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Sundance 2013: The Round-Up Part 4

Posted on Monday January 28, 2013, 18:18 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Sundance 2013: The Round-Up Part 4

Documentaries continue to thrive at Sundance, and music docs are usually well served there, having hosted the world premieres of DiG!, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man And Patti Smith: Dream Of Life in recent years. This year saw the debut of Brett Morgan's film about The Eagles, but instead I opted for Greg Camalier's Muscle Shoals, about an area of smalltown Alabama that in long stretches of the 60s and 70s changed the sound of modern music forever. At nearly two hours it may be too much for the uninitiated, but for fans of the Muscle Shoals sound – borrowed by artists as diverse as Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and Lynard Skynard – it may not be enough.

Taking a steady, organic approach to the medium, Camalier's film makes a nice change from the usual TV-ready docs that use rapid-fire talking-head soundbites to push the story forward. Instead, the musicians are given time to tell their stories, and though all are engrossing, few are quite as remarkable as those of Rick Hall, who established the Fame Studio there in the early 60s. Hall is incredible, a real Southern redneck who lived wild as a child and grew up to embrace the R&B sound that was coming from his neighbourhood. Through Hall, that sound evolved and expanded, aided by master musicians such as David Hood, Dan Penn, Jimmy Johnson and Spooner Oldham, who confounded the press and music industry by not being black, as their music suggested. The music is obviously unbelievable, starting with Wilson Pickett's Land Of 1,000 Dances, but this is also a very human story and convincing argument that sometimes the soul comes before the sound.

“James Franco Presents Kink” said the poster at the screening I attended, but sadly the actor/producer wasn't on hand to do the honours for Christina Voros's study of San Francisco fetish website Fetish might be an understatement, as is most definitely NSFW, being a site devoted to BDSM: Bondage, Domination and Sado-Masochism. Voros's film certainly goes the distance, featuring extreme sex and graphic nudity, but she does find the real personalities behind such a dark form of pornography and there is a lot of humour here – plus it's fascinating to see what porno looks like when it's de-aestheticised. It did get a little repetitive, though, and though Kink does try to show the filmmakers as artists, their work ethic seems a little bit flaky at best.

With all the talk of gun control in the run-up to Sundance, I figured Valentine Road would be a must-see. Although it's an interesting film about a terrible murder, I'm not sure it will travel much outside the US. It tells the story of Larry King, who, at 14, decided to indulge in his transgender fantasies, flirting with a white supremacist the same age and getting a bullet in the head for his troubles. King's story is heartbreaking, and it's touching to see so many schoolfriends still keeping his memory alive, but the Marta Cunningham's tender film also shows how his killer's story wasn't simple either; both boys came from troubled homes, making the final outcome all the more miserable and needless. However – and it is quite a big however – this accomplished doc does go a little soft on the adults in the story, from the dippy teacher who gave little Larry a dress to another who practically calls him the Antichrist. Disappointingly, the issue of gun control simply comes and goes.

More angry and engaged was Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites's 99 percent – The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film, a very handing recapping of the life and impact of New York's reaction to the financial crisis of 2008. At first the film appears to be a simple, sympathetic document of the initial occupation, and after 20 minutes you might wonder where it will go next. But instead of staying with the obvious, the filmmakers begin to explore the other strands of the story, following individuals whose lives were impacted by the movement in unexpected ways, from a woman whose house is being repossessed to a former cop who allows himself to be arrested in uniform. Rather excellently, it not only articulates the problem, 99 percent also offers something in the way of a solution. It won't be enough but it may prove ammunition for a stealthy class war that, as this timely film shows, is affecting us in more ways than we may ever know.

Coming next: Escape From Tormorrow, Blue Caprice, The Way Way Back...

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