In the seventh and final episode of the Sundance 2023 podcast season, we discuss the documentaries at Sundance 2023, focusing on the films Fantastic Machine, Is There Anybody Out There?, The Stroll, and Plan C. We also discuss the best films of Sundance and wrap up our discussion of the festival
Don’t miss a single episode. Subscribe to the podcast now.
Listen to the whole Sundance 2023 season
Today is the seventh and final episode of the 2023 Sundance season of the Seventh Row podcast.
Sundance 2023 runs from January 19-28, and we’ll be covering this year’s festival in a new podcast season about the films this year and how the programming fits into the festival’s history.
Listen to all the episodes to discover the year’s best and worst films, and how this year’s program jives with past festivals.
About this episode: Documentaries at Sundance 2023 + Festival wrap
- 00:00 Introduction
- 01:26 Why we’re talking about documentaries at Sundance
- 03:05 And the King Said What a Fantastic Machine directed by Axel Danielsen & Maximilien Van Aertryck
- 11:19 Is There Anybody Out There? directed by Ella Glendining (and other first-person disability docs programmed by Sundance, including I Didn’t See You There, Unrest, and Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie)
- 31:13 The Stroll directed by Kristen Parker Lovell & Zackary Drucker
- 36:04 Plan C directed by Tracy Droz Tragos
- 39:35 Milisuthando directed by Milisuthando Bongela
- 42:28 Against the Tide directed by Sarvnik Kaur
- 56:27 Final thoughts on Sundance 2023 and top tens
- 01:10:57 Sundance bingo
Never miss an episode again. Become a member.
The Seventh Row Podcast spotlights under-the-radar, female-directed, and foreign films. All of our episodes are carefully curated. Indeed, we only discuss films we think are really worth your time and deserve in-depth critical analysis.
Our episodes that are more than six months old are only available to members. In addition, many of our new episodes are for members only.
For exclusive access to all of our episodes, including all of our in-between season episodes, become a member.
How to follow our Sundance 2023 coverage
Subscribe to our newsletter for updates on the 2023 Sundance podcast season and coverage on the website.
Follow Seventh Row on Twitter and Instagram @SeventhRow; Alex Heeney on Twitter and Instagram @bwestcineaste; and Orla Smith on Twitter and Instagram.
Show Notes on documentaries at Sundance 2023 and the best of the festival
- Buy a copy of our ebook Subjective realities, which features essays and interviews on creative nonfiction film (including our interview with Pacho Velez on Searchers). The book also features an interview with director Chase Joynt who has made two documentaries featuring Zackary Drucker, director of the 2023 Sundance film The Stroll.
- Read our 2016 Sundance interview with Penny Lane on NUTS! in which she introduced us to the term ‘creative nonfiction’ as a way to describe innovative approaches to documentary.
- Watch Axel Danielsen and Maximilien Van Aertryck’s short film Ten Meter Tower for free on YouTube.
- Watch Guy Goma’s hilarious interview on the BBC, which features in Fantastic Machine
- Read Orla’s review of I Didn’t See You There
- Read Alex’s review of Gleason
- Read Orla’s interview with Chase Joynt and Morgan M. Page on Framing Agnes, which stars Zackary Drucker who co-directed in the 2023 film The Stroll
- Read Orla’s interview with the filmmakers behind No Ordinary Man, which features Zackary Drucker, director of the film The Stroll.
- Read Orla’s review of All That Breathes
- Read Alex’s review of Captains of Za’atari
- Read Orla’s Letterboxd ranking of the Sundance 2023 films she saw
- Read Alex’s Letterboxd ranking of the Sundance 2023 films she saw
- Download the Sundance 2023 bingo card to follow along at home.
- Listen to our last podcast season, which tackles the history of women at the Cannes film festival, and read our comprehensive list of all the women filmmakers who have been programmed by Cannes.
Related episodes to 2023 Sundance documentaries and creative nonfiction
All of our podcasts that are more than six months old are only available to members. We also regularly release members only bonus episodes. Many of the episodes listed here are now only available to members (Members Only).
Discover all of our past podcast episodes on films that screened at Sundance.
Episodes on creative nonfiction (and documentary) film
At Seventh Row, we are dedicated to having in-depth conversations about documentaries pushing the boundaries of the form. That is part of our first book on documentary filmmaking, In their own words: Documentary Masters, and the sole focus of our follow-up ebook Subjective realities: The art of nonfiction film.
Our interest in creative nonfiction extends to our in-depth podcast discussions. When we talk about documentary, we don’t just talk about the information they’re providing but how the films use film form and grammar in innovative ways to communicate ideas and story.
- Sundance’s history of programming creative nonfiction films: Ep. 123: Sundance 2022: Creative nonfiction (MEMBERS ONLY). In this episode, we build on our discussion from Ep. 123 in which we talked about the festival’s history of programming documentary films, especially what we’re calling ‘creative nonfiction’, and the films that fit into this category at the 2022 festival.
- An introduction to creative nonfiction films: Ep. 99: Creative nonfiction with Carol Nguyen and Penny Lane (FREE FOREVER). In this masterclass featuring a conversation between documentarians Carol Nguyen and Penny Lane, they discuss what the term and genre “creative nonfiction” means to them. Penny Lane coined the term as it relates to documentary film. This episode helped form the foundation for how we think about creative nonfiction film, and its transcript forms the first chapter our ebook Subjective realities: The art of creative nonfiction film.
Discover more great creative nonfiction films like Fantastic Machine and Is There Anybody Out There? in these episodes
- Fiction vs. nonfiction when telling the story of Christine Chubbuck: Ep. 106: Christine and Kate Plays Christine: Reviving Christine Chubbuck (MEMBERS ONLY): In this episode, we discuss two films about Christine Chubbuck: one non-fiction and one fiction. Both films premiered at Sundance (even screened back to back!), and we discuss the opportunities and limitations of fiction vs. nonfiction in telling this story. To listen to the episode, become a member.
- Two completely different fly-on-the-wall documentary approaches to political stories about male-dominated spaces: Ep. 53: Boys State and First Stripes (MEMBERS ONLY). In this episode, we compare two wo political, but not didactic, documentaries, Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s Sundance 2020 hit Boys State and Jean-François Caissy’s 2018 film First Stripes.
- Two docs that reclaim the history of transgender people and Black Albertans, respectively: Ep. 95: No Ordinary Man and John Ware Reclaimed: Reclaiming histories in documentaries. Zackary Drucker, who co-directed the film The Stroll, appears as a commentator in the film No Ordinary Man, which uses the story of Billy Tipton, one of the first transgender public figures in the US, to think more broadly about trans history and what it means to us today. In this episode, we discuss No Ordinary Man and compare its approaches to reclaiming the history of the transgender community with John Ware Reclaimed, which reclaims the history of a legendary Black man in Alberta.
Other episodes that discuss abortion films like Plan C
- Ep. 36: Never Rarely Sometimes Always and abortion on screen: In our first discussion of abortion stories on screen, we discuss the Sundance hit Never Rarely Sometimes Always and how it compares to other recent depictions of abortion on screen. We also discuss Saint Frances and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.
- Ep. 121: Ninjababy & Obvious Child: Unwanted pregnancies in romantic comedies: Although this episode is less focused on the history abortion depictions or the activism of films like Plan C, telling romantic comedies in the context of a woman who wants an abortion for her unwanted pregnancy is its own form of activism. We discuss how these depictions have shifted from 2014 to 2021 with these two films, and what that can tell us about what abortion stories people are ready to see on screen.
Past Sundance Film Festival episodes (2021-2022)
- Bonus Episode 23: Sundance 2022: Fiction Films (Members Only): At the end of Sundance 2022, we reflect on the highs, lows, discoveries, and disappointments among the fiction films at the festival, from Sharp Stick to Living. We also talk about how the festival programmed several movies about abortion, including the activism documentary film The Janes, which shares some similarities with this year’s film Plan C.
- Ep. 78: Sundance 2021 part 1 (Members only): At the end of Sundance 2021, we reflect on the highs and lows of the festival with guests Andrew Kendall and Lena Wilson.
- Ep. 79: Sundance 2021 part 2 (Members Only): At the end of Sundance 2021, we continue our discussion of the best and worst of the festival.
Listen to all the related episodes. Become a member.
For exclusive access to all of our episodes, including all of our in-between season episodes:
Speakers on this episode
Host Alex Heeney is the Editor-in-Chief of Seventh Row. Find her on Twitter @bwestcineaste.
