Five films on my hotlist at Sundance — strike the chimp movie
You can tell that the 2011 Sundance Film Festival is in full swing — it is the weekend and Hollywood has moved its base of operations to Park City’s Main Street. Traffic is creeping to a halt on this cloudless, sunny Friday (temperature a cool 24 degrees) and a plethora of black Escalades are stopping in “no parking” zones to disgorge agents, pr types and stars. A friend reports running into Terrence Howard at Whole Foods pushing a shopping cart with a kiddie car (but no kid in sight). Yep, it's showtime!
The festival began Thursday night with the first press screening of one of the four selected premiere movies, Project Nim. Shown at 10 p.m. in the old, slightly tired ballroom of the Yarrow Hotel, the room was packed with critics eager to see if director and 2008 Sundance and Oscar winner James Marsh of Man on Wire fame could deliver once again.
Marsh’s subject this time was an unprecedented experiment in the 1970s featuring a chimp named Nim who was taken from his mother after birth and placed with an upper class family on New York City to be raised as a child, to see if he could learn sign language and thus bridge the gap between man and his closest animal relative.
Once the movie began with the chimp being cruelly taken from his hysterical mother, I knew I had made a grave mistake in my movie choice. When the experiment of raising a chimp who had five times the strength of an average man became, not surprisingly, problematic, Nim was returned to a cage in Oklahoma and discipled with stun guns. His saga continued to deteriorate as he was sold for painful medical research.
I found the movie profoundly sad and the depiction of man’s inhumanity to animals heartbreaking. If the theatre had well marked exit signs I would have left quickly. One of my cardinal rules is that I do not go to animal movies because something bad always happens. In 2008, while the Sundance community was raving about The Cove, the Oscar-winning story about the heartless killings of dolphins, I sent a check to protect dolphins, told my activist friends to see it but never once considered going. While Project Nim will no doubt go down as provocative, unabashed and unsentimental story telling, it just reinforced my resolve to avoid such movies.
So now that I have vetted other movies as best one can on day two of the Festival, here are five I won't miss:.
Morgan Neville’s documentary explores the emerging singer-songwriter movement of the 1970s that introduced such icons as Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne. The film promises archived concert footage, interviews with Elton John, Steve Martin and Bonnie Raitt. As a child of the '70s whose favorite concert last summer was Taylor and King, I can't wait to see this movie.
Revered by Republicans (though he is in fact more liberal than many in the party these days) and disliked by the Left (though he began his career as a Liberal Democrat), Ronald Reagan remains an enigma 20 years after he left office. Eugene Jarecki attempts to create a definitive portrait of a president whose actions continue to impact our global and political landscape. Talk at Sundance is that this movie may prove to be Reagan’s best starring movie. This movie is intriguing because my non-writing profession as an executive search professional involves assessing leadership and how leaders…well, lead.
Jim Whitaker, whose prior work includes Friday Night Lights and American Gangster, presents a story of grief and recovery as five people affected by the attacks of 9/11 are profiled. I love documentaries, especially ones that detail how people handle unspeakable adversity and become better or worse because of it. This documentary also uses time lapse cameras to chart the re-building of 7 World Trade Center.
Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times
Lawyer, director, producer and cinematographer Andre Rossi (prior credits Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven and Control Room) chronicles the nation's most revered newspaper’s attempt to adapt to the changing landscape as the Internet became our primary news source. The film also analyzes the huge repercussions to freedom should in-depth investigative reporting become extinct. It's one of the most talked-about films of Sundance this year, perhaps because so many of us have made the shift to alternative news sources.
Like last year's debut of The September Issue, which featured a behind-the-scenes look at Vogue, this documentary is the hardest ticket in town to obtain.
Demi Moore, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Paul Bettany star in a thriller that takes place during a 24-hour period during the initial stages of the 2008 financial crisis when an analyst discovers sensitive information and is faced with moral and financial dilemmas with global repercussions. The buzz here is this movie does a better job of what Michael Douglas’ Wall Street Never Sleeps tried to do---put a human face to those affected by the financial meltown.