Above: The virtual reality production, "This is Not a Ceremony," by lead artist Ahnahktsipiitaa (Colin Van Loon), is an official selection of the New Frontier Program at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute and Indian Country Today)
[The following Sundance 2022 Scene Report is written by Comrade Kino of the Госкино Collective.]
Wuts up ax swingers?! I've been attending/ working the Sundance Film Festival for the last 13 years and 2022 is no exception...even tho there are no irl screenings this year. The Sundance Film Festival is held on the ancestral homeland of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute and Ute tribal nations. Ishkawazee sets the stage and the tone for the festival with this Land Acknowledgement before every film in the festival...but since the festival is being held remotely this year, we audience members are like the people in one of my favorite docs of the festival...We Met in Virtual Reality (dir Joe Hunting). We literally met up in virtual cinemas, film parties and galleries.
Sundance 2022 filmmakers (clockwise from upper left) Xóchitl Enríquez Mendoza, Sky Hopinka, Shaandiin Tome, Dine' and Alika Maikau Tengan, courtesy Sundance Institute and Indian Country Today.
During a recent hangout on the New Frontier Spaceship one of my work homies was like "This year is sad...I don't mean just he year, I mean the movies."...and I could relate to what he was saying...Even the killer movies that I have seen that are clothed in comedy, like Emergency (dir Carey Williams) or Emily the Criminal (dir John Patton Ford), at their respective cores are gut-wrenching and panic-inducing immersions into the all too real horrors of the epidemic of police killing unarmed black folks and in Emily the Criminal, committing crimes to pay for outsize, overdue student loans in a shit economy. Even the horror movies this year aren't just cathartic escapism either...but instead claustrophobically draw out real life horrors...always a good sign that the zeitgeist is calling it like it sees it. Some of the standouts are Watcher (dir Chloe Okuno), Resurrection (dir Andrew Semans) and You Won't Be Alone (dir Goran Stolevski). All these movies have at their center a female character trapped and alone in circumstances which no one believes and from which, brutal violence is the only escape.
As good and relevant as these fiction movies are, the documentaries prove once again that mediated truth is way more fucked up than fiction...and this year is delivering the goods with its collection of Bizarro World David and Goliath stories. Rory Kennedy (yes, those Kennedys) exposes the details of Boeing's criminal culpability in the deaths of 346 people on the Max 737 crashes in DOWNFALL: The Case Against Boeing, Evan Rachel Wood takes on Marylin Manson, the California State Assembly and criminal courts in Phoenix Rising (dir Amy Berg), and Bill Cosby's accusers hold a reckoning of his crimes while acknowledging him as a massive, looming figure in America's cultural and political history in comedian W. Kamau Bell's directorial debut, We Need to Talk About Cosby. Oh and Alexei Navalny takes on an oligarchy that spans 11 time zones in the doc Navalny (dir Daniel Roher).
a still from Kicking the Clouds, directed by Sky Hopinka
There is an amazing spotlight on Native films in this year's festival, which was pointed out to me by Calvin via this awesome Indian Country Today article, which describes the ongoing tradition of Native films at the festival: "The Sundance Institute has a long history of supporting Native film through its Indigenous program, which offers three fellowships to burgeoning filmmakers, officials said. The institute has included more than 110 Indigenous filmmakers and more than 90 tribes over the years" By luck of the draw I looked at a bunch of the films in this article and was psyched to see our Washington homie Sky Hopkina had another amazing experimental documentary, Kicking the Clouds, in this edition of the festival. If you haven't seen Sky's movies, they are indispensable viewing whether you are into Structuralist films, Native history and culture and in the case of many of his films, Northwest land and skyscapes.
a still from The Territory, directed by Alex Pritz
Another incredible Native-centered documentary adding to this focus but not mentioned in the Indian Country Today article is director Alex Pritz's, The Territory. This documentary shows the Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe protecting their home in the Amazon rainforest from invaders that are illegally deforesting their land at record rates. The Uru-eu-wau-wau form patrols to find the colonizing invaders, who they detain and remove from their land. Such inspiring direct action to take control of the forces of change! As Ishkawazee says in the land acknowledgement before every single movie in the festival, "...let this move you beyond symbolic recognition. Let it be a call to action!"
Check out some of these mind expanding movies and step into what Roger Ebert calls the "empathy machine" of cinema...that changes the world one audience at a time...for instance, I'm looking to try and rehabilitate my attitude against the early-aughts, NY music scene through the doc that was inspired by the book by Lizzy Goodman, Meet Me in the Bathroom (dir. Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace)...which actually has tons of cool footage of the Moldy Peaches and the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. Oh yeah, another movie I am looking forward to is Jihad Rehab (dir. Meg Smaker) which is just what it sounds like. I wonder if they use Empathy Machines to "rehabilitate" the Jihadists? Change your mind, watch a movie.
-Comrade Kino of the Госкино Collective.
Comrade Kino of the Госкино Collective aboard the New Frontier Spaceship