It's the Monday after Sundance's big closing night awards ceremony and after-party, and, like New Year's morning, it's the perfect time to cast a bleary eye back on what we learned in Park City this year. From red-eye flights and altitude sickness to cramming as many films, interviews, reviews, tweets, vlogs and parties into 10 days as possible, Sundance is like film nerd prom crossed with summer camp crossed with a mental breakdown waiting to happen. That said, it's also very educational! From the utterly absurd to the downright inspiring, here are the top stories from this year's Sundance Film Festival.
1. Audience Q&As fall into two categories: terribly boring or batsh*t crazy.
Two very different movie premieres had two equally different audience reactions during their Q&A's. Lucky McKee's 'The Woman' received the most volatile by far. During the screening, numerous people walked out because of the intensity of the subject matter, and one person even slipped and fell, hitting her head. That was only the beginning, though. Drew McWeeny at HitFix describes in detail a colorful conflagration between one irate viewer who decided to lecture McKee at top volume about his, erm, objections to the film. You can get to know Drew better in our five-minute video interview with the writer here.
On the other end of the awkward spectrum, Paul Rudd was hit up to participate in an animal rights PSA during the Q&A after the premiere of the popular ensemble comedy 'My Idiot Brother.' Rudd told Vulture, "I thought it was a comedy bit, a brilliant comedy bit. But I would think it was a fun Q&A to watch, because who doesn't love to see a train wreck?"
2. James Franco is everywhere we want to be.
The mischievous James Franco was everyone and nowhere at all once. We heard tales told of the star here and there, but the closest I got was his installation at New Frontier, 'Three's Company: The Drama.' I missed his bewigged appearance at the show, but entering the faux 'Three's Company' living room to watch projections of the show with Franco's voice acting out all the parts was surreal enough even without the Oscar presenter there himself. Take a look at this photo of the attendees (I'm in the back looking confused) and see for yourself what modern art is all about.
3. Elizabeth Olsen is our surprise Sundance queen.
Elizabeth Olsen's name was on everyone's lips this year after a double whammy of 'Silent House' and 'Martha Marcy May Marlene.' The latter, which won a directing award for writer/director Sean Durkin, has already been acquired by Fox Searchlight, while 'Silent House' was acquired by Mickey Liddell Entertainment. Meanwhile, Olsen is already attached to a new, high profile film, 'Red Lights,' directed by Rodrigo Cortes and costarring Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro and Cillian Murphy. And she's finishing a psych degree at NYU. More about Elizabeth Olsen.
4. Kevin Smith. Just ... Kevin Smith.
Oh, man. The mental effort to wrap my head around the mishegoss surrounding the screening of 'Red State' -- from getting a ticket to getting past picketers to getting into the screening only to find Kevin Smith announcing he would be taking his show on the road rather than distributing it through a studio -- is almost too much to bear. Watch the video of his "auction," and then let's take a trip over to The Week in Geek, where John Gholson astutely reminds us that Kevin Smith isn't our friend. (Even if he does occasionally invite us over for screenings.) Then read Erik Davis' review of the movie and not the hoopla surrounding it. Would you shell out the money for a night out on the town to see Kevin Smith introduce his own movie, or will you wait for it on DVD? Or never?
5. Secret sci-fi snuck into Sundance.
Films like 'Another Earth' and 'Perfect Sense' balanced intimate stories about real people with sci-fi twists. Erik Davis describes 'Another Earth' in his review as a "wickedly imaginative sci-fi ... one of several films screening at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival that uses a low budget to blend genres while presenting very relatable relationship stories that are infused with a sci-fi twist." 'Perfect Sense,' a film about two people falling in love as a bizarre epidemic sweeps the world, has the same personal focus juxtaposed against a grander scope. You can read an interview with star Eva Green here. 'Another Earth' received the Special Jury Prize for a drama, as well as the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize. Fox Searchlight snapped up 'Another Earth,' and IFC Films acquired 'Perfect Sense.'
6. We're crazy for cults.
'Martha Marcy May Marlene' and 'Sound of My Voice' both received major kudos from Sundance audiences and critics, including our own Erik Davis. Read Jason Guerrasio's interview with 'Martha' star John Hawkes here. While it might be a stretch to call evangelicals a "cult," there's no denying that Vera Farmiga's incredible directorial debut 'Higher Ground,' which I reviewed here, delves into some rocky religious territory as well.
7. The apocalypse is hot.
At Sundance, it was the end of the world as we knew it, and judging from the reception of films like 'Take Shelter,' 'Bellflower' and 'Perfect Sense,' we felt pretty fine. Although 'Take Shelter' didn't bring home any Sundance awards, this Michael Shannon–led pic is a critical fave and has already found a home at Sony Pictures Classics. 'Bellflower' is about two 'Mad Max'–obsessed guys getting ready for the apocalypse by building their own monster flame-throwers, weapons and cars, and, you know, falling and love and stuff. Oscilloscope has already acquired it for distribution, hopefully before the world ends, or before writer/director/producer/editor/star Evan Glodell builds his own Thunderdome in his backyard. 'Perfect Sense,' the aforementioned sci-fi romance, is at the opposite end of the spectrum, although no less dark and disturbing for all that.
9. 'Like Crazy' made us go crazy.
Critical favorite 'Like Crazy' won the Grand Jury Prize for a drama, and its star Felicity Jones received a Special Jury Prize for her role as a young British woman separated from her long-term boyfriend because of visa problems. Erik Davis writes, "'Like Crazy' does a tremendous job of tapping in to what it feels like to be in love (both the good and the bad), while reminding us of the little moments and how important they are in each of our lives." Watch Erik's video interview with writer/director Drake Doremus below.
10. Sundance is ready to Kick(start) out the jams.
One of the more inspirational stories out of Sundance was how Jon Foy, the director of 'Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles' -- which won best directing award for a documentary -- shed blood, sweat and tears to get his film finished. As he wrote on his Kickstarter page, "Believe it or not, I self-funded 'Resurrect Dead,' my debut documentary feature, with my wages as a house cleaner over a period of about five and a half years. On the day that Sundance notified me that it was selected to premiere in the prestigious documentary competition, I was near penniless." With help from Kickstarter supporters and director Doug Block, Foy, his crew and his award-winning doc made it to Sundance in time -- with over $13,686 as of this writing, thanks to Kickstarter alone.
Now Kickstarter, Facebook and Sundance are joining forces to help filmmakers even more. Together, they'll help Institute alums raise money, market and brand their creations to reach festivals and audiences. Get the full story at the Sundance and Kickstarter websites.
11. Sundance of chock-a-block full of damn great docs.
The Grand Jury prize for docs went to the provocative film 'How to Die in Oregon,' which Christopher Campbell called "emotional, provocative stuff" in his review. The topics covered this year in Sundance docs ranged from product placement in Morgan Spurlock's 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,' an inside look at the New York Times in 'Page One,' the story behind A Tribe Called Quest in 'Beats, Rhymes and Life,' Chaz Bono's gender reassignment surgery and ongoing journey in 'Becoming Chaz,' "violence interrupters" who put their lives on the line to stop gang violence in 'The Interrupters' and much more.
Click here for all of our Sundance 2011 coverage.