“Sundance is the magic fairy dust that gives me hope for humanity and that we can actually make the world a better place.” – Rob Burnett, Director of “The Fundamentals of Caring” and former Executive Producer of “Late Night With David Letterman”
Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner and Meera Menon of “Equity”
“Open Soul, Pour In Inspiration” would be an appropriate tagline for the experience of attending the Sundance Film Festival, from which I just returned. Sundance also is a social entrepreneur’s dream scenario. What Robert Redford started 30 years ago in order to give back to the field in which he had enjoyed great success and bring additional support to the community he loved has blossomed into a spectacular connection point for anyone creative or looking to nurture what is best about humanity.
The 11-day event has grown to be about far more than just film; but, at its core, Sundance primarily still nurtures the next generation of excellent independent filmmakers.
As Rob Burnett, multiple Emmy winner and former Executive Producer of “Late Night With David Letterman” and Director of the Sundance 2016 Premier film “The Fundamentals Of Caring,” says, “Sundance is the magic fairy dust that gives me hope for humanity and that we can actually make the world a better place.”
Yes, the festival really is this amazing. So, I’m forever grateful to Wendy Serrino for introducing me to the festival. Any friend who is visionary enough to understand this and share it with you is an amazing friend indeed. That’s Wendy.
In the past, I’ve been fortunate to attend Sundance with her when she hosts a great group of girlfriends. This year, though, because I yearned to introduce family members to Sundance, I instead attended with three generations of Noyeses — my husband, Nick, filmmaker son Pat, daughter-in-law Shana, and grandson Charlie, celebrating his early admission to MIT.
Charlie and Shana on Main Street in Park City, Utah, wearing jackets by sponsor Canada Goose.
Post-screening Talk Backs by directors, writers, stars, producers or a combination thereof of each film contribute mightily to the festival’s charm and inspiration. Many of these creatives labor for years and overcome enormous odds in order to present their films to overflow capacity audiences. They wear their hearts on their sleeves as they humbly and joyfully offer appreciation to the audience and the opportunity that Sundance provides.
Sometimes the writer, producer, director and star are the same person — as is the case with the uber-inspiring Nate Parker of “The Birth of a Nation.” His film won the Grand Prize and Audience Choice awards, as well as the largest major studio contract. What I love best about Parker is that he turned his back on a more lucrative career in the short term, in order to only do work that provides a positive role model for blacks, creates a legacy of which his five children will be proud and is likely to help make the world a better place.
It’s noteworthy that most or all of the films that my family and I loved already have been purchased by a major studio, HBO or Netflix. Sundance has become an increasingly valuable stepping stone to commercial success. More Nate Parkers should emerge from it in the future.
The Sundance 2016 films and show that the Noyes family recommends below will make you laugh, cry, think and want to live better. We strongly recommend that you catch them when they are in theaters or streaming into your homes.
“Jim: The James Foley Story”
Winner of the U.S. Documentary Audience Choice Award
Starting Feb 6 on HBO
© Manu Brabo
James Foley was the U.S. photojournalist famously beheaded by ISIS in Syria, as well as one of five children lovingly raised in a traditional New England home. His journey helps define life lived for truth and humanity. It also illustrates that now most foreign war correspondent journalists don’t get paid or protected enough for their work. Worse yet, they are also the targets of the oppressive regimes on which they report — no longer receiving the protection formerly accorded to journalists.
I recommend that you not only watch the film, but also learn more about how you can help at the James Foley Foundation.
Based on Jonathan Evison‘s novel “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” this comedy about a writer trying to overcome the devastation of his young son’s death by working as a caregiver for an acerbic 18-year-old male with muscular dystrophy was my husband’s favorite. Selena Gomez, Paul Rudd and the rest of the superb cast offer brilliant performances too. Roger Ebert likes this one, too.
Fun-fact: We sat next to Evison, who explained that his novel is autobiographical. He served many years as caregiver for a muscular dystrophy patient (who also attended the film at Sundance). His sister had suffered a tragedy similar to the story’s main character. Evison likes to interact with fans on his Facebook page.
“The Birth of a Nation”
Winner of Grand Prize and Audience Choice awards
Credit: Elliot Davis
Based on the true story of a slave uprising in the antebellum south led by literate slave and much-celebrated preacher Nat Turner, this film is far superior to last year’s Oscar winner “12 Years a Slave.”
Also, a true star is born with Nate Parker (writer, director, producer, star), who grew up in poverty and is determined to grow his career by only making films with positive black role models.
Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Purchased by Sony for wide release this year, “Equity” is produced by Sarah Megan Thomas, directed by Meera Menon, written by Amy Fox — women with strong ties to Wall Street who are also on a mission to empower more women to pursue careers in this male dominated field. The film stars Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Alysia Reiner and Thomas.
Credit: Cathy Kanavy / Bleecker Street
Bleecker Street promises wide screen release of this visually stunning and emotionally compelling comedy starring Viggo Mortensen. He raises six children in a Pacific Northwest outdoor paradise and trains them to be elite athletes and scholars, as well as musicians and philosopher kings, until events conspire to force them to leave and start wrestling with the expectations and values of traditional society. Guaranteed to make every thoughtful parent think twice about their values and parenting strategies as they laugh, cry and observe with awe. As a mother of six, I can’t help but relate.
“Manchester by the Sea“
Credit: Claire Folger
Starring Casey Affleck (Ben’s brother), with gorgeous New England cinematography and a heartbreaking storyline about family bonds and community roots, this was my filmmaker son’s favorite. He sees it depicting a full breadth of family and human emotions. It actually disappointed me because the family members facing challenges admitted defeat rather than rising above them.
Purchased by Amazon, it should be available soon.
U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize
Credit: Sean McGing
Yes, this is a documentary about that Weiner — disgraced former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner. Chronicling his failed bid for NYC Mayor, this film would be brilliant if it wasn’t for the deceptive omission that the director was also Weiner’s former Chief of Staff.
Weiner’s wife, Huma, part of Hillary Clinton‘s inner circle, is the true star. And the film leaves you wondering why she stays with this narcissistic, deeply flawed man.
Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.
The event that premiered excerpts from the upcoming PBS/BBC series about the roots and history of American music and recording could only happen at Sundance. Robert Redford explained that his passion for this project grew out of his love of music and American history. British director Bernard MacMahon dedicated years to the project that was executive produced by T. Bone Burnett, Jack White and Redford. Musicians Taj Mahal and the Avett Brothers performed for a crowd that included luminaries like JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon.
Conclusion: If you ever have the opportunity, please attend the Sundance Film Festival. But in the meantime, you can trust that if a film was selected for the festival, it is likely to be worth your while to watch.