Sundance 2014 Recap: Days 7-8

We’re in the home stretch now. I’m still here until Sunday so I’ll get to catch as many of the Sundance movies as I can, including a few more big premieres. Now it’s also time to catch up on movies I missed when I was racing to do interviews too. Here are the other movies I saw between my recent reviews of Dead Snow, What We Do in the Shadows and Little Accidents. They are in alphabetical order and I can’t believe we stay between D and F the whole time!


Dear White People

The Sundance comedy Dear White People has a clever concept, but didn’t make me laugh very much. The cast is really appealing and it’s well made so it’s not hard to sit through. I just wish it could have achieved more of its promise.

Dear White People tells the story of a race war set off at a prestigious university. Samantha White (Tessa Thompson) is a radio DJ with a segment on race called Dear White People. She decides to run for a student office just to voice concerns about the elimination of dedicated black housing, but she actually wins. Her issues provoke racial debate in the school as other factions try to get a say, from the school’s Harvard Lampoon-esque humor magazine to reality TV wannabes who see 15 minutes.

A satire about racial dynamics and politically correct avoidance of the issues would be welcome. The main problem with Dear White People is that it’s so racial, there’s nothing else the characters ever talk about. If there were a Blechdel test for race, Dear White People would fail it. There are a few laughs, and a sympathetic gay subplot for diversity, but for all the talk, Dear White People doesn’t feel like it knows what to say.


The Angelina Jolie executive-produced Difret is a powerful drama about fighting for justice in the unique culture of Ethiopia. It’s the right kind of issue movie where it illuminates an underreported subject but the focus is on the human drama.

In 1996, 14-year-old Hirut is kidnapped by a gang whose leader wants to marry her. He rapes her but Hirut finds a gun, shoots her kidnapper and makes her escape. Well, outside Addis Ababa, kidnapping teenage wives is tradition, so they want to charge Hirut with murder. Meaza, a lawyer for the Women’s Lawyer Association takes Hirut’s case.

Meaza challenges the whole judicial system, that wants to put Hirut on trial. Unfortunately we don’t get the courtroom drama we should because Hirut doesn’t. Meaza has to fight the very system to defend her client.

We don’t get to know Hirut very much. Hirut is the subject of the case, so delving any further into her outside life could be contrived. Meaza is the focus and she represents an interesting Ethiopian woman. She’s a modern woman who still wants love in her life, but she’s not living in a society that’s open to hearing her.

Writer/director Zeresenay Mehari shoots with a handheld camera which makes for an ease of shooting the drama, but it’s still noticeable. Since they can’t do big action, Mehari portrays a pursuit from Hirut and Meaza’s perspective. He documents the drama, based on a true story, objectively enough to inspire natural outrage without being heavy-handed.

The Disobedient

I enjoyed watching The Disobedient. You watch the characters and interpret their behavior. It’s very Sundance.

Leni (Hana Selimovic) and Lazar (Mladen Sovlij) were childhood friends. Now that they’re adults, they still behave like children, frolicking outdoors, slurping their cereal and throwing stuff around. They’re just immature enough to be different and interesting, yet it’s captivating because, frankly, Selimovic is so attractive. I mean, I saw her picture in the program guide, had a crush on her, and wanted to see her movie, so it doesn’t surprise me that this freeform behavior held my attention.

Somehow this weird visual language eventually made sense to me. Not in a way I can explain story-wise, but in a way that I can say I understand Leni. It gets serious for her and seems to reveal consequences for immature behavior. On a technical note, the subtitles go away too quickly and come up too early. There’s still time to fix that though. Sony Pictures Classics? Magnolia? If you’re interested in The Disobedient you’ll want to address the subtitles.

Fishing Without Nets

Fishing Without Nets makes Captain Phillips look like Captain Ron. Of course, we like Captain Ron, but I know that would not make Paul Greengrass happy, so nyeh. While Phillips was a thriller, Fishing Without Nets captures the exhausting length of a Somalian pirate hostage crisis.

A group of Somalis board an oil tanker and take the crew hostage for ransom. Then they wait. They just wait. At first the Somalis have pretty good humor, as they expect negotiations to take weeks and the tanker crew would like it to be over ASAP.

Since there’s very little action, the focus of this story is the passing time dragging on for weeks. Writer/director Cutter Hodierne keeps the suspense up as he subtly wears the characters down. It’s beautifully shot, though again handheld likely for necessity, but like Difret deals with the issue dramatically and lets the story speak for itself. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.


// ad on openWeb