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Director’s Recap: 2013 Sundance Film Festival

Upstream ColorThe 2013 Sundance Film Festival closed this past Sunday in Park City, Utah. Sundance announced the festival’s various award winners the day before with FRUITVALE taking top prize in the U.S. Dramatic Jury and Audience categories. The reaction after the premiere was tangible. As tweets rolled in and voices were overheard, it became evident the film didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

At the Lone Star Film Society, we are especially happy to see FRUITVALE triumph, as it stars Lone Star Film Festival regular Melonie Diaz, who came to Fort Worth once as an honoree and twice as a jury member. She is an actor with innate talent not sufficiently recognized. Hopefully, the fact the Weinstein Company is set to release FRUITVALE domestically will help change that.

LSFS Friends at the Festival

In addition to Melonie, many friends and colleagues came to Park City. Waiting to enter the first screening of AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS—directed and produced by DFW filmmaking team David Lowery, James M. Johnston and Toby Halbrooks—I ran into Casey Gooden. Casey came to the LSFF twice with a few shorts and visited Sundance with a film he produced called UPSTREAM COLOR, perhaps the most divisive film at this year’s festival.

Richard Linklater, who came to Park City for the premiere of his film BEFORE MIDNIGHT, mingled at the Texas Monthly “Texas Party.” Audiences received his film very well, and it scores high in several categories on indieWIRE’s CriticWIRE. Sarah Green and Nicolas Gonda, producers for Austin based director Terrence Malick, were also in attendance. Sarah was there with another Austin based director Jeff Nichols who presented his latest film, MUD, which will release this spring. Sixteen-year-old newcomer Tye Sheridan, who stars in MUD alongside Matthey McConaughey, also attended. Nick Gonda and I met Tye more than six years ago at a tiny school in a tiny Texas town when casting THE TREE OF LIFE. At the time, he seemed to barely stand chest height to us. At the party, now 16 and a movie star, he relaxed with family, fresh from the Oakley gifting suite.

A Strong Texas Presence

Critics made much of the Texas presence at Sundance this year, and after seeing many of the films made by Texans, I say with confidence that I think there’s something to the buzz. Texas filmmakers appear unafraid to explore a new kind of cinematic language, rather than continue the patterns of countless films made before.

Whether Lowery’s SAINTS, which eschews the expected plot points of a crime drama to focus on the “moments between,” Carruth’s highly abstract UPSTREAM COLOR, which explores the fundamental nature of character, or Yen Tan’s PIT STOP, which places the story of gay men where you least expect, it’s evident through their work that Texas filmmakers offer a fresh perspective, a perspective very welcome, if you ask me.

A Dedication to Artistic Integrity

At LSFS, we are very grateful that so many filmmakers at Sundance this year have in some way participated in LSFS programming, but it’s no coincidence. Our highest priority since our very first festival was to always showcase films and filmmakers that share our passion for cinema as an art form, regardless of production value or the number of famous faces present in their films. Sometimes, this is not the most popular path to take, and people often question our programming team for not going with what some perceive as the obvious choice. Instead, we challenge audiences to discover something they aren’t used to seeing on the big screen.

While we always strive for acute awareness of our audience’s tastes, we also realize our job is to take the time most people don’t have to seek out films most people overlook. We will continue to better pursue this goal, so that everyone will someday have the opportunity to meet the next Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner right here in Fort Worth.

As Sundance wrapped in Park City, I came back to Dallas and caught one of the last two Best Picture nominees I had not yet seen. I won’t mention the film by name, but suffice to say it’s the likely winner and by all accounts a very good film. Exciting, funny, extremely well acted—utterly forgettable. Times like this make you appreciate the value of Sundance and film festivals overall. Here’s to new perspectives.

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The Lone Star Film Society (LSFS) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that exists to cultivate an appreciation and understanding of the moving image as an art form.

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