Sundance Film Festival: an adventure for the mind
PARK CITY, Utah – Everyone seems to be finding an excuse to cover the Sundance Film Festival – even ESPN and CNN found a way to be there, and so did the Summit Daily. Because I was coming from Summit County, I was on a quest for films about sports. Colorado and adventure (skiing/snowboarding) films would be the perfect films. I was also looking forward to some great physical adventures that I could come back and report on, but instead what occurred was an adventure that took place in my mind. The first question people ask is, “Did you see anyone famous?” And my answer is, “I don’t know.” The average famous person could walk up to me and say hello and even have a very long conversation with me and I would have no idea that they were famous. Even if they mentioned it, I wouldn’t know if they were really famous or simply pretending to be famous. I have been tricked before.So here I am in the other Summit County, the Summit County in Utah, and my thought adventure begins with the second half of the documentary called “Chasing Ghosts”. It is a documentary about the first world-champion video game players in the ’80s, who were mostly kids. The film showed what these former champions were doing today. Many of them are not doing very much.The next film I believe that I saw was “No End in Sight.” (I cannot guarantee that the order that I report on the films is the exact order in which I viewed them because the days of the festival blended together). This seemed like a very important documentary about how the Iraq war was mismanaged from day one.There was minimal pre-planning about what would be done after the invasion and the money for rebuilding – around $17 million – seems to have disappeared. People who were put in charge of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance were very experienced in such matters but were only given around one month to plan – way too little time. Soon after the invasion of Iraq, they were replaced by L. Paul Bremer. He disbanded the local military (causing mass unemployment) and allowed the city to go into chaos.I saw two more brilliant films that were about war. The first was “Three Comrades”, a documentary about three friends living in Chechnya, before and during the war. Two of the “comrades” are dead by the end of the film. I also saw “War/Dance” about a refugee camp, whose war-torn children win their regional competition and get an opportunity to compete in Uganda’s national music competition.As I watched both documentaries, I kept thinking about how stupid war is. People in power spread fear about the people they want to attack. I kept asking myself, why, why, why do we get tricked so many times into going to war. I kept repeating how stupid war is over and over in my mind, wishing everyone else felt the same. At this point in the festival my film addiction was starting to pick up. “Must see more films,” my brain screamed. “I have to watch, view and absorb all of the information that is out there.”Any film had the potential to change my life, twist my brain into thinking amazing thoughts or inspire me to finish my documentary (A film that is at this moment 117 hours of barely edited footage). I ran to Albertson’s and grabbed a cheap and not very good Italian wrap to feed my body, then ran back to the press screening room to feed my brain.The next documentary I saw was “Girl 27”. (There were plenty of narrative films at
the festival, but I seek out facts, so I saw mostly documentaries.) This movie is about Patricia Douglas, a vivacious 17-year old girl, who in 1937, was misled by MGM along with 120 other girls believing that they were going to be cowboy chorus girls in a movie. They were instead being set up to entertain MGM’s soon-to-be drunk salesmen. Douglas was raped by one of the salesmen and instead of remaining silent, as was the custom at that time, she spoke out.
I related to her story. I have a similar past. But when nothing happened in her court cases she became silent and cold. It was not until the filmmaker tracked her down 65 years later that she spoke out about what happened to her again. She released all of the pain she carried from the trauma that happened so long ago. I thought about how a terrible injustice can be held forever. What if the filmmaker never found her, so she would never have had the opportunity to speak out?
I watched the movie “Banished” about the South in the early 1900s. During this period, some African-American families had to leave their homes in the middle of the night or risk being killed. Now, years later, some descendants of those families learned what had happened and some want reparations. Marco Williams, the African-American director, actually visits and interviews the head of the Ku Klux Klan in this documentary. Williams said this particular Klan head was trying to be a part of a kinder and gentler Klan but still is very prejudiced. “The Klan is still there because they are comfortable there,” Marco said. “The town has done nothing (to make then feel uncomfortable).” The town even has a Confederate flag flying at the chamber of commerce. I later found out that on Nov. 17, 1900, in Limon, Colorado, Preston Porter, Jr., an African-American, was burned alive. I wondered if that led to banishment of many African-Americans in that town as well. I saw a documentary called “VHS-Kahloucha,” – a film that I was not planning to see until I found myself on a Park City bus and the driver got lost. He stopped the bus and told the riders that it could be a while. I left the bus saying that I was going to hitchhike and three people followed me off the bus. We quickly caught a ride and as we talked two of my fellow hitchhikers mentioned that they had a film at the festival called “VHS-Kahloucha”.This documentary is about an amateur filmmaker, Kahloucha, who lives in a poor town in Tunisia and uses all of the money that he makes from being a house painter to make films. He will do anything for his movies, including cutting himself so that he has real blood to put on an actor to make his theatrical gunshot wound look more realistic.
At the pinnacle of the documentary, Kahloucha convinces his sister to let him burn down her house for the ending scene in the movie. I was amazed that the locals could not wait to see his films and really seemed to enjoy them.But of all the films in the festival, the one that took my mind on the biggest adventure was “Khadak.” I had an epiphany during the movie. This film is about a group of sheepherders who are forced to leave their herding lifestyle because their animals are infected with the plague. They are relocated to the city and given jobs. But the truth is that the animals never had the plague – the government just wanted the herders to work in the cities and give up their way of life.I really understood why populations are forced to work for food rather than gather it. Many places on the earth where there is abundant amounts of gatherable food, the land is being destroyed for mono-cropping, cattle grazing, building structures, etc. It seems like another chapter in the book that discusses the destruction of the wild buffalo in North America. I truly understood how our culture has attacked our free spiritness on all levels.Amy Marschak is a freelance journalist who works part-time as a local ski school instructor.
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