Well before the Sundance Film Festival started this year, august critics began bemoaning the lame state of indie film and griping about how Sundance markets movies alongside cell phones, in high-minded essays published on pages (like New York's) alongside ads for cell phones. But New Yorkers have never been averse to making a buck — which is perhaps why the first three high-profile sales in Park City, where the festival started Thursday, have all been New York films: Grace Is Gone to the Weinsteins, Crazy in Love to Magnolia, and Joshua, reportedly, to Fox Searchlight. (And other local productions like Teeth, Waitress, and Snow Angels are rumored to be close to their own deals.)
Of course, you won't see those films in theaters for months or even years, but you can check out about half of the shorts screening at this year's festival without having to crinkle your nose at all those evil corporate sponsors on Main Street. They're being posted online, and today the first batch goes on sale at iTunes for $1.99 each. You'll be able to download more films every day at the Sundance Website.
But are the shorts worth watching?
Many are terrible (avoid Der Ostwind, The Grass Grows Green, Bobby Bird: the Devil in Denim, and God Provides), but the best are — unsurprisingly — by New York directors: Alex Weil's computer-animated One Rat Short is a beautifully animated CGI calling card about a Manhattan rat who (literally) falls for a lab rat while chasing a bag of Cheetos. In Sophie Barthes's melancholic Happiness, a depressive woman buys a box of "happiness" at a weird little discount store near Coney Island and can't decide whether to open it. In Bomb, director Ian Olds, who did Occupation: Dreamland, takes a dramatic turn away from Iraq with a proto-mythic vignette about two teenage American friends who discover an old bomb in a field. And Ray Tintori, son of the director of the NYU Film School, John Tintori, makes his bid for MTV notoriety with Death to the Tinman, an eclectic black-and-white fable that seems tailor-made for Animal Collective.
The best short in the entire batch, though, was not shot in New York. Brazilian director Felipe Barbosa's debauched mini-epic Salt Kiss, a lush and beautifully acted story of a domineering hedonist and his compromised friends, practically demands a feature-film expansion. And even Barbosa is a bit of a New Yorker, this week: His sculptures and paintings are on view at the Sara Meltzer Gallery in Chelsea through February 3.
Sundance Preview [NYM]