entrapment), Scott Burns (writer, Contagion, Pu-239, The Informant and producer An Inconvenient Truth), Dr. André FentonDr. Lisa Randall (Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science, Harvard University, author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World) with moderator Paula Apsell (Senior Executive Producer, Nova and Nova ScienceNow, Director, WGBH Science Unit) as we continue the journey.
Jon Amiel is an English film director who has worked in film and television in both the UK and the US. After studies in English literature, Amiel graduated from Cambridge University and ran the Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company, which often toured the USA. He worked as a story editor at BBC before directing the critically-acclaimed TV series The Singing Detective. He has directed for TV and film, and is currently in production on his latest feature film.
The New Frontiers section of Sundance is a social and creative space that showcases media installations, multimedia performances, transmedia experiences, panel discussions, and more.
Playing in New Frontiers
Director: Joanie Lemercier
Inspired by the 2010 Icelandic volcanic eruption that wreaked travel havoc across Europe, Eyjafjallalokull is a stunning, three-dimensional, audiovisual mapping installation that challenges audiences’ perception of space by creating an optical illusion that transforms the walls of New Frontier into a sweeping digital vista that artistically recreates the seismic event.
NEW FRONTIERS PANELS
The Magic of MIT
When you think about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, filmmaking, civic activism, and cultural criticism are probably not what come to mind. A visiting crew of MIT professors and students present some of their story-oriented and story-enabling work. This panel is moderated by Kamal Sinclair, senior manager of the New Frontier Story Lab, and features projects from the Object-Based Media Group and the Open Documentary Lab.
Tablet Storytelling Takes Off
When multimedia tablets popped up a few years ago, many of us wondered why we'd ever need a second, “dumber” computer. Filmmakers and artists saw something else entirely and started hacking together DSLR rigs, shooting interactive documentaries, and inventing new formats such as album apps and RGBD. This panel is moderated by Wendy Levy, executive director of the New Arts Axis, and features Scott Snibbe (Björk’s Biophilia, Beck’s Rework: Philip Glass Remixed), Greg Pak (Vision Machine), Eli Horowitz (Silent History), and Loc Dao (Bear 71, Circa 1948).