Last week saw the sun rise and set in Park City, Utah at America’s largest celebration of all films indie. The festival is a showcase of new work and includes many premieres and an intense competition for movies fighting there way to make it to the big screen. In recent years, it has become the premiere venue for those films that are still looking for backing and stuck in theatrical release limbo.
To get the opportunity for consideration in the competition, artists submit films for selection. For many directors, this is the best venue for them to shop their films to distributors in hopes of getting studio backing, which can make or break a movie’s ultimate success. In the past it was typically known for highlighting little known or upcoming filmmakers, but has grown to represent a much wider spectrum of artistry. The 2012 festival had many great moments to celebrate.
This year, close to 8000 short films were submitted, with just 64 selected for showings at the festival, just to put into perspective how stiff the competition gets. Leading up to this year’s festival there was a lot of anticipation for many black films. The blogs of negronia were ablaze speculating Spike Lee’s pet project Red Hook Summer, the film LUV starring and produced by Common, and Middle of Nowhere by upcoming filmmaker Av DuVernay. Ten days later, 2012 proved to be a bigger deal for blacks in film that Sundance 2011 (for those who missed it… Pariah and Kinyurwanda were big hits here last year).
At the close of Sundance 2012, three films on our radar had won key awards, many others got distribution meaning we will get to see more of them coming soon to a theater near you, and the internet went viral with a tirade from none other than the OG of black film himself, Spike Lee. One of the most exciting results was Ava DuVernay being named the first black woman to win the Best Director Prize for her sophomore film, Middle of Nowhere. For those unfamiliar with her work, she also produced the BET documentary “My Mic Sounds Nice” and the feature on the Essence Music Festival in 2010 on TV One. DuVernay’s first film, I Will Follow, has also garnered much critical acclaim and won Best Screenplay by the 2011 African American Film Critics Association.
For those like me who did not get the opportunity to make it to Sundance this year, it may be a wait for us to be able to see Middle of Nowhere in theaters. While it was picked up by Participant Media and AAFRM, it is unclear at this time what release is planned. The film’s plot centers around a woman navigating her life and marriage during her husband’s 8 year prison sentence. Participant has backed many recent major films like The Help, Contagion, and An Inconvenient Truth. AAFRM backed last year’s Sundance favorite Kinyurwanda, so I look forward to seeing Middle of Nowhere get its theatrical release soon.
Also taking home the Grand Jury Prize and a cinematography honor was the film Beasts of the Southern Wild, which was the undisputed critic favorite. This mythical tale was the first film from Benh Zeitlin. The movie is set in the Southern delta at the end of the world and explores the survival and relationship of a girl and her father, welcoming the cutest new child star, Quvenzhane Wallis as 6 year old Hushpuppy. It was acquired by Fox Searchlight and is rumored for a summer release. Previous Sundance films that were bought by Searchlight were very successful, like (500)Days of Summer. The documentary “Detropia” was honored for US Documentary Editing.
Some movies that were not honored or eligible for award, but still picked up for distribution were: The Words starring Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana, 2 Days in New York starring Chris Rock, and the documentary “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap”. Films that are still waiting for distribution that were heavily praised are the documentary “Under African Skies“, An Oversimplification of her Beauty (A Complex Exploration of the Dance Between Id, Ego, & Super Ego), and 1/2 Revolution. Additionally, despite the controversial reviews and attention toward Spike Lee’s collaboration Red Hook Summer, I am still eager to see the film simply because word on the street is it features and not so hidden shot at Madea himself.
In the end, Sundance 2012 leaves us with a heavy promise of some great upcoming features with stories, directors, and actors that show a diverse depiction of the aspects of black culture. If distribution goes well, this should be a great year for black cinema at the the movies. I for one will be ready with popcorn in hand.