An almost random selection from the Sundance Film Festival 2024 online programme, which was already a not at all random selection from the full festival for people not contributing to the Utah economy or contemplating recent Utah legislation from close proximity.
Realm of Satan is about domestic life and ritual among members of the Church of Satan, with levels of candid naturalism ranging from not much to full cabaret turn. Theatrical portraits of Anton LaVey hang on several walls, theatrically. There isn’t much about the Church’s actual beliefs beyond non-conformity and resistance to rigid thinking, so whether that’s a modern kind of religion or an old kind of politics is up to you. No one mentions Ayn Rand, although LaVey did. The goats seem content.
Frida is a straight documentary about Frida Kahlo built largely on diaries and journals and newsreels. There comes a point where all that stuff tells you less about her than the paintings do.
Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat is a much less straight documentary about the second half of the 20th Century and the heinous nonsense that Western powers got up to in Africa as their colonies wrenched themselves away, specifically the killing of Lumumba in the Congo. Some of it, as when elderly jazz man Louis Armstrong realises he has been a CIA stooge in a country with vast stockpiles of uranium somewhere, reminds you that history teeters on the brink of farce the first time round. British mercenaries paid to slaughter African villagers talk as if it was a working holiday, reminding you that beyond farce there is only dismay.
Union about the formation of the Amazon Labor Union in New York was greeted by some reviewers as the return of the Leftist documentary from a forgotten basement, the muscle of organised labour pushed back into cultural focus. Which requires overlooking how it shows the union making minuscule progress at the pace of a snail and the US Left seeming scared of its own shadow. There’s also the matter of reviewers donating their labour for peanuts or nothing at all while saying this.
Suncoast is a hospice drama based on the life experiences of the person who made it, so knock the obligations of the genre if you want but judge the results accordingly.
Little Death drove some people up the wall with its wacky irony and its sudden actor-swap and its animated A.I. hallucinations; but as cinema transgressions go these are just a mild twitch on the flamboyance-o-meter. Any art using today’s A.I. animations feels like yesterday already, although this one is set in California where the techno-weird has deep roots, a connection that gets made whether intended or not. The film is either all sub-text or all text, but lacks something either way.