Susan Morris | Essays

Sundance/Slamdance 2023: Literary Arts

On the literary front, the 2023 Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals featured Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project (Sundance U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary winner) which profiles the writer and activist in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, showcasing her exquisite poetry, and who puckishly says “I remember what’s important and I make up the rest.”

Judy Blume
Still from Judy Blume Forever

The author of children’s and young adult books, Judy Blume Forever, tells the story of the late-blooming author whose work deals with religion, masturbation, menstruation, sex, birth control, and death, has gone through censorship of her work then and now.

Still from Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

Acting was also featured in films. Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie shows how the actor deals with Parkinson’s disease without pity.  Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields traces the actresses life from child star to adulthood, embracing and reckoning with her natural beauty. One interviewee says Shields “is a nuclear version of what it is like to be judged by your appearance,” and Pauline Kael called her the “girl with a woman’s face.” She went from child model, to a sexualized adolescent, most notably in Louis Malle’s film Pretty Baby, about a girl growing up and then groomed in a New Orleans brothel.  

Jennifer Connelly plays a former child actor in Bad Behavior. She goes on a spiritual retreat in Oregon which seems like such a scam it’s hard to take seriously, and communicates with her stuntwoman daughter on location in New Zealand.

The mockumentary Theater Camp at AdirondACTS (think Waiting for Guffman, 1996) is the original musical that is the highlight of every summer at the camp. It really is like an updated “Springtime for Hitler,” the show within The Producers (1967) where there is a scene of emigrating to the U.S. in 1963, although it looks like the turn of the last century.

In the short Audition, a Black single mother’s babysitter cancels, so she brings her young, rambunctious son to her tryout. The part she’s auditioning for is of a mother who needs to find work, so she improvises by picking up her boisterous child during the audition and continues the scene. It’s utter frustration but she handles it all with aplomb although we don’t find out if she got the part.

The takedown of a right-wing radio station involves a performance artist who uses eggs, hypnotic music played on vinyl, and a theater troupe doing Molière’s play “The Misanthrope” (1666) in Nut Jobs.

Sign the Show shows sign language translators at concerts (the deaf experience performance through feeling the beat, reading written lyrics, and seeing the stage extravaganza without hearing the music), plays, comedy shows (visual humor more than verbal, like puns). They are really performance artists in their own right.

Who’s Annie? is a sitcom pilot about a recently incarcerated actress Annie Pisapia, who is in her 50s, has graduated from a 12-step program and five marriages and has appeared as an extra in countless TV productions (Blue Bloods, Law and Order, and Orange is the New Black all of which we flash through). A chance encounter with aspiring director Sophia has the two women hatch a plan to make a program about Annie’s life. 

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

Films Mentioned
Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project. Directors Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson. Sundance
Judy Blume Forever. Directors Davina Pardo, Leah Wolchok. Sundance
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie. Director Davis Guggenheim. Sundance
Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields. Director Lana Wilson. Sundance
Bad Behavior. Director Alice Englert. Sundance
Theater Camp. Directors Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman.  undance
Audition. Director Richard Van. Slamdance
Nut Jobs. Director Alexandre Leblanc. Slamdance
Sign the Show. Director Cat Brewer. Slamdance
Who’s Annie? Director Sophia Peer. Slamdance

Posted in: Arts + Culture

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