Host Orla Smith is the Executive Editor of Seventh Row. Find her on Instagram @orla_p_smith.
The transcript for the free excerpt of this episode was AI-generated by Otter.ai.
Alex Heeney 0:17
Welcome to the seventh and final episode of the Sundance 2023 Season of the Seventh Row podcast. Sundance ran from January 19. To the 29th of this year 2023. Today we'll be discussing a bunch of the documentaries at the festival like Fantastic Machine, Is There Anybody Out There, Milusithando, Against the Tide, and The Stroll. We will then do a final reflection on the festival as a whole and let you know what we think were the best films of the festival and what some of the patterns we noticed in the program where without we'll have our handy bingo card. I am Alex Heeney, editor in chief of seventh row and this is my 10th year covering Sundance.
Orla Smith 1:05
And I'm Orla Smith, executive editor of seventh row and it is my fourth year covering the festival.
Alex Heeney 1:11
Sundance marks the beginning of the new film year as a festival made up primarily of world premieres. In this podcast season, we've been talking about the films we've seen at the festival and how the films this year have fit into the context of the history of the festivals programming.
Orla Smith 1:27
This year, and in past years, we've always liked to do a special spotlight of the documentaries at Sundance, especially last year, it was very important because the documentaries were by far the best films in the program, we kind of like solidified our idea that Sundance does some of the well while that fiction programming can be kind of spotty and generic. They do some of the best documentary programming in the US. Like they program a lot of very interesting and innovative creative nonfiction films like films that push the boundaries of nonfiction and do really interesting things with nonfiction. And while this year's overall selection and fiction selection was stronger, I still think that, you know, the documentary program was really fascinating. The favorite my favorite film that I saw at the festival was a documentary. And there's a lot to talk about there. So before we wrap out this season, we just wanted to give a little tour spotlight to some of the best nonfiction films.
Alex Heeney 2:37
Yeah, and we've previously talked about the history of creative nonfiction films at Sundance, we went deep on that in Episode 123, Sundance 2022 creative nonfiction, which is a free episode. We also talked a bit about this and what we were looking for in the first episode of this season. So those are both good conversations to go back to in reference to this episode. So shall we start with And the king said what a fantastic machine.
Orla Smith 3:09
Or if you've heard anyone else talking about it, they'll probably just call it fantastic machine, although technically it's full title is And the king said what a fantastic machine. I wonder if they'll change that officially. By the time it comes out. But who knows? We'll see
Alex Heeney 3:26
if you see the poster the And the king said what a is really small and then "Fantastic Machine" is big. But once you've seen the movie, there's like a good joke about that because literally the king says What a fantastic machine. So
Orla Smith 3:41
yeah, they seem a bit of afraid of their own title.
Alex Heeney 3:46
But I do think the the longer version of the title kind of gets at the wit inside the film.
Orla Smith 3:50
The reason I was excited about this film, which he talked about in a previous episode is that the two directors, Axel Danielsen and Maximilien Van Aertryck, made a short film that I really loved like six years ago called 10 meter tower. And it was a documentary short, it was about 20 minutes long, though. And it sustains its premise every 20 minutes in a really admirable way, due to just how good the editing was, like, it's just about like, it's footage of like, people that swimming pool, like a local swimming pool, going to like the highest diving board and the swimming pool. And like, you get to like watch how different people like behave on the diving board, like how they like edge towards the end, and then they like chicken out and they run away. And it's essentially just 20 minutes of that. But it's like great people watching and it's really like the way that it's added together is really hilarious. So I already had this idea of these two guys as people who were able to do two things really well which was edit for comedy in a really subtle way. And also, they are two people who are really interested in like watching human behavior, human faces and human physicality, and drawing, humour and interest out of that. And I think this film, while it's quite different, does both of those things really well. And you can see those two interests between both projects.
Alex Heeney 5:23
So I mean, the titular fantastic machine is the camera. And the film kind of takes us through the history of the development of the camera dating back to the mid 1800s. To present day and how the existence of this fantastic machine and our relationship to it has changed how we perceive ourselves. In reality, it talks about the way that the camera has been used as a tool of propaganda and as a tool of document, like actual documentation of reality. And the fact that it's been used in both ways, means that we might be skeptical of the real documentation. But on the other hand, we might be willing to buy into the propaganda because we're used to the camera as document. And it kind of talks about both how this has played into, like, the history of fascism, what the camera did for the Nazis to like, how that has, you know, progressed over the last 70 years? at you? How many years? Are we since the Nazis more than that?
Orla Smith 6:33
Just under 100? Yeah,
Alex Heeney 6:35
yeah. And talking about how that has changed or affected like our media today. And it, it draws some really striking and interesting comparisons between or not, we're not comparisons, but connections between how we use the camera and how that's evolved, and how that's changed our lives and our precision perceptions of things, the way we do things nowadays, to document it to have a selfie to put on Instagram and get likes, et cetera. But also the very powerful things that that a camera can do, which is say, this thing has really happened. And the film is mostly like found footage or archival footage, there's a little bit of narration that gives you know some of the history of the camera. And its uses a lot of montage to show to sort of compare and contrast different ways in which the camera has been used and the difficult or interesting, ethical questions and questions about how this is shaping how we view the world.
Alex Heeney 7:46
I've been kind of calling it the 32 sounds of Sundance 2023, which is a high compliment, because that was our number one film last year. And that was a documentary that was really about sound and how sound effects are lives and emotions, and how sound works, how sound works in movies, and just sort of like the power of sound. And I kind of feel like, and the king said, what a fantastic machine is about does that for the camera? And it does it in really thoughtful ways that are not just like, oh, look, now we're a slave to the selfie. But really ties it into how the development of the technology has affected the development of the world. And, and its politics and vice versa.
Orla Smith 8:34
Yeah, I've talked to a few people who, who have found it like didactic and finger wagging in the the way that it tackles like social media culture today. And I would disagree with that, although I'm not surprised that some people are leaving it with that interpretation, because I think the editing is quite subtle. It draws connections, but doesn't necessarily impose a viewpoint onto them. And so someone might watch that and think we're being told off. Whereas I watched it, and I kind of felt that the film was drawing some attention to the kind of like the absurdity of human behavior while also making some interesting comments about it.
Orla Smith 9:21
But I didn't necessarily feel like they were telling me what I should think about that, but giving me context for their actions. And so an obviously it's an 85 minute film encompassing the entire history of the camera. So it it does it in some way, quite an overview, but I think it chooses very wisely how to tell that an overview of that story. I think the 32 sounds comparison, is apt and I think I liked this film quite as much just because I loved 32 sounds and I think that that film is doing some more audacious things with its own form itself. And it stuck with me perhaps more than this film has.
Orla Smith 10:08
But not to say that this hasn't at all, because I like it quite a bit. But I think it certainly is probably the best edited film that I saw at the festival. And it also contains one of my favorite clips on the internet, which is of the guy who, who went to a job into the BBC. And for like an accounting position. But they mix him up for like a technology expert on TV, because he technology expert had the same first name as him. And always like making a point about how we kind of like
Alex Heeney 10:47
if you look the part, then you can play the part and that we've learned how to play a lot of different parts.
Orla Smith 10:53
And then like, we know what, like an expert on TV looks and behaves and sounds like can you see this guy and read real time? First of all be like, Oh, shit,
Alex Heeney 11:02
yeah, his eyes bug out, because he's like, Why the hell are they asking me?
Orla Smith 11:07
Yeah. And he's able to just blag his way through, you know, really hilarious way. But you know, that was a clip I've seen many times before, but I was very happy to watch it again.
Alex Heeney 11:19
Shall we talk about? Is there anybody out there? And yeah, well, I guess the context for talking about is there anybody out there is that Sundance has a slot for a disability doc, and it fills it?
Orla Smith 11:37
And sometimes it fills it well, and sometimes it doesn't.
Alex Heeney 11:40
Yeah, it's the best ones that it has filled in the past tend to be first person accounts, where the director is also the subject who is a disabled person talking about or dealing with their experience, I think, our best guess of sort of like the first really good one of these was Jennifer Brea's Unrest, which played in 2017. And then last year, we had Reid Davenport's, I Didn't See You There, which was a major highlight, I guess Jennifer Brea's film was about her experience of having chronic fatigue, and what that has meant as a lived experience, the ways that it has challenged her relationships, and the difficulty with finding anything to improve her quality of life. And then Reid Davenport's film is sort of puts you in the headspace, or like physical space, I guess, of what it is like to be a wheelchair user.
