Off-grid: "We Live in Public" filmmaker Ondi Timoner (right) with subject Josh Harris, somewhere far away from the madding crowd.

Sundance '09: Award-Winners, Bloggers, and More

Susan Gerhard January 26, 2009

A Sundance Film Festival that continued a move away from the circus-like marketing atmosphere that attached itself to the scene in the ’90s and back toward the basics of art-making celebrated a film that both looked back at the excesses of the ’90s and actively cautions us against returning to them in its awards night last Saturday. The festival’s theme was "storytime," and its Grand Jury Prize-winner in the Documentary category was Ondi Timoner’s We Live in Public, which uses the topsy-turvy life of one early Internet tech visionary-turned-artist to tell the story of a media run amok. (It’s also Timoner’s second Documentary Grand Jury prize from the festival; she won in 2004 for the partially San Francisco-based tale-of-two-bands, Dig.)

The Dramatic Grand Jury Prize went to Lee Daniels’ Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire. And that film picked up two other awards as well: the Audience Award and a special acting prize for Mo’Nique. In the World Dramatic competition, Sebastian Silva’s Chilean gently class-conscious dramedy The Maid received the prize. More on the winners at Sundance. For more on the festival experience, continue reading the blog posts excerpted below, which were posted live on’s Blogs tab during the course of the festival. For a few snapshots, see SF360’s Seen pages.

SFFS blogs Sundance

Susan Gerhard, Park City, Thursday, January 22, Everything Strange and New times two

The art and practice of film festival travel is a curious one. Wake up in a different city, walk down different streets, eat different foods, talk to different people, step into darkened rooms to watch movies about…. people in different cities, walking down different streets, eating different foods and talking to different people. For professionals who do this monthly or weekly—programmers, a few journalists—it’s like trying a new slope: same sport, different bumps. But for fans and cinephiles who make the treks, wait in the lines, or just hang out sighting celebs in perhaps one or two cities in their lifetime, it’s a bizarre, intense way to experience, or perhaps over-experience, life.

Oakland filmmaker Frazer Bradshaw on the previously mentioned "New Fresh" panel, whose film title, Everything Strange and New, could be applied to so much in life and is particularly apt when thinking about what motivates continent hopping for film festivals, said (this is not a paraphrase or a quote, but a subjective interpretation) what he actually likes about film watched in theaters as opposed to other media viewed in other spaces—say, galleries, museums, night clubs or the sides of buildings—is that the theater removes context. For the rest of this post, try SF360 Blogs.

Susan Gerhard, Park City, Thursday, January 22, "La Mission" in the mountains

A few minutes before the Sundance screening of La Mission at the Library, I spotted Peter and Benjamin Bratt welcoming moviegoers and taking their last breaths of cold air on the sidewalk before walking inside. Peter walked a few steps away, stood by himself looking up into the direction of the mountain, rolled his hands over his head and just seemed to be taking it all in. He did not appear ready to breathe it all out again On the day after a new American president lifted the great expectations of a depressed population onto his shoulders, the charismatic, community-building Bratt—who not only filmed in the Mission, but works at a nonprofit there—was carrying the voices of a down-but-not-out neighborhood into an arena that can run hot and cold. And in Park City, the temperature could change in an instant. For the rest of this post, try SF360 Blogs.

Susan Gerhard, Main Street, Tuesday, January 20, Urban hiker’s guide to Sundance

Since the last time I did laps around Park City with an overstuffed backpack, I subtracted three pounds from the laptop and added three pounds to the quads. Result: I did not end up on all fours in the lobby of the Yarrow Hotel with a strained back, as I did in … was it 2004? …. when Caveh Zahedi and Amanda Field gamely rescued me and nursed me back to health. This year, on all fours in the Yarrow was Jeff Daniels, on screen in a chiropractor-meets-self-hating self-help writer rom-com (Arlen Faber) that seemed an unlikely entry in the Dramatic Competition, though it charmed me, and, as it turned out, had an SF connection. Later that night: In the glow of Chris Rock who introduced his and Jeff Stilson’s Good Hair, an investigative essay on the alternately toxic/wonderful world of African American hair design, from Al Sharpton’s history with relaxers (which began with James Brown and a visit to the White House) to the Indian temples where shaved locks sacrificed to the deity begin their journey to Beverly Hills salons for women’s high-fashion weaves.

Today’s highlight (aside from the obvious on CNN): A cautionary tale for the Facebook generation in Ondi Timoner’s We Live in Public, along with an in-person appearance from the currently off-grid Josh Harris, looking castaway as ever, but demonstrating just how entertaining differences of opinion between a docu filmmaker and her subject can be. (See the trailer.) For the rest of this post, try SF360 Blogs.

Hilary Hart, Main Street, Park City, Midnight at the Egyptian

It’s my 14th year at Sundance, and I’m back on the midnight shift at the Egyptian Theatre—so if you’re a fan of late shows or strolling along Main Street after 10 pm stop by for a chat.

I arrived on Wednesday; the weather has been clear and cold everyday and is expected to continue the same through the festival. The sun is warming during the day and black ice is a real danger particularly at night. So dress warmly and tread carefully.

Yesterday I worked at the annual opening press conference with Robert Redford and Geoffrey Gilmore. Pam Grady and Cathleen Rountree, Bay Area film journalists, were both in attendance. I heard Redford say that he’s hopeful that under the incoming administration support for the arts will increase. Second that. For the rest of this post, try SF360 Blogs.

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