The Daily Buzz from Sundance: Episode 5

Posted by Brian Brooks on 1.20.2014


Love Is Strange actors John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Darren Burrows and director Ira Sachs at Daily Buzz. Photo by Brian Brooks.

Listen to our first podcast from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival right here, or subscribe on iTunes!

Issues of race and cultural preservation perhaps appropriately surfaced in the Martin Luther King Day edition of Film Society's Daily Buzz. Writer/director Justin Simien's U.S. Dramatic Competition film Dear White People has won over audiences here at Sundance. Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo, meanwhile joined Daily Buzz from Main Street in Park City to talk about his third Sundance film, This May Be The Last Time, which explores ancient songs of faith and hope sung by members of the Seminole and Muscogee tribes he belongs to. 

Ira Sachs' anticipated Love Is Strange premiered here to rapturous applause. He and cast members John Lithgow, Alfred Molina and Marisa Tomei talked about their Sundance premiere with Film Society's Eugene Hernandez. Also in Monday's 5th Episode of Daily Buzz, veteran producers Amy Hobby and Anne Hubbell talk about their production company Tangerine, which is championing women filmmakers. And The New York Times' Brooks Barnes, Film Society's Matt Kaszanek and segment co-host Brian Brooks debate and run down the festival chatter of the day in Hot Topics.

"People seeing it were just projectile vomiting love at the screenings." That was the vivid description filmmaker Justin Simien somewhat jokingly described audience reaction to his Sundance competition feature Dear White People on Monday's Daily Buzz. The satire follows the stories of four black students at an Ivy League school where riots break out over a popular 'African American' themed party thrown by white students. The tongue and cheek story explores racial identity in 'post racial' America while weaving a  universal story about finding one's path in life.

"I went to Chapman and I was the only black person for miles," Justin Simien said Monday, describing how his own experience helped shape what would become Dear White People. "Even the favorable assumptions people had were funny." During the short conversation, Simien recalls how a controversy at  a California university compelled him to explore some of the delicate aspects of race in his movie and how his work as a publicist at various film companies helped him spread the word about his project. "It's very hard to make any kind of movie even on a low budget end of it," he said. "It is especially  hard for a black film especially when it doesn't come in a familiar package."


Dear White People director Justin Simien at Daily Buzz. Photo by Brian Brooks.

The folks from Love Is Strange crowded into Daily Buzz's small space on Main Street. John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei and director/co-writer Ira Sachs shared mics for their segment on Daily Buzz. The film follows Ben and George whose relationship is put to the test after 39 years together. The couple plan to tie the knot in Lower Manhattan, but when news of their wedding reaches the Catholic school where George works, he is fired from the school. Now with one person unemployed, the couple cannot afford their apartment. The both move in with separate friends temporarily while they try to resolve their situation.

"I've been in New York for 25 years and I wanted to make a love letter to the city," Sachs told Daily Buzz. "I've found in my life all the ups and downs have been supported by a family and in New York in particular our friends and neighbors become our support…"

The film left some in the audience in tears and a host of great reviews. John Lithgow said that Sundance had been a great venue for the film's debut: "What a great place to premiere this work. How wonderful. People are so hungry and receptive to receive this kind of work."

Sterlin Harjo's This May Be the Last Time debuted in Sundance's Documentary Premieres section. The film is an investigation into Native American filmmaker Harjo's family history, namely the mysterious 1962 disappearance of his grandfather and the songs of encouragement sung by those who searched for him.

In the film, Harjo traces the creation of their songs, which recall a time of upheaval when U.S. policy forced their relocation. "The songs originated in Scotland, Appalachia and the blues of African American slaves," noted Harjo.

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