Orla Smith 12:43
I'd say it's, it's at once true and untrue to put it in the category of the first person disability doc, because it is absolutely. But it's also like making a comment on that kind of doc. And it's kind of trying to subvert in some way. He talks about how he actually did make a film before where he put himself in front of the camera. And he he uses the kind of like motif, visual motif of it in I didn't see you there, the visual motif of the circus, because there's a circus like right outside of his house and how like circuses have often like, been this leering display of the bodies of disabled people, and how he feels like that's like something that audiences have an appetite for, and that he indulged in this other film of his in a way that makes him slightly uncomfortable. And so I didn't see you there. We basically never see him as like a physical body. But we, we see from the perspective of the camera he is holding, and we see his you know, his shadow, and we see what he sees.
Alex Heeney 13:51
He's got a camera attached to his wheelchair, and we never, we pretty much never actually see him or his body,
Orla Smith 13:57
Except as either a reflection or a shadow.
Alex Heeney 14:00
Yeah, it's but the camera is attached at his height. So we hear what he hears. We see what he sees. And part of where that title comes from is he is treated as invisible by a lot of people. And I should clarify, because what you said is is important is that there's a difference between films that are doing interesting things and the way Sundance programs. So I put it in this category because I was talking about it as the way Sundance programs where, "oh, you made a first person doc about a person with a disability and you have that disability and you're that person? That is exactly what we were looking for for our documentary competition! Please, come to our festival!" And you know, occasionally fortunately, people do interesting and innovative things and Sundance still programs them often because they still happen to check the box that they're looking for.
Orla Smith 14:59
But what You're saying is that through previous examples, which maybe you should talk about, we know that sometimes those films are not doing interesting things. And perhaps it's more about filling a programming slot than it is about the innovative thing that the filmmaker is doing.
Alex Heeney 15:15
Yeah. Well, the one that I its strongest in my mind is Gleason, which is about, I guess he's a famous athlete, but I'm not American. And I don't follow sports. So I didn't know who he was until I saw this film. And he got ALS. And it's about, like, it is every horrible disability trope inside one little film about, you know, how he watched his incredible, perfect athletic body, you know, become increasingly and increasingly disabled, and he became increasingly dependent on other people. But gosh, it's nice that I'm a millionaire, because I can afford all the things so that I can still like, fly around the world and do fun things. And therefore I overcame my disability that that would bankrupt most people. But because I'm a millionaire, aren't I an inspirational story. Also, I have a wife who has decided to dedicate her entire life to mine care.
Alex Heeney 16:17
So that film, super pissed me off, which again, is more about the way that that story was told than like, his particular situation. You know, like, he's done good things for people in the ALS community. But it also came at a time that was not far from that Stephen Hawking film with Eddie Redmayne, theory of everything. So it was like, at a time when we were doing a lot of looking at people with ALS and saying, oh, gosh, isn't it sad? When you get ALS? And then you're no longer a human? And then you die?
Orla Smith 16:53
Although an a key distinction, perhaps to just to note with that film is that it wasn't told by the subject himself? It was told by another filmmaker.
Alex Heeney 17:05
Yeah, that's true, although I suspect that that is his own story as well, based on like him being in the q&a [at the festival] and how he talks about his story. Because there's a lot of ableism, within internalized ableism within the disability community.
Alex Heeney 17:23
The other disability doc that we got in the festival this year was Michael, the Michael, Michael J. Fox, what was it still on Michael J. Fox movie. And that was he didn't direct it, but it's like, based on his memoir, and he tells the story. And on the one hand, it's good about being like, well, disability is just a thing that you learned to cope with, and it's not your entire life. And on the other hand, there are like a lot of these kind of tropes, but also just like cultural tropes. A woman gets disabled her husband divorces her; a man gets disabled, his wife devotes her life to managing his care. That's just kind of an unfortunate reality we live in. In that film, there's a lot of like, oh, yeah, 'cause I insisted on walking everywhere, instead of using any assistive devices, since we last talked, I broke all the bones in my hand, I broke all the bones in my eye and cheek, because I'm falling all the time. And there's some weird stuff that goes unexamined about, like, what kind of internalized ableism is there going on by him sort of, you know, refusing help.
Alex Heeney 18:38
But on the other hand, what I did love about that film was it shows that like, you can't just when you have Parkinson's, as Michael J, Fox has, you don't just get to like, walk around with no work like there is intensive physical therapy, and exercises and hard work and time and effort. And money, which is of no issue to him. So that isn't really part of it. But at least the like, the way that it completely affects you the rhythms of your life, because you have to do all this work in order to just do basic things that other people don't think about was really, really good. So in a way, that was the more conventional documentary.
Alex Heeney 19:14
And then so then, is there anybody out there? Is there anybody out there follows a template that's closer to unrest and I didn't see you there. Particularly Unrest because the director puts herself on screen for a lot of the film and much of it is about her trying to find out if there are other people like her who have her particular rare disability. She doesn't have hip joints. And [she is] looking for community. And that is certainly a big part of what Unrest is about. Although I think Is anybody out there? is a lot more about community among disabled people, whether they share your disability or not, the sort of shared experience of ableism is something that is sadly universal and can be a source of support. Like you don't have to have the same disability as somebody else, in order to have similar experiences and similar traumatic experiences and have having had to go through the process of removing the internalized ableism that you have about yourself in order to live a, you know, a less traumatized self hating life.
Orla Smith 20:32
Yeah, I'd say, I didn't see you there is more of a film that's kind of like a visual essay on what kind of I mean, one of the things about is this the idea of like, perspective, and the visual perspectives and the audio perspectives we're used to seeing in cinema, in storytelling, and how that looks different from the perspective of a wheelchair user.
Orla Smith 20:57
I think Is there anybody out there? and unrest share a lot of DNA in the way they are kind of, we're kind of following a journey of first Person journey from the perspective of a disabled filmmaker. And the film kind of, I feel like in both cases, the film kind of finds itself as it goes along, as as they're exploring what story they want to tell about themselves and their disability. And as the and the film's both slowly open up, as they start to interview various different people about their own experiences with similar or the same disability. And like, as he said, I think is there anybody out there kind of takes that idea of community to another level?
Orla Smith 21:44
It was a film that I think, I think it's, it starts off kind of an unsure feet, just in kind of filmmaking wise, I was like, Is this gonna be like a film where she knows she wants to tell a story, but she's not really sure what story she wants to tell or how to tell that. But in the end, it taken us totality, almost like the fact that the film, it becomes more and more confident as it goes, because you really feel like you're kind of following a story in real time along with her, and the filmmaking reflects that in the way that like, what the film is changes as it progresses, and ultimately, kind of she she starts off kind of talking about herself, and then very early in the film, she gets pregnant. And so we're kind of following her journey of pregnancy.
Orla Smith 22:39
And then she starts this other exploration of like, am I gonna be able to find anyone in the world who has the exact same disability as I do? And she becomes very kind of fixated on finding this, this one person who is exactly the same, like, is there anybody who is the same as me, in the world, and she'll zoom with various people, and follow all these threads, and then eventually goes to meet a bunch of people, and then also kind of discovers this community of especially parents of children who have similar disabilities to her who have given them surgery, especially in America has one specific doctor who does the surgeries and really encourages the surgeries in order to quote unquote, correct these disabilities.
Alex Heeney 23:28
Yeah, and they're really invasive surgeries. Like when you do surgery, or maybe like, okay, sure, why not put them through surgery, and then they can walk. But it's like, not just one surgery, but multiple, multiple excruciating ly painful, high risk surgeries, which is a lot to put a five year old through and disrupt their life. And the film does deal also with this sort of, like, dubious idea of consent, like, when you're five, your parents have control of your consent, but then, you know, you get to 18. And are you gonna be pissed that your parents did this surgery?
Orla Smith 24:06
I mean, we should actually say the name of the filmmaker is Ella Glendening. And she is a British filmmaker. And it's definitely there was a bunch of British films at the festival this year. And this definitely ended up being my favorite one. And essentially, she she starts a film asking, is there anyone out there like me? And one of the answers she discovers, as you know, there, maybe there would have been if all these invasive surgeries were not happening, but she does meet a few people who are maybe if not exactly the same, and similar, and we follow her and this discovery of community, and then also this discovery of like the surgeries and be posed with this question of like, why is there anything wrong with the differences? is a disabled person. And it's kind of a journey into her own kind of like self love and self acceptance of her own body as like, you know, a completely valid body to have and to celebrate. And it is unfortunately, that's not like a narrative that is particularly common in films featuring disabled people. And it is incredibly like moving film in how it it shows her celebrating her own body as a positive thing. And how she finds that through community with other disabled people.
