PARK CITY, Utah - A running theme at every Sundance Film Festival is collaboration.
Any director with a shred of humility left cites collaboration, how it wasn't his or her film, it was the work of many members of a large crew and cast. What makes the new Beastie Boys concert film and Ian Inaba's American Blackout so different (but not entirely unique) is they advance the idea of the collaborative film as its own genre - let's call these movies collabs.
The Beasties' Awesome: I ... Shot That! the best title for a film in Sundance history, according to programmer Trevor Goth, though unprintable in full in most publications, looks at first like every concert film. There are the usual psych-ups in the backstage lounge before going on, slickly handled stage shots, audience members filtering to their seats.
What makes this one (at least in theory) so different is most of it is composed of the work of 50 random audience members, who were given handheld cameras and told to shoot whatever they wanted. The results, accented by a half-dozen professionals (whose footage eats up too much time), were then edited into Awesome. (The film opens in late March.) I spoke with director Adam Yauch and he said, "Frankly, I would have watched an entire concert movie of just the audience watching us."
Who doesn't love the crowd shots in the concert film more than the concert? However pumping the soundtrack and thrilling the performance, it's the audience's relationship to the camera that sustains the 90 minutes. A concert film without the band on camera at all would have made for something truly special.
Anyway, their idea remains inspired: Only a few days before a 2004 Madison Square Garden show, the Beasties sprung the idea on producer Neal Austin. They posted a note on their Web site looking for participants. Once chosen, the audience members were given no training. Some shot themselves in the bathroom; others shot their friends singing along. When the Beasties were done, most of the video cameras, bought off the shelves of big-box stores, were returned for a refund.
As for American Blackout: It was shot partly in Ohio, mostly on Election Day in 2004. Inaba calls it "a look at voter disenfranchisement during the Bush administration." Inaba is best known for his animated videofor Eminem's "Mosh," but he's also a founder of the Los Angeles-based Guerilla News Network. The purpose of the film, he said, was to take advantage of the digital cameras that tagged along with voters in 2004.
His comments echo those of a dozen filmmakers here: "It's not the film that matters. Raising the issue is our goal," he said. "A lot of filmmakers are here for artistic reasons. We have purely journalistic reasons."
American Blackout is also the kind of picture that drives Laura Paglin crazy. Inaba says he started making films just three years ago. American Blackout is his third film at Sundance. Paglin has been making films since she was in high school in Cleveland, back in the late 1970s. Her newest short, No Umbrella: Election Day in the City, is her first film at Sundance. And it's also about voter disenfranchisement in Ohio, primarily Cleveland. It's a tight 26 minutes - she hopes making it ideal for a television sale.
"On one hand, I would have never been able to afford to get a film made if it weren't for the digital cameras I used," she said. "On the other, everyone and his brother is making a movie now. It used to be a special thing. I admit it's kind of annoying."
Shooting No Umbrella, she ran into camera crews filming her filming, which, in turn, she filmed herself. "They're annoyed. I'm annoyed." No Umbrella was accepted first into Slamdance, the parasitical festival that sprung up here in Sundance's wake. Then No Umbrella was accepted into Sundance and Paglin pulled her film from Slamdance.
"They were annoyed, too."
You hear "annoyed" a lot at Sundance. The runner-up is "stressed out." Both got a workout at the premiere of God Grew Tired of Us, as agents and press scrambled for tickets outside the Prospector Square theater. It was tougher to get into than the Beastie Boys film. It was also a documentary about a handful of Sudanese refugees who make their way in the United States. Brad Pitt executive produced. Nicole Kidman narrated. Which set it up to be an earnest, flaky failure, an easy target.
Guess what? It's an earnest, fascinating look at assimilation, and very early Oscar bait. How annoying.
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org