Susan Morris | Essays

Sundance/Slamdance 2023: Built Environment

Sundance/Slamdance 2023: Built Environment
Still from Motel Drive.

The 2023 Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals had their usual eclectic mix of offerings, which you didn't have to trek to Park City to experience. The festival made all media available online, permitting a worldwide audience to experience new cinema. This year, one can sense anxiety as well as nostalgia, a fractured world searching for sense and meaning. Here is a roundup of films that feature design — built, graphic, and digital; and the arts — visual, performing, and literary.

The built environment was represented by Motel Drive a one block area along Parkway Drive in Fresno, California where the Sands Motel, Holiday Motel, Town House Hotel, Motel Fresno, and Live Again Fresno are located. All are cookie cutter structures that are home to the poor, including 150 kids. The film is largely from their POV. A hard life rampant with drugs, prostitution, and poverty, Fresno is the “meth capital” of America. Motel Row is on the route of the long-anticipated California High Speed Rail, so is slated for demolition, but there are also plans to turn the motels into transitional housing.

Sundance/Slamdance 2023: Built Environment
Still from Addresses (Direcciones).

Addresses (Direcciones). In Costa Rica there are no numbered or named street addresses; instead people rely on landmarks, both current and past, like trees and obelisks, but also cars (which are clearly moveable). This is obviously confusing, and the filmmaker, a Costa Rican who has always felt a pressing anxiety about this custom, argues it is also about memory and hierarchies of importance as she tries to understand its origins and notions of place.

Infinity Pool is a science fiction horror story that takes place in the fictional island country Li Tolqa at a luxury all-inclusive beach resort, actually shot at Amadria Park resort in Šibenik on the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia. Around the infinity swimming pool and beachfront are white lattice grids and silver beach umbrellas, with floor-to-ceiling windows in the hotel rooms, arched windows in the main structure, an ochre-colored stucco exterior and white trim around windows and architectural details. Along the coast we see decaying infrastructure, while various public buildings like the police station feature large barrel-vaulted rooms.

A mood of dislocation builds in a heavily pregnant woman who is left alone in her married family’s opulent, gated family home in the Moroccan desert in Animalia. A fountain burbles in the courtyard, a large chandelier hangs in the foyer, Rococo chairs are placed in lavish rooms with mosaics under ornate wooden ceilings — a cacophony of wealth and style.

Sundance/Slamdance 2023: Built Environment
Still from Subway Stops.

Numerous films utilized New York City in intriguing ways. Subway Stops explores the NYC subway system in black & white, showing musicians, commuters, skateboarders, break dancers and the elderly using walkers at 14 St., Canal St., Schermerhorn St, High St. and other stations. Sadly, a skateboarder swipes the coins earned by an older singer who performs a terrific version of “A Change is Going to Come” on the platform. We glimpse brightly colored art on station walls through the train windows as we whisk past.

A Thousand and One is a story of gentrification in Harlem over the decades from the Giuliani to Bloomberg mayoralties, where a mother raises a child after spending time at Rikers Island jail. We see neighborhood landmarks along 125 Street, streetscapes with brownstones and commercial areas that upgrade, while her block is overtaken by white landlords, residents and contractors. We see Brookdale Medical Center in Brooklyn as well.

Sundance/Slamdance 2023: Built Environment
Still from The Pod Generation.

The Pod Generation (Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize), takes place in the near future in NYC. Rachel (Emilia Clarke) works in a sleek glass tower with ovoid windows on the High Line, and is is open to artificial possibilities in daily life such as having her unborn child gestate in a “shareable,” detachable artificial womb, or pod. Her husband Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a botanist and prone to “natural” world — natural pregnancy, food eaten from grown planets, and prefers their Fire Island-like country home on Shell Island to their sleek luxury city apartment.

Sundance/Slamdance 2023: Built Environment
Still from The Persian Version.

The Persian Version showcases Iranians in the New York metro area with scenes in Brooklyn (many walks across the Brooklyn Bridge) and suburban New Jersey.

You Hurt My Feelings, Nicole Holofcener’s film is rooted in New York where she spent her early years on Riverside Drive, and attended NYU and Columbia. It uses NYC locations like Paragon Sports, Balthazar, the New School, Central Park, Brooklyn brownstones and quintessential coffee shops. The characters are a writer wife, shrink husband, interior decorator sister, actor brother-in law, and 23-year old son who works in a newly legal pot dispensary.

Sundance/Slamdance 2023: Built Environment
Still from Palookaville.

Palookaville (Episodes Grand Jury Prize, Slamdance) shows NYC street life as our hero, a fighter who thinks he’s Joe Lewis walks down Brooklyn streets (past an SBS bus kiosk on the sidewalk) and enters the Lafayette Avenue subway station.

All Sundance and Slamdance 2023 Category Reviews
The Built Environment
Visual Arts
Media Arts
Art + Life
Performing Arts
Literary Arts

Films Mentioned
Motel Drive. Director Brendan Geraghty. Slamdance
Addresses (Direcciones). Directors Maria Luisa Santaos & Carlo Nasisse. Slamdance.
Infinity Pool. Director Brandon Cronenberg. Sundance
Animalia. Director Sofia Alaoui. Sundance
Subway Stops. Director Joe Zakko. Slamdance
A Thousand and One. Director A.V. Rockwell. Sundance
The Pod Generation. Director Sophie Barthes. Sundance
The Persian Version. Director Maryam Keshavarz. Sundance
You Hurt My Feelings. Director Nicole Holofcener. Sundance
Palookaville. Direcctor Theodore Collatos. Slamdance

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Media

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