Alex Heeney 25:40
Yeah, and I think like one of the things that I was worried about in the early part of the film is that, like, from my own experiences as a disabled person, I don't necessarily find that the people I have the most in common with are the people who share my exact disability. Because your experience of disability is going to be highly affected by what your job is, what your socio economic status is, where you are in the world, what kind of things are available to you, and what the ableist culture around you is. And so I kind of was like, I don't know how helpful this journey is going to be for her.
Alex Heeney 26:16
And I think that the film kind of acknowledges that, as well. Like, there are some great scenes where she talks to one of her best friends who is on the autism spectrum. And they talk about their shared experiences of ableism. And that they have slightly different experiences, because one of them has an invisible disability. And one of them has a very visible disability. And what that means, but ultimately, they're both kind of angry at the world for the same reasons. And the people that she ends up connecting with, I think emotionally, the most of us are the people who have an awareness of ableism. And are, you know, trying to figure out what is the right path and how that can be really challenging.
Alex Heeney 27:01
Because obviously, if you are able to walk in a way you have more independence and normalcy, and there are things you can do when you walk that you simply can't do when you're a wheelchair user. But on the other hand, at what price? Are you doing that, because you're trying to look like everybody else and fit into society, because you think there's something wrong with you? Because that's not a good reason. And is the, you know, the ability to walk coming at the expense of huge amounts of pain, either, just from the surgery. And also I mean, like you see some of the people that she meets who did or did not have surgery, and you see them walking and when you look at the mechanics of that, it's got to be like super painful.
Alex Heeney 27:42
And we see that, you know, Ella Glendinning, she, she has a wheelchair. She uses it sometimes, and she doesn't use it at other times. But like you can, you can definitely see that there would be a good reason to use it that it would, it would allow you freedom that you wouldn't have otherwise. And freedom that doesn't come at the expense of years spent dealing with invasive surgeries, which may or may not make things better.
Orla Smith 28:11
I mean, it it's kind of like robbing people of their childhoods, like having many surgeries at such an early age. But the film kind of explores how this need to have a quote unquote, normal body is so overwhelming for people that a lot of people just don't even like question that of course, that they would put a very young child through years of multiple surgeries, because to them, their life is going to be infinitely better. Yeah, if they look more normal, Li Glendening basically just challenges that. And she, you know, seems to been lucky to have really good parents and like a very lovely Doctor who we meet towards the end, who is, you know, very affirming of the fact that like, her body is perfectly fine as it is,
Alex Heeney 29:04
yeah. And that it's the world around her that needs to change to be accommodating. Like, you shouldn't have to have surgery. I mean, they have a conversation about the light switch being too high for her to reach. And sort of the conclusion of that is that you don't have surgery. So you can reach a light switch, you move the light switch down. And that the world needs to be doing that on a you know, a bigger scale because you shouldn't be forcing people to do harm to their bodies. And I mean as somebody who is a frequent a frequent flyer in the OR room before I've hit 40 and one of the rare people who has had the complication from surgery that nobody gets. I look at these surgeries and think, this is insane. This is like you should not be doing this to a kid.
Orla Smith 29:04
And I did love one kind of little detail on the film, which is the way that she uses an archive footage from what like 40-50 years ago or something, you know of this like British documentary about, like the experiences of this disabled child in school. And it seemingly kind of using it as an archival example of, you know, how disabled people have been portrayed in media and also like this child's like, horrible parents. But then she goes one step further, and actually interviews the guy from the archival footage, who, you know, he's still around today and asked him what his life is like. And he's like a pretty cool and interesting guy who's lived a really interesting and fulfilling life. She goes down so many different, unexpected avenues and is so curious as a filmmaker, to kind of explore many different aspects of the disabled community, and, and really challenge that archive as well. And so I really kind of appreciated her just her creativity as a filmmaker.
Alex Heeney 31:13
Shall we talk about? I think your next favorite film is the Stroll.
Orla Smith 31:18
Yeah, I'll talk briefly about this. Because I mean, the next few films that we want to spotlight, it's just because we want to spotlight them because we think they're interesting, but only one of myself or Alex have seen them.
Orla Smith 31:28
So I just wanted to touch quickly on The Stroll, which I think I mentioned in the last episode, just because I think it would be a really good double bill with the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner A Thousand and One. Because both of them kind of take a look at gentrification in New York through the perspective of, of a certain characters. And this is a you know, this is a doing it through documentary, and it's specifically about black trans sex workers in New York who would work along what was called the stroll in New York's meatpacking district. And what's really interesting about this film to talk about challenging the archive, and revisiting people who have been portrayed in media is the director is Kristen Parker Lovell, who is a former trans sex worker who is black. And she was portrayed in a film about the women who had walked the stroll about 15 or so years ago, that was made by an outsider. And this film is basically her sit where she says explicitly, and she appears on screen that she wasn't satisfied with the way that film was portrayed was approached. And ever since she she became a filmmaker, and she decided that what she really, really wants to do was to take that story and tell it from her own perspective, because it had or has rarely been told from the perspective of someone who actually comes from that community. And she co directs with Zackary Druckjerr, who is another trans woman who we know as an actress, and she was one of the who actually in framing Agnes, which is a film we liked it a lot at the last Sundance, she was the titular role of Agnes. So they collaborate here.
Orla Smith 33:38
But mostly, we see Kristen Parker Lovell on screen. And she basically tells the story of her own experiences as a sex worker on the stroll and interviews a bunch of the people she knew from that time, but also like goes into a lot of the history of the stroll, engages with the with archival footage, but also like shows herself in the editing bay making decisions. And the film does a really good job of like, giving a lot of context first of all to like, why so many black trans women have or had no option but to go into sex work for reasons such as like not being able to be employed as women and being made homeless by family members. And she walks through that history through the testimonies of people that she knows.
Orla Smith 34:33
And then she kind of talks about how this place where they would work the Meatpacking District was over time gentrified, how that happened, talks about the process of gentrification, and how for example, like it was like a very queer area of New York. But when AIDS hit, a lot of those properties owned by queer people became I'm available because they died. I thought it was a really kind of smart film and how it mixes a lot of historical context and really clear eyed storytelling with also like a kind of first person personal narrative. And I yeah, I think it it told that story really, really well. And in a way that, you know, clearly is coming from a place of knowledge and also like, deep love for the people who, who walked the stroll.
Orla Smith 35:36
The film tells you everything about like, the extreme dangers of being a sex worker, but also the fact that like, as young trans people who had perhaps been kicked out of their homes, the people who watched the struggle also found community there in a way that they never had. So it's such a lived in account of that story. And I yeah, I really, I really liked it a lot.
Alex Heeney 36:04
I guess one of my favorite documentaries was Plan C, which is, I mean, it even goes up to pretty much like, a week or two before Sundance as far as what it's documenting, though. And it's directed by Tracy draws triangles, and essentially plan. Plan C is the alternative to Plan B, ie if you are pregnant, and you weren't able to take the morning after pill, and now you are still pregnant, and you need an abortion, what happens and then film starts around the early pandemic, which is when like, when people weren't actually able to get into the doctor's a sort of a network of doctors working with this activism group, what in the US was working out ways to male member prestone and most pro stall, which are the abortion pills to women, especially in rural areas. And the film kind of tracks the journey from that beginning to Roe v. Wade being struck down and how that created even more problems and how a few you know, people who are willing to take great personal risk are working to make abortion accessible to people, even in places where it's illegal, or even just if you're in a rural place where it is illegal. And it feels kind of like the last year there were several films about abortion at the festival, and one of them was a documentary called The genes. And that was kind of like the 1960s version of this in Chicago, where people were procuring illegal abortions for safe illegal abortions for women and women who were not medically trained, but we're trained in this procedure we're providing them and Plan C kind of feels like the modern update follow up to that as to what's going on now. And that now that Roe v. Wade has been struck down. It's not about backstreet abortions, per se, but it's about how do you get these pills to women. And of course, the women in it are really inspiring. And you see sort of, you know, how a grass roots movement works. It also reminded me of the French film that premiered last year called Angry Annie, which was about this sort of organizing that happened in 1970s, France to legalize abortion where people were performing safe, illegal abortions, but kind of in plain sight as a way of forcing the government into legalizing abortion. And this sort of shares a lot of like the same kinds of conversations, I guess, in the same kind of movement that you saw in that film, which is going to be out in Canada. This year. I don't know what it what the deal is with the US. And we'll be talking about it on our forthcoming season on abortion. But plan C it is kind of like a straightforward documentary. But I think sometimes straightforward documentaries when they're about something really important and powerful. You know, they can still be rousing and I think that's this is one of those I suspect it'll end up being like one of those HBO movies and hopefully available to see soon later this year, but not not sure what the deal is with it yet.
