Films From the 2012 Sundance Film Festival

Sundance Film Festival - January 19-29, 2012

Lost in all the hoopla of awards season and the announcement of Academy Awards nominations is the fact that the 2012 Sundance Film Festival is more than halfway finished. Now before you go any further, sadly no, I’m not in snowy Park City Utah watching films. I’m still here in sunny Hawaii. However, as I briefly touched on last year, Sundance is the biggest film festival in the United States and is important because of the wealth of independent cinema that the festival fosters.

Why Sundance is so big and important? It’s mainly because film discovery happens at Sundance. When you hear the word ‘Indie’ or ‘Independent Cinema’ being thrown around (both can be used interchangeably I think), don’t automatically consider it a film that’s artsy-fartsy that you can’t understand (though there are a lot of films like that). The term ‘indie’ mainly means that a film was independently financed. What does “independently financed” mean?

Movies made by studios (Paramount, Warner Bros, Universal, Disney, etc) are all bankrolled by those particular studios. Since they’re fronting their money to pay for their films to be made, there are generally a lot of hoops and guidelines that filmmakers have to follow when making a studio movie. In contrast, independently financed films are films that a filmmaker finds funding for on their own. Whether it’s finding investors or completely paying for the cost of a film out of their own pocket, an indie film gives the filmmaker freedom as they are able to convey their true vision for their project unencumbered by studio interference.

Festival-goers waiting to get into the Egyptian Theater.

The downside is that though a film is made independently, it’s quite another thing to have it shown in theaters across the country. That’s partly where the importance of Sundance comes in . . . studios and distributors go shopping at Sundance. When a film gets “picked up” it generally means that a distributor has paid for the rights to distribute a film (distribution models vary these days, but theatrical distribution in theaters is most desired).

Having said all that, you can begin to see why Sundance is such a big deal. Not only does it provide an outlet for filmmakers to tell their own stories, it also provides a way for their vision to be seen by a larger audience should their film get picked up by a distributor or studio.

With only a few days left in the Sundance Film Festival, here are a few films I’m interested in seeing that may or may not make it to a theater near you sometime this year. Most of these films don’t have trailers as they’re playing for the very first time at Sundance. I’m going to let the images and official synopsis do the heavy lifting, but I will throw in some brief thoughts about what piqued my interest in these films.


THE WORDS *picked up for distribution by CBS Films*

Rory Jansen, a struggling writer, aspires to be the next great literary voice. When he discovers a lost manuscript in a weathered attaché case, he realizes he possesses something extraordinary that he desperately wishes he had created. Rory decides to pass the work off as his own and finally receives the recognition he desperately craves. However, he soon learns that living with his choice will not be as easy as he thought as he faces a moral dilemma that will make him take a hard look at the man he has become. //via Sundance Film Festival

Why I’m Interested:
What initially caught my eye was the story about the film. Basically you have a guy plagiarizing work and the film looks at the struggles he goes through in dealing with that, which I thought was a pretty interesting premise to begin with. However, you also have a bunch of known Hollywood actors in it as well such as Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, and oh yeah . . . Zoe Saldana and Oliva Wilde as well.


LIBERAL ARTS *picked up for distribution by IFC Films*

Newly single, 35, and uninspired by his job, Jesse Fisher worries that his best days are behind him. But no matter how much he buries his head in a book, life keeps pulling Jesse back. When his favorite college professor invites him to campus to speak at his retirement dinner, Jesse jumps at the chance. He is prepared for the nostalgia of the dining halls and dorm rooms, the parties and poetry seminars; what he doesn’t see coming is Zibby—a beautiful, precocious, classical-music-loving sophomore. Zibby awakens scary, exciting, long-dormant feelings of possibility and connection that Jesse thought he had buried forever. //via Sundance Film Festival

Why I’m Interested:
The film opened to a standing ovation at it’s first screening this past Sunday, something I’ve read doesn’t happen too much. However, the film seems to have some great performances and the growing relationship between the two leads (last year’s Sundance “It Girl” Elizabeth Olsen and Josh Radnor) carries the film. What really blew me away though was that this film not only starts the guy from How I Met Your Mother, but it’s written and directed by him as well! I had no idea he was so talented. While there was been some talk about distribution, no deals have been made yet.



