Sundance 2011: A festival with more divisions than the NFL


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Film festivals are typically a place where there are more opinions than there are attendees. But this year’s Sundance is proving the point, and then some.

Barely two days into the country’s largest indie movie gathering, several great discoveries have emerged -- or are they simply overhyped duds?


Among the titles that have brought polarization most is ‘On the Ice,’ Andrew Maclean’s thriller about a pair of Alaskan Inuit teenagers who accidentally kill a classmate and find themselves trapped in a web of deceit. The Friday night premiere screening had the audience watching with rapt attention, and afterward one prominent filmmaker in attendance compared the movie to early Coen brothers work.

But many others, including several critics, were less kind. Writing in Variety, for instance, Justin Chang called ‘On the Ice’ an ‘ethnographic slot-filler’ that was ‘stilted and unconvincing.’

Meanwhile, one of the festival’s opening-night films, Dee Rees’ black coming-of-age drama, ‘Pariah,’ drew a standing ovation in the theater and prompted Hollywood agents to debate vocally which of the many people associated with the film would have the brightest career. But after a second screening, the reaction was more muted, with several in the audience rolling their eyes at its familiar storyline.

At least those responses came from different screenings. Reaction to the Kevin Spacey financial-crisis drama ‘Margin Call’ was even more stark -- emerging from the same media-and-industry screening, attendees couldn’t decide whether the film was a riveting study of the mighty brought low or a ripped-from-the-headlines snooze.

It’s possible that as Sundance programmers have sought out some more quirky work instead of the middle-of-the-road star-driven films that screened here in much of the 2000’s, the festival offerings are more likely to divide. Or it may just be that when it comes to the Sundance Film Festival, everyone can agree that no can agree.

-- Steven Zeitchik