Orla Smith 39:34
The last documentary I wanted to give a quick mention to is Milisithando. It is a film from South Africa. And the filmmaker is called Melissa Sandow. It's a film about kind of her her life and her country and apartheid. And she she grew up in basically like an experimental community slash countries slash separate states, which was in tirely, populated by black people who basically govern themselves in a small part of South Africa. And so she grew up, not knowing that Apartheid was happening. And she only knew black people. And then when apartheid dissolved, she left that community and had to adjust to the reality of the rest of South Africa. And she talks a lot about how people who grew up in her community, there's this belief that they weren't affected by apartheid, she basically kind of dismantles that myth completely. And the film is a very interesting kind of experimental and very ambitious, personal essay type of thing, or they're not just the personal essay. It's told in five parts, and each part is kind of quite distinct in what it's trying to do what it's trying to say. And like the filmmaking style. You'll have some sections that are kind of like verite of her like talking to her friends and you'lld have this one section that's like, basically a montage, like a word, this montage of archival footage that tells you like the history of South Africa, white South Africans and black South Africans in parallel, I'd say it's a film that I really admired for its ambition, and you don't see ambition a lot in Sundance films, if anything, like often the problem is that Sundance films are trying to do one thing, and they can't stretch it to future. And Milisithando, which is a two hour plus film, is trying to do a lot and is packing the all these ideas in there. And I will say that those ideas don't all totally cohere into, like, I'm not totally sure what the film is trying to say in its totality, in its totality, although it touches on a lot of very interesting things. But I think that's a good and interesting problem to have. And I think Melissa found out it's very interesting filmmaker. So I would, I would recommend that one as well.
Alex Heeney 42:29
And I guess the last documentary that I wanted to talk about was Against the tide, which won the World Cinema documentary, Special Jury Award for verite filmmaking. Which is kind of funny, because when I watched this film, I thought, Gosh, Sundance loves to program a very tasty film, where it fits into some kind of like conventional narrative, it feels like a fiction film, you're supposed to forget that there's a camera there following these people and watch it as though it's like a fiction film, except, oh, it's real people. So I mean, last year's version of that was all that breathe. The year before the version of that was captains of Zaatari. These are all world documentary films. I think a year or two before that the version of that was honeyland. And I will say that I'm more or less haven't liked many of these films. Captains of Zaatari was okay. All that Breathes was okay. And my feeling I loved it. I know that I'm in the minority. Because people went crazy for honeyland and got all these Oscar nominations. I fucking hated that film. All That Breathes was fine. I liked captains of Zaatari. But I think by the time I got to against the tide, part of my issue with it was not that there was something wrong with the film. It's just that I'm a little bit tired of this particular kind of filmmaking in this particular slot that had I redone my Sundance bingo, I would have put Veritate documentary on the bingo. And I guess the more of these films that I see, the more frustrated I become with how it really like I don't find the way that it plays with the line between fiction and nonfiction productive, actually kind of find it kind of frustrating. So I spend the film when I think it's not playing with hearing it. Yes. That's a much better way of putting it. Yeah.
Orla Smith 44:27
Right. Yeah. Like, I think that these kinds of films are trying to, as much as possible do not make you think about that. And I guess maybe what I'm hearing from you is that you're frustrated, like, what is the purpose of not thinking about that?
Alex Heeney 44:42
Yeah. Because ultimately, in the end, all I do is think about that I look at the scene and think, Well, this is a really convenient conversation to be happening right now. And it's a little bit stilted, and did the director say it's time for you to discuss this particular thing because it his time in the story for that
Orla Smith 45:02
maybe this is a good time to return to a quote, from Pacho Velez from an interview I did two Sundances ago, I'm just gonna, like, paraphrase it now. We interviewed him about his film searchers. And he says something to me that I found very illuminating, which is that every documentary is about the relationship between its filmmaker and its subject. And it just depends on how much the filmmaker is trying to obscure that. Versus bring it out, which, you know, you can argue with that quote, but I think it's an interesting thing to think about how to what extent is the filmmaker trying to obscure their relationship with the subjects and the meaning that exists in that relationship? And I do find sometimes when I watch these kinds of films, or they haven't seen this one, that I feel this like, urge sometimes to know about the person behind the camera and what they're, because they, it's the real situation, and they have a position within that situation. And I kind of want to know about that. Not always, but a lot of the time.
Alex Heeney 46:06
That's in our ebook, subjective realities, the art of creative nonfiction at subjective realities.com, if you want to read that interview, but yeah, I agree,
Alex Heeney 46:17
I found it really kind of frustrating. And I think one of the issues with that is the director sorry, Nick Carr, might be mispronouncing that. She has been living next to an indigenous group in India called the quality people for many, many years. And she's decided to make a documentary about a pair of friends who are fishermen and are Koli and sometimes the film, in the way it treats their culture, it feels exoticizing. And because of the way the film is constructed, it's really hard to tell whether that is a reflection of how they see themselves, or the directors view of them, or what the director told them to say, in order to give that view of them. Which is, you know, the Nanook of the North problem where the director says, do this thing that you would never do that maybe you would do 100 years ago, but not today. And I'm going to film it and act as though this is a thing that's happening today.
Alex Heeney 47:21
And I often like just couldn't tell, what of those things was going on here, whether it was just a function of you know, this really did happen. And it feels this way, because of what particular choices the director and her editor made in the edit. And I found that, as you say, like obscuring and, and difficult.
Alex Heeney 47:43
It is also a film that, like I admire Sundance for its persistence in programming stories that deal with climate change, and the effects of climate change. And this is one of those stories to help these two fishermen who have been using traditional methods. And because of climate change, these traditional fishing methods, which are, of course, safe, and are sustainable, are not financially sustainable. And one of them has already started fishing in, you know, in a way that uses new technology that can be dangerous for the ecosystem and kind of convinces the other one to do the same, because it's the only way to make enough money to have a good life. Or even just to like, pay the bills, etc, etc. And Sundance loves making programming films that are kind of like that, like that is kind of exactly what honey land is about, was about about some a beekeeper who was doing traditional beekeeping methods and was getting kind of like priced out of the market slash unable to do what she was doing because of climate change. And I definitely understand why these resonate with audiences, like most audiences don't actually do professional work on climate change and climate change impacts. And didn't, you know, work on a thesis about this? So
Orla Smith 49:06
just to be clear, you're referring to yourself? Yes, I'm
Alex Heeney 49:09
referring to myself while I was working on my PhD, and my thesis was about how to reduce food waste to reduce the impacts on the on the environment, and co2 emissions, and water use anyway, long story. The point is that I spent a lot of time thinking about climate change. So when I see these docs that have that, you know, try and tell a human story about like, oh, gosh, did you know this climate change is pretty bad. I get a little bit frustrated because, like, it doesn't really tell me anything new that I didn't know. And so then it's just a question of how interesting are these characters? And is the story being told in a new and thoughtful way and mostly I find that this particular brand of Verite films is about like fitting as many conventional narrative cliches into a documentary so you forget it's a documentary because it feels kind of like a Sundance film.
Orla Smith 50:06
Yeah, I know that maybe you disagree. But I think what was good about all that breathes to me was that it wasn't just doing that. Yeah. It was talking about sort of the dilemma that one faces if you dedicate your life to taking actions into in some small way, like fight against climate change, and to help people or animals, and how crushing it can be to like, realize that you're just one drop in the ocean, but you want to keep doing it, which is why I like that film.