Dave, a high school senior, spends most of his time pining away over a girl he can’t have. Aubrey, a junior with artistic aspirations, has a hot boyfriend who doesn’t quite understand her or seem to care. Although they go to different schools, Dave and Aubrey find themselves at the same party. When both head outside to get some air, they meet. A casual conversation sparks an instant connection, and, over the course of a weekend, things turn magical, romantic, complicated, and funny as Aubrey and Dave discover what it’s like to fall in love for the first time. //via Sundance Film Festival

Why I’m Interested:
From the reports I’ve read, the film seems to have a modern day Can’t Hardly Wait vibe to it. Truth be told I guess I’m a sucker for these high school movies where the guy pines away for the seemingly unattainable girl (I mean, seriously, haven’t we all been there?). The film seems to be getting pretty decent reviews and lots of mention for the strong performances by the leads Britt Robertson (The CW’s Life Unexpected and The Secret Circle) and Dylan O’Brien (MTV’s Teen Wolf). Sadly there doesn’t seem to be too much talk about the film being picked up by a distributor so I’m not confident about our chances for eventually seeing this film.


THE RAID *scheduled for release March 23, 2012 by Sony Pictures Classics*

At the break of dawn, an elite SWAT team descends upon a rundown tenement in the mammoth city of Jakarta, Indonesia. Their mission? To take down the ruthless and powerful crime boss Tama, who rules the building and its inhabitants with implacable brutality. Holed up on the top floor with an array of security cameras and a legion of massively armed underlings, Tama appears to be untouchable. The police initiate their assault with precision as they make their way through the lower floors of the building. But when their cover is blown, a bloody cataclysm erupts, first with bullets, then with a storm of fists and feet. //via Sundance Film Festival

Why I’m Interested:
Ok, this is kind of a cheat because this film has already played at another film festival and it’s one of my most anticipated films of this year (second only to The Dark Knight Rises). However, since it’s playing at Sundance I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about it. The Raid looks like it’s going to be a crazy good movie with a ton of awesome fight scenes. The level and intensity depicted by said fight scenes, I’m just in awe and really blown away by. I was a little worried that the trailer I saw of the film was all hype. Much to relief HIFF Programming Director Anderson Le assuaged my fears (read from the bottom up):

But don’t take our word for it. Watch the trailer and see for yourself . . .


THE SURROGATE *picked up for distribution by Fox Searchlight*

The quest for love appears insurmountable when a man confined to an iron lung determines, at age 38, to lose his virginity. Based on the autobiographical writings of Berkeley, California–based journalist and poet Mark O’Brien, The Surrogate chronicles his attempt to transcend the limbo between childhood and adulthood, in which he is literally trapped. With the blessing of an unusual priest and support from enlightened caregivers, the poignantly optimistic and always droll O’Brien swallows his fear and hires a sex surrogate. What transpires over a handful of sessions transforms them both. Rivetingly, sensitively, and humorously portrayed by John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, the couple’s clinical exercise becomes a tender, awkward, and gracious journey from isolation to connection—corporal and spiritual. //via Sundance Film Festival

Why I’m Interested:
Probably the most high profile of acquisition of the festival so far, media buzz has been extremely positive for this film with even talk of Oscar worthy potential. HIFF Programming Director Anderson Le is also predicting that the film will win the audience award at Sundance. A lot of praise is being given to the director for taking a somewhat awkward subject material and turning it into a story that’s heartwarming and has a lot of weight. Should be interesting to see what Searchlight has planned for this.


Want a bit more info about what’s going on at Sundance? Here are two good reports courtesy of Indiewire:

Box Office Be Damned: For Buyers, Optimism Rules at Sundance 2012
-Insight into the state of acquisitions

What’s Hot, What’s Good and What the Critics Can’t Agree On
-A look at what’s trending at Sundance

3 Responses to “Films From the 2012 Sundance Film Festival”

  1. January 26, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    These have all gotten a lot of buzz, but I’m sorry to see that you don’t have any documentaries on this list! My favorite film of the festival has probably been Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, which is in the documentary premieres category. Where Do We Go Now? and Monsieur Lazhar are up there as well. I’ll be seeing The Raid tomorrow night, though, so hopefully it will be good! ~Nan

    • January 26, 2012 at 11:59 AM


      Since I’m not there at Sundance I try to do my best to read up on what people are talking about, unfortunately though, I can’t read everything or I can only read about things people post about.

      Thank you for the recommendations though and I’ll try to search out more info about the films you mentioned.

      Have fun!

      • January 27, 2012 at 4:44 AM

        That’s the wonderful and sad thing about Sundance, or any film festival, I suppose – on one hand, there are so many diverse and high quality films, but on the other hand, so few of them get distribution deals. I know that Where Do We Go Now? and Monsieur Lazhar have been picked up, so hopefully they’ll show up in a theater near you soon!

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