Women At Sundance 2008 – Kim Voynar reports for AWFJ

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2008 was a great year both for films helmed by women and films about women at the Sundance film festival. There were more first-time filmmakers at Sundance this year than at any time since the fest’s inception, and women were well-represented in that group. Famed cinematographer Ellen Kuras made her directorial debut with “Nerakhoon (The Betrayal)”, a beautifully shot documentary about a Laotian refugee family. Actress Amy Redford also had her directorial debut with “The Guitar,” about a young women diagnosed with terminal cancer who embarks on a spree of wish-fulfillment.

Tia Lesson and Carl Deal, longtime collaborators with Michael Moore, brought the Documentary Grand Jury Prize winner “Trouble the Water” to the fest. The doc, which combines footage shot before and after Hurricane Katrina by New Orleans resident Kimberly Rivers Roberts, who was unable to evacuate New Orleans because she and her husband had no car and no money to leave. Thousands of poor New Orleans residents, mostly African-American, were stranded in the storm, and Roberts, shooting with a camcorder she bought on the street for $20 a week before the storm hit, captured harrowing scenes of the flood waters rushing through her neighborhood.

Roberts also makes her musical debut in the film, under her rap moniker Black Kold Madina; a scene in the film in which she spontaneously raps along with a recording of her song “Amazing” is the heart and soul of the film. Roberts, who got director of photography credit for the film and is making a new life for herself post-Katrina, came to Park City with her husband Scott for the premiere of the film, 38 weeks pregnant with their first child. Roberts went into labor shortly after the film’s premiere screening and gave birth to daughter Skye during Sundance, adding a poignant note to the film’s fest premiere.

Documentarian Nanette Burnstein was on hand with another popular film at the fest, “American Teen,” in which she follows four high school seniors in Warsaw, Indiana through their senior year in high school. Burnstein captures all the trials and travails of Megan, homecoming queen and star athlete, who desperately wants to please her father by getting into his alma mater, Notre Dame; Colin, captain of the school’s basketball team, who needs a basketball scholarship in order to go to college, because his family can’t afford tuition; Jake, a geeky kid who’s never noticed by anyone, who only wants to find love and acceptance, and Hannah, an artsy girl who doesn’t fit in and dreams of getting out of Indiana and directing films.

Filmmaker Courtney Hunt helmed “Frozen River,” the Grand Jury Prize winner for dramatic film. Frozen River tells the tale of a mother desperate to get enough money for the balloon payment on a double-wide trailer in time for Christmas who teams up with a Mohawk Indian girl to illegally ferry immigrants across the US-Canadian border.

Marianna Palka wrote, directed and co-starred in “Good Dick,” a well-received narrative feature about a woman paralyzed by a history of sexual abuse, who finds hope in a relationship with a young man (Jason Ritter) who works at the video store where she rents soft-core porn., and Amanda Micheli was also on hand at the fest with “La Corona,” her Oscar-nominated short film about a beauty pageant at a Columbian women’s prison.

Italian director Anna Negri was in town with her film “Riprendimi,” a tale about a Lucia, a young woman struggling to move past her husband’s abandonment on the eve of their anniversary, while simultaneously being filmed as the subject of a documentary. Negri, who was tired of seeing Italian films by men that portrayed the relationships between men and women from a male perspective, wrote the film from a woman’s point of view, using Lucia’s three best friends as a chorus commenting on her relationship throughout the film.

“Mermaid,” written and directed by Anna Melikyan, a tale about a young girl who grows up believing she has the power to make wishes come true, won the World Cinema Dramatic directing award, while “Sugar,” the second feature film by writing and directing team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson), also made its highly anticipated debut at Sundance and was well-received.

Other notable women-helmed films at Sundance this year included “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo,”; “An American Soldier,” directed by Edet Belzberg; “Alone in Four Walls,” written and directed by Alexandra Westmeier; “The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins,” written and directed by Pietra Brettkelly; “Be Like Others,” directed by Tanaz Eshagian; “Dinner with the President,” co-written and co-directed by Sabiha Sumar and Sachithanandam Sathananthan; “Durakovo: The Village of Fools,“ written and directed by Nino Kirtadze; “Flow: For Love of Water,” directed by Irena Salina; “Half Life,” directed by Jennifer Phang; “Kicking It,” written and directed by Susan Koch; “Made in America,” directed and co-written by Stacy Peralta; “The Order of Myths,” directed by Margaret Brown; “Sunshine Cleaning,” written by Megan Holley and directed by Christine Jeffs; “Traces of the Trade: A Story of the Deep North,” directed by Katrina Browne; “Reversion,” directed by Mia Trachinger; and “U2 3D,” co-directed by Catherine Owens.

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Kim Voynar

Kim Voynar was an internationally recognized film critic for a decade, covering the film festival circuit and independent cinema for Movie City News, Cinematical, IndieWIRE and Variety, before transitioning into producing films in 2010. She has served on juries and expert panels for many prestigious film festivals, including the Seattle International Film Festival, SXSW, Sarasota Film Festival, Dallas International Film Festival, Miami International Film Festival, Oxford Film Festival, and deadCENTER Film Festival. After three years producing for a Seattle-based prodco, she's now producing and consulting independently under her boutique production shingle, Lateralus, and is working on some killer projects with avant-garde music group The Residents, Will Calhoun (Living Colour), and Ken Stringfellow (Posies, REM), and consulting on some projects in the VR space with Hollywood producing legend Scott Ross (Apollo 13, Benjamin Buttons, Titanic). Her hobbies include trendsetting Seattle street style, staying up late nights pondering post-apocalytpic survival techniques, and deep thinking on virtual reality and the mathematical perfection of logarithmic spirals and fractals.