Alex Heeney 50:43
But yeah, I agree with you that it's a notch above all of these other films. Yeah, I do think what is valuable about all like, these four films that I've talked about it about against the tide, is the thing that, you know, the one thing that documentary brings to you, which is something that Chris Hegedus said to me in an interview about her film that's in our documentary masters ebook, is that what documentary can do is it can drop you into a world in a way that you can't get from an article or from a radios, you know, discussion. And I think what these films all do effectively is like all that breathes, you just like have to, you're there, and you can see how gross the air is. And you can see how the pollution would be causing problems for the birds that they're rescuing. And the the thing that I think is really, really wonderful, incredible and against the tide is when it actually takes you underwater. And it shows you these fishing methods, and it shows you underwater, it's like really incredible photography, by Ashok Mina, and honestly, the film was worth seeing, just for that. I don't think against the tide is like an objectively bad film, I'm sure a lot of people aren't going to enjoy it. But for me, I was really bogged down by the question of like, is what I'm watching Real or staged, and the way that the film gives you no real signals about this, especially given the sort of colonial relationship between the subject and the filmmaker really rubbed me the wrong way,
Orla Smith 52:27
which I'm in the other example of a film that was a film about Indigenous people directed by a non Indigenous person, by a settler, was twice colonized. And even though it was not super foreground, in the film, that is still a film that like, makes like reference to the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject. We have other problems with that film. But I think it does a little bit of a better of a job of making this sort of like immersion in the film a bit looser. So you have like a scene where our subject jokingly refers to the person behind the camera as her colonizer?
Alex Heeney 53:09
Well, I think that's part of why that film works is because there are she does talk to the camera, and she's aware that the cameras there, and you you feel her taking charge of her own story, even though she's not directing the film, just in the kinds of conversations that she has, or when she talks to the director in the film.
Orla Smith 53:26
Or to put it more precisely, she is allowed to acknowledge the cameras. I mean, obviously, the people in against the tide are aware that there's a camera filming them. That's true, I hope, but. But she clearly in that kind of film, they've clearly been given instruction to, like act as if it's not there, whereas twice colonized the relationship with the cameras a bit looser.
Alex Heeney 53:51
Yeah. Well, I mean, I don't know. It's hard to know, because we're in Wiseman's documentaries, some of the things he talks about is that, you know, people are always like, how do you get people to say these crazy things on camera? Don't they know that you're filming them? Like, and they say these like horrible racist things? And, and he says, Yeah, well, people basically forget that I'm there after five to 10 minutes. Now, that may not be the case. If you're there, like somebody's following you around in your life for two years. coming into your home, but you know, there might be some interaction with the camera and she's just the director has just chosen to, to cut that out. And to the creditor twice colonized, the director has kept that in.
Orla Smith 54:35
If you're enjoying our curation and discussion of under the radar, female directed and foreign films at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, you might also enjoy some past episodes of the podcast. Our episodes that are more than six months old are only available to members. In addition, many of our new episodes are for members only. All of our episodes are carefully curated so that we only discuss films we think are really worth your time and deserve in depth critical analysis. We tend to dedicate episodes to thought provoking under discuss films that no other podcast would cover with such depth, especially creative nonfiction films. They've been a particular interest of ours. And obviously in this episode, we talk about those films that are at Sundance, but we've talked about a bunch of really fascinating nonfiction in the past in our episodes we talked about compared to great films, John were reclaimed and no ordinary man and how they use nonfiction to reclaim and re examine history. We talked about two different tellings of Christine Chubbuck story with Christine and Kate place, Christine and discussed how one of them is fiction. One is nonfiction and the different opportunities, storytelling opportunities they make use of with those different forms. And we talked about depictions of the military and nonfiction with boy state and first stripe and then we also discussed two brilliant Frederick Wiseman films City Hall and actually breasts and how he explores institutions. So to listen to over episodes, you can become a member today, you'll also get a discount in our shop to purchase our books and filmmakers like Celine Sciamma, Kelly Reichardt and Joanna Hogg, all of whom have screened at Sundance to become a member go to seventh dash row.com/join.
Orla Smith 56:27
So before we end out this long, festival season of our podcast, we just wanted to give a few final thoughts about you know, what our favorite films were how we found this and overall, I thought it was as Sundance's go pretty good. Yeah. Yeah, cool. No, I think we've talked about this before. Whereas the three years that like I fully done Sundance, and it's been virtual this year, last year, and the year before, the first year was pretty had a few really good films. But overall, it was pretty bleak. And we really struggled to fill out a top 10. Last year, we struggled a little less to fill out our top 10. But most of the fiction films were pretty bad. And it was mostly documentaries. And this year, you know, I've, I even had to make some tough decisions about what to leave out of a top 10 The volume of good films was a lot larger, especially amongst the fiction films. And they were a lot stronger and more interesting than they have been in previous years. So I would say I was like, unusually happy with my experience, even though I did, there was kind of a period in the middle of the festival where I was watching a lot of Mediocre Films, and getting very so sad. But it picked up after that.
Alex Heeney 58:04
Yeah, I think my only it feels more like a return to what Sundance was pre pandemic, which is, you know, kind of a depressing state of affairs that nobody wanted to premiere their good films to virtual audiences. And I would agree with you, we saw a lot of strong films and a lot of like, pretty good films. And then like they were all, you know, there's always a bunch of trash. But I mean, if I were to be really picky, I think there have been Sundance where we see films, and we're like, that's going to be the best film of the year. And not just that, but like, this is going to be one of my favorite films ever. And this is going to be on our best of the decade list. Like sometimes we don't know that during Sundance, Sundance, who knows, it takes a few months to figure that out. But like, I'm not sure that at least within the world premieres that anything has quite hit the highs for me that say, the souvenir did in 2020, or like combine your name and God's own country did in 2017.
Orla Smith 59:10
I will say there's one factor here, that difference between us, which is that you didn't see my favorite film was a festival which was still small. Yes. And I would say that, with the caveat that usually, you said it takes maybe six months to a year to be able to look back and say no, that film was really special. I feel like that has the potential to be that film. Yeah, for me.
Alex Heeney 59:34
I mean, that makes sense. And to be fair, I am listing mostly fiction films. So I am partly making a comment on the fiction films that they were way stronger than they had been in past years. There are films that I really liked that I would recommend, but none of them are films where I feel like I have 10 S's in me on them, and I need to get them out and I need to talk to every sci fi standard in the film. Right. But you know, that was true to
Orla Smith 59:59
10 essays. So trees rotting in the sun, and it's many penises. No, I'm joking.
Alex Heeney 1:00:05
I really liked the film. But I don't know, like, you know, you know, I
Orla Smith 1:00:09
Alex Heeney 1:00:11
I think it's hard to know how we'll feel in six months, some of these films that we really liked, we might have more or less forgotten about. And some of the ones that we were like, Yeah, that was pretty good. We'll be like, Oh, actually, that was great.
Orla Smith 1:00:25
Also, it's probably worth saying that this depends on whether you count the spotlight films, which are the films that have shown that other festival? Yeah, I think for both of us, other people's children is our favorite thing that played us. Yeah.
Alex Heeney 1:00:37
And eight mountains is really high up for me. But I was comparing this to past years, ignoring the spotlight session. You know, like I came away from Sundance 2017 With call me by your name, and I would not shut up about it for the entire year. And I came away from Leave No Trace, and I would not shut up about it. I will say that true to Sundance lore. A lot of the films that were super buzzed about were somewhere between crap and fine.
Orla Smith 1:01:15
Yeah, I'd say that in my top 10. There's not many films that really like I felt got a ton of attention except for maybe passages. Yeah, which is a film I liked and that people did talk about because it had famous people in it. And 1001 I really liked and that one did one though, the top price. But other than that a lot of my favorite films where I felt righteously that they didn't get the attention. That stuff's like films like fair play, or a bunch of others that were about the same quality as fair play got, or worse.
Orla Smith 1:01:58
Oh, yeah, I
Alex Heeney 1:01:59
think just generally press. And then that kind of leads audiences don't look beyond the Central American Central as in like, most prominent American
Orla Smith 1:02:16
films. Yeah. And it's, I still am so mad that fancy dance, which was in the US dramatic competition didn't win a single price. And they have a ton of pride.
