Or so this year’s festival branding would suggest. Before each film, audiences are offered one of several variants of flame or furnace imagery that eventually yields the festival logo, suggesting, we suppose, creative smolderings, industrial industriousness, the warming glow of nearby celebrity or the mountains of Mordor. It also brings to mind the wisecrack someone passed along to us about the difference between Sundance and hell â€” we don’t remember the punchline, but we’re sure it was funny, or at least…punchline-like.
Not that we’re complaining â€” it’s a pleasure to be here. At the top of festival day four, we haven’t gotten a sense that there’s any one film everyone’s buzzing about. The biggest acquisition so far has been the Weinstein Co’s reported $4 million buy of "Grace is Gone," a film we haven’t seen and haven’t heard anything that exciting about. "Hounddog," the title with the biggest advance buzz due to its inflammatory subject matter, will be offered up to the press tomorrow in what we fully expect to be a dreadful clusterfuck of a screening.
Amongst the backlog of reviews we haven’t yet had time to write: David Gordon Green‘s "Snow Angels" is the best film we’ve seen so far, a delicately drawn portrait of a small-town tragedy that’s the most fully realized thing the director’s done. "Teeth" got off to a rocky start but turned out to be good fun; "Joshua" similarly (and cleverly) shakes up horror genre conventions. A lot of directors are hopping the fiction/non-fiction fence â€” "Joshua" is from "Hell House" director George Ratliff, "Rocket Science" from "Spellbound"‘s Jeffrey Blitz, and "The Pool" from "American Movie"‘s Chris Smith. The only documentary we’ve seen so far (at festivals we tend to develop inexplicable anti-doctite tendencies) is Robinson Devor‘s "Zoo," which was fascinating if not particularly successful. And â€” sign of the times â€” almost every film we’ve seen offers a blatant or backhanded love tap to Christianity. Taken separately, there’s no one instance worth mentioning (we did hear people calling out Sam Rockwell‘s turn as a recovering alcoholic turned born-again evangelical in "Snow Angels" as particularly unflattering, but it didn’t strike us as so very unbalanced). Over the course of a four-film day, it’s more striking â€” the festival is a-simmer with repressed blue-state rage and resentment.
And now Stu VanReeler, camped out in the hotel lobby next to us, tells us "Joshua" has just been sold for $4 million to Fox Searchlight, meaning we’ve actually seen something that was then acquired, and we can warm our hands over the flames of smug relevance. Ah, we feel practically cozy.