Alex Heeney 1:02:28
And they make up prizes every year. Like they could have made up the indigenous vision prize
Orla Smith 1:02:35
film starring an indigenous person directed by an indigenous person or
Alex Heeney 1:02:39
like they would go, you know, it wouldn't have been that hard to just be like the best actress Lily Gladstone. Yeah, that wouldn't be. They often come up with best actor awards. Not every year, but some years like Jack Rayner, one, one ones, and I think Ben wish on one one ones, like, wouldn't have been that hard to give Lali Gladstone an award
Orla Smith 1:03:05
for my money. That was the best film in the US dramatic competition. And, yeah, I was frustrated that it didn't get much love at all. Yeah, and I think one thing that I always that Sundance always reminds me of is that, like, it's just a shame that there's like, absolutely no market for a Midland film. Yeah.
Alex Heeney 1:03:29
Especially most festivals.
Orla Smith 1:03:32
Yeah. But I think Sundance like, there's a lot of films at Sundance that are very, they have one idea. And maybe that's also because there's a lot of American films at Sundance, you said American indie films. American indie films can have that problem. And yeah, it makes me sad that there's a market for that, like you find midlength films, at Sundance, in the experimental sections, and in other festivals, you find them in the experimental sections. And that's because you can't really those films, there's not much of a market for them anyway, so why not make them 45 minutes on Fuck it. And it's a shame because I saw a bunch of films that I was like, well, maybe this should have been longer than a short, but it definitely didn't need to be like 70 to 90 minutes long, and they've definitely tried to stretch it to 90 minutes. Like, like King Cole was like, documentary that's kind of like a poetic essay on coal in Appalachia from the perspective of someone who grew up there. And there are some beautiful sequences and interesting observations, but certainly not enough to fill 90 minutes. There were films like I quite like the documentary do now. I thought it was good. But I just I felt that there was like a really wonderful 45 minute film in that film. And the 90 minute film that we have is good, but less wonderful. Because I think there's a bunch of films that are kind of just like stretching beyond their neck, they have a natural length, and they're stretching to fit this pattern that will like get them screened. And it's I know, it's sad
Alex Heeney 1:05:35
getting it screened as part of it. The other thing is Sundance is very much a commercial film festival. Because unlike films from other nations, like other nations have state supported cinema, and the US doesn't. So especially in American film, if you go to Sundance, you're hoping somebody will buy it. And the problem is, I think, less that Sundance doesn't have space for these films and more that the marketplace doesn't, because what what, I don't think distributors are looking for 40 minute films, they can't put that into cinema. They don't really want to drop it on DVD, or VOD. Like it's not worth marketing to them. And so you end up with these bloated films.
Orla Smith 1:06:21
And like I get it, you need to make money. Yeah,
Alex Heeney 1:06:23
but I guess my point is that other festivals are more about are less about the festivals a marketplace. And that is often where you will find especially mid length documentaries, but even more mid length films. So I know it's tend to be European film festivals like Vizio and derail or Berlin owl. And that is largely because again, those films, like tend to be state sponsored. And they may already have some sort of deal with like the television network, the national television network in that country, where it will play and they're not necessarily looking for or needing the same degree of commercial prospects are to pay back their financiers, etc.
Orla Smith 1:07:12
Well, just in case anyone is interested, we're just gonna tell you what I tend favorite films were somewhat messily ordered for me, but whatever. I think we probably have like some overlap. But we decided just to read our individual ones because they're a little different. So and I have included the spotlight films, just because, because because I felt like so I've put slow number 10, which we talked about in another episode, and it's really good. I put Is there anybody out there number nine, which we just talked about it put a little prayer number eight, and I put 1001 Number seven passages number six, rotting in the sun number five, which is the funniest film with the festival as well. fancy dancer, put number four, I put Fremont number three, put a still small voice number two, and I put other people's children number one, even though it premiered at Venice, but it's just really good. And I want to tell people that it's really good.
Alex Heeney 1:08:22
I deliberately didn't include films that were in spotlight because I've had like, three to six months to sit with these films. And they're all really really good. If I had included them probably also other people's children would for sure be my number one and eight mountains would be in my top five. But I decided not to do that in order to spotlight some of the films at Sundance that I don't think people are really talking about as much. So my number 10 was sometimes I think about dying. My number nine was is there anybody out there and number eight was Fremont number seven fancypants number six passages. Number five, a little prayer. Number four rotting in the sun. Number three, fantastic machine number two slow and number one, you hurt my feelings. I think with both of our lists, we have talked about all of these films either on this episode or on one of our past episodes. So if you want to hear our more detailed thoughts on them, you can scroll back through the seasons and the show notes will tell you what films are discussed in each episode.
Orla Smith 1:09:37
Yeah, and any of the ones that were in your list that went on mine were just outside of my list. I think there's a really good
Alex Heeney 1:09:44
yeah. And I think and also if you go to seven dash ro.com/sundance There's a little table of all the films that we've discussed on the podcast so you can find what episode each film appears in. This is Our second podcast is in about a film festival. You can catch up with our women in Cannes season from May 2022, where we focus on the history of the Cannes Film Festival, and its track record for programming films directed by women. To check out the season you can either scroll back in your podcast feed now to find the full five episode season or you can go to seven dash ro.com/women at Ken that's women at C A N N E S. And there you will also find links to all of our episodes our show notes and information about the season. And you can also check out our complete database of all of the feature films that are directed by women which have screened at Ken since its inception. Way back when so again that seven dash row.com/women At
Orla Smith 1:10:57
last final sound that's bingo. To round out this episode. Yes. With a bit more enthusiasm. I didn't get a bingo.
Alex Heeney 1:11:09
Wow. How did you not get a bingo? I got like three bingos.
Orla Smith 1:11:13
Okay, I'm going to tell you the squares that if I had gotten them, I would have gotten a bingo within one. Okay, so climate change is bad duck, I would have gotten a bingo. If I watched that. And I didn't watch against the tide. And I almost said and I would have gotten a better go. I would have gotten bingo. If I had watched talking head doc about politics. Now. Did you see one of those
Alex Heeney 1:11:35
I effectively filed Plan C under that. And I missed that. It's not really a bunch of experts though talking about it. So I'm maybe cheating a little bit in order to get bingo. But it is more of a conventional doc. It's just not like and then I went to talk to Dr. Somebody. And then I went to talk to Professor somebody and and they all agreed with me that abortion access is important.
Orla Smith 1:12:02
I think I think what it is is that like the bingo card has helped me like learn what some of the Sundance cliches are that I should maybe avoid. And those films get de prioritized on my list. That and also that. First of all, I didn't I didn't find any of the next ducts boundary pushing enough to take off that square. I didn't watch the Tuba Thieves Like whether you like it or not. That seems like maybe I was pushing it out.
Alex Heeney 1:12:33
I guess I just was so annoyed by how it was doing it that I hoped and waited that I would find something more deserving of the slot. I guess I could have taken that. And then I would have gotten yet another bingo.
Orla Smith 1:12:50
I'm still amazed that somehow, over the course of 35 films, I didn't see a single teenage girls sexual awakening, because that seems like the most Sundancer Yeah, well, I guess that could have been the style. Yeah,
Alex Heeney 1:13:02
it's just usually there's like five of them. Yeah, so it's surprising that like, we missed one film and missed that slot.
Orla Smith 1:13:10
And we got some kind of sexual awakening films, but they were all about older care. Yeah. Which is, I guess, kind of No, yeah.
Alex Heeney 1:13:16
And I avoided the films about the famous musicians and famous actors. So I didn't get to talk about a famous musician. But I got pretty much every other square.
Orla Smith 1:13:29
Okay. So you've got a several banger? Yeah,
Alex Heeney 1:13:33
but some of them are like a little bit pushing. You could argue that I should not have taken that square. Because my all's fair. And so yeah. So I feel like as I was filling out this bingo card, I I realized that there were squares I wish I had added because we would have hit them like five times over.
Orla Smith 1:13:59
Inspired by the CSR. Yeah. And
Alex Heeney 1:14:01
one of them was that I shouldn't have used carbon copy of a 2022 hit book bad. I should have just used carbon copy of a former hit. Because then we would have had that square like 10 times over for all the coda and promising young woman wannabes.
Orla Smith 1:14:19
I felt seriously to fudge. I'd put it like last three years. Yeah. Because that way you're you're catching because 2022 hit is to think it's just
Alex Heeney 1:14:28
it's too soon. Like we don't know what those movies when Oscars yet so people haven't decided to copy them.
Orla Smith 1:14:34
Like a movie that was greenlit on the back of a 2022 Sundance hit might not be ready for 2023. So and so we ended up getting a lot of 2021 copies. So I think if we did if we changed. Yeah, so changing that to the last three years is probably a little bit more fair. And accurate.
Alex Heeney 1:14:53
Yeah. I would be inclined to include LGBTQ plus film just because I feel like Sundance doesn't program A ton of them, films that may not be comfortable for heterosexual audiences that films that are maybe have I don't know if activist is the right term, but like something about them where it's showing a part of the queer community that isn't necessarily just like, already accepted, you know, like, you know, it's one thing to tell a sob story about AIDS and it's another thing to tell a story about, like the complexities of dealing with AIDS. And, like Sebastian Silva's film really stood out to me like, yes, partly because it had a lot of ducks in it, but partly just because it was like unabashedly, like, yeah, this character is gay, and we're not going to pretend that he isn't. And that doesn't necessarily mean that you need lots of sex or penises. Like there's lots of different ways of doing it. But when I watched that film, like my first reference, one that I thought about was Stranger by the lake, which is about a guy who is really thoughtless and meets a hot guy on a beach who is obviously a murderer or starts fucking him, knows he's going to be murdered, but doesn't stop. Whatever your thoughts are about that film. Like one thing I realized is that I couldn't make jokes about that and rotting in the sun without having an audience size of like three. Because I don't think Sundance is super interested in programming more provocative films. Like even if you think back a decade weekend, screened at South by Southwest. And at the time weekend was a very sort of like, provocative film, like we look at it now. And we don't see it that way. But it's a film that talks about homophobia, and it talks about coming out. And it talks about gay intimacy and sex and shows those and it features
Orla Smith 1:16:50
a lot of explicit set. Yeah, I guess it does. Well, I think what the square writing in the sun did occupy this year was the this movie is so good and weird. Why is it Sundance, which kind of speaks to what you're saying? Which is that like, the film is like, not fitting a conventional like, narrative mold for American in the cinema, it is kind of its own thing, and provocative and confrontational in that way.
Alex Heeney 1:17:16
Yeah. I mean, I guess I'm thinking I was, it's provocative and confrontational, a lot of other ways that have nothing to do with like the characters, a lot of the central characters being gay. And then gays, yes, is that it takes us to when they gay sex is depicted in the film.
Orla Smith 1:17:33
Well, you know, that old, like, really embarrassing thing that people sometimes say about movies about gay people where they're like, you know, it's about gay people, but it's really just about like, you know, they're kind of incidentally, gay. The thing about rotting in the sun is you could never say that. And that's what's kind of cool about Yes, absolutely. You couldn't get away with that. Yeah. And you could, you could kind of, like, get away with that with a lot of the films of guests. The other one that you couldn't really is, like, slow you that's very explicitly about, you know, relationship feature an asexual person. But it's also quite a different from from rotting in the sand. You know, you could you could see,
Alex Heeney 1:18:14
one is very good see an annoying abrasive.
Orla Smith 1:18:18
You can see like a really annoying person saying that about like, a no fancy dancer passages. But you couldn't say that about rustling?
Alex Heeney 1:18:27
Well, I might have changed my square of acknowledges the pandemic to how hard or to like tries really hard to pretend that the pandemic never existed and that we're living in an alternate reality 2023? Because
Orla Smith 1:18:41
I think that's too broad. Because that's like, you could argue that applies to most Yeah,
Alex Heeney 1:18:45
that's kind of my point, though.
Orla Smith 1:18:50
You were just trying to get an easy square.
Alex Heeney 1:18:52
Well, partly, and I'm also trying to point out the fact that this is a problem, I think, in the stories that are being told right now, that there's a lot of films that have pandemic vibes. Like, I feel like this is a film that was probably written during the pandemic, but it's in an alternate reality, which I suppose is many people's reality now, where COVID doesn't exist, it's just a cold and you wear a mask anywhere. And let's completely forget that we ever wore masks. But I mean, the pandemic was a pretty big collective trauma, and I'm kind of really, I get that people might need some more space to think about how to talk about it. But the complete erasure of it either by setting films like conveniently in 2019, or conveniently not really time specified is something that I think if that's a pattern that continues is going to make contemporary films feel like what are these? Are they really contemporary films? Are they like weird science fiction films, that are also contributing to the problem of people acting like the pandemic doesn't exist? So that's the end of our discussion of Sundance 2023. Because we spent a lot of time on this episode talking about documentaries and talking about creative nonfiction, you may be interested in some of our previous episodes that talk about documentaries that screamed at Sundance and about creative nonfiction and approaches to documentary as a form. A good starting point for that would be Episode 123, Sundance 2022, creative nonfiction, where we give an overview of the documentaries at Sundance last year, especially those that were pushing the boundaries of what would be considered documentary. You might also like going back to our masterclass, with Carol Nguyen and Penny Lane, where they talk about penny lanes coinage of the term creative nonfiction, and what the term means to them. We also did an episode on the documentary, Kate place, Christine, which played alongside the fiction film, Christine, they actually did it as a double bill at Sundance that year. And that is an interesting discussion about what you can achieve in nonfiction that you can't achieve in fiction and vice versa. And another episode is on the Sundance hit Boys State. And we talk about that in comparison with the Canadian film versus stripes, and how the two of them depict a sort of militaristic environment, and deal with sexism and misogyny, and patriarchy and how these particular environments become sort of a crucible for those issues to become really prominent. If you want to hear us talk, in more depth about the films that we put on our top 10 lists, you can catch up with our six other episodes of the season. So as a reminder, episode one, we preview the Film Festival and give some context but our experiences with the festival what we're looking for this year. In Episode Two, we talked about the spotlight program, which is films that have premiered at other festivals and spend some significant time on eight mountains. We actually talked about other people's children in our fall festivals episode in 2022, if you want to go back and check that out. In episode three, we give our first dispatch with some early highlights from the world dramatic competition and talk about fancy dance. In episode four. We talk about the indigenous films at the festival this year and how that fits into the festival sort of history of programming indigenous films. And then in episode five and six, we have more dispatches from the festival episode five we talk about Fairyland, Aileen, sometimes I think about dying and a bunch of other films that we mostly didn't like. And in Episode Six, we talk about some of our festival favorites, including writing in the sun passages, you hurt my feelings, a little prayer and a bunch of other films. If you want to read the show notes for this episode, we will give you the particular episode title, titles and numbers for these episodes, which ones are members only, etc. I also if you go to our website, seven dash ro.com/sundance. You can find links to all of the episodes in the Sundance 2023 season, as well as a nice little table that shows all the films that we talked about and in what episodes they appear. A bunch of the episodes that I mentioned that are about creative nonfiction, like Kate plays, Christine and Christine and Boys State and stripes are more than six months old. So they're now only available to members. You can become a member though, at seven dash rho.com/join. And when you when you do that, you will get access to our entire archive of podcasts, which includes older episodes, but also includes members only episodes in the past and also forthcoming members only episodes in the next year. So you can do that again at seven dash rho.com/join.
Orla Smith 1:24:12
We will be really appreciative if you would take a moment to rate and review the podcast. It really really helps us out. We need 200 ratings on our podcast and Apple podcasts in order to certify our podcast episodes Rotten Tomatoes. So your rating which takes like literally like half a second to click five stars really actually has a material effect on the extent to which our podcast gets out that not only on Apple podcasts itself but also Rotten Tomatoes and beyond. So if you could take just a second to do that, that would be really amazing. And we would really appreciate it and if you want to give us a couple extra thoughts on review, that would be extra amazing and we're Make our day cuz you know sometimes you record these things or even a whole season of these things and it feels like no one's listening even though we know that they are. And a review is a nice little like reminder from a human that people appreciate hearing from us. So if you do, please let us know.
Alex Heeney 1:25:20
So Orla, where can people find you?
Orla Smith 1:25:23
You can find me at Ola mango on Twitter and you can find me on Instagram at all underscore p underscore Smith and then you can find me on this podcast. And you
Alex Heeney 1:25:35
can find me on Twitter and Instagram at BLS Sinha asked BWESDCIN e a s t e. And of course on this podcast and on our website seven dash ro.com can find both bus on the seven throws social media at seven throw as EVNTHROW on both Twitter and Instagram. You can also join our newsletter in order to get updates about the podcast and our latest content and recommendations straight to your inbox. That's email dot s e v e n t h dash r o w.com email dot seven dash ro.com to sign up for our mailing list. Thank you for listening
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Sign up to receive email updates about the podcast
Keep up with the Seventh Row podcast by subscribing to our free newsletter! Discover great under-the-radar films and engage in in-depth discussions on them.