Armchair Globetrotter

Let Sundance whisk you around the world in 11 days courtesy of Sundance

Our pretty, great state has much to offer—including, for 11 days every January, a chance to travel the world without leaving town. The Sundance Film Festival’s spotlight on international cinema has broadened in recent years—the 2016 fest showcased 37 feature films representing more than 30 countries—and programmers work year-round to find the gems hidden in every corner of the world.

“We’ve gotten to see a lot of movies that upend what we might expect from films from a certain region,” said Heidi Zwicker, a seven-year veteran of the Sundance programming team. For example, the Middle East is fertile ground for topical dramas, but Zwicker said, “We increasingly see filmmakers from the region taking on different forms and genres,” like the 2016 entry Halal Love (And Sex), a Lebanese satirical romantic comedy.

While it’s too early to talk about specific foreign films playing at Sundance ’17, Zwicker commented on general trends. “We can’t entirely predict, but we’ve definitely seen strong films from Brazil in the last few years,” she said. Chinese films—“a country from which we don’t always see a lot of independent work”—have also been on the rise.

For those who can’t attend Sundance in person, it’s easy to curate your own festival in the warmth of your own home (where the lines are probably shorter, too). Here’s an alternate schedule of 11 films—one for each day of the festival—that you can watch at home while taking a whirlwind trip around the globe.


Bus 174 (Sundance ’03)

This documentary about a Brazilian “lost boy” who takes a bus hostage highlights that country’s problems with poverty and crime, incorporating real footage of the standoff—it was covered live on TV—with re-enactments and interviews. It’s as gripping and twisty as a fictional Hollywood thriller. Available on Amazon, DVD

Live-In Maid (Sundance ’05)

A warm, droll film about a hoity-toity heiress who has squandered her fortune but can’t stand to give up her maid of 30 years, who’s as much a friend as an employee. Nice portrait of two independent women struggling to hide how dependent we all are. Available on Amazon, DVD

The Babadook (Sundance ’14)

A single mom with a “difficult” child is at her wits’ end when a creepy children’s book mysteriously appears … and then can’t be disposed of.  Not only is this a terrifically scary horror film, it’s also an insightful metaphor for depression and guilt. Available on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, DVD

The Raid: Redemption (Sundance ’12)

Do you like action? Do you like movies where dudes beat the living hell out of each other with their fists, their feet and whatever weapons are nearby? The Raid is nothing but that. (There’s a plot, kind of, and some characters, in a way.) It’s one of the most jaw-droppingly frenetic and intense movies in the genre’s history. Available on iTunes, Amazon, DVD

Kung Fu Hustle (Sundance ’05)

Like a live-action Looney Tunes short, Stephen Chow’s whimsical, delirious martial-arts comedy—about a village defending itself against dancing marauders—is unflaggingly funny and energetic. You’ve probably never seen anything like it. Available on iTunes, Amazon, DVD

The Return (Sundance ’04)

Here’s a compelling and confident, albeit bleak drama about two boys whose father returns after an unexplained 12-year absence. Biblical parallels and other symbolism add to the film’s thoughtful demeanor. Available on Amazon, DVD


Circumstance (Sundance ’11)
Set in present-day Tehran, this coming-of-age story has two teenage girls experimenting with partying and sex, while their families try to rein them in. Captures modern youth culture in Iran with sensitivity. Available on iTunes, Amazon, DVD

Ivy (Sarmasik) (Sundance ’15)

Six men are stranded by bureaucracy on a cargo ship off the coast of Egypt, where tensions run high. So do the metaphors for the economic collapse and other existential concerns. Available on iTunes, Amazon, DVD

Sembene! (Sundance ’15)

Ousmane Sembene bristled at being called the father of African cinema, but that’s what he was. This is a joyful documentary about him, examining his life and work in a way that can be appreciated by people who never saw his movies. Available on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, DVD

A Prophet (Sundance ’12)

Jacques Audiard’s Oscar-nominated prison drama has a low-level Arab thug enter prison scared and nervous, then rise to power within the Corsican mafia as he navigates the separate worlds of Muslims and non-Muslims. A visceral, compelling take on an old genre. Available on iTunes, Amazon, DVD

The Sea (Sundance ’03)
A good old-fashioned family melodrama about greed, selfishness and seafood. Think Dallas, but set in an Icelandic fishing village. Highly entertaining, almost a guilty pleasure (except there’s no need to feel bad). Available on Amazon, DVD



How to Sundance

Sundance draws visitors from around the world, but about one-third of all attendees are locals. Here’s how to take advantage of your status as a Utahn:
The Locals SLC Pass ($400) gets you into any Salt Lake City screening during the festival. This saves you a drive to Park City, where parking is limited and expensive; on the other hand, you’re less likely to see celebrities in SLC. But if all you care about is the movies, it’s perfect.
The Grand Theatre Pass ($300) gets you into films playing at Salt Lake Community College’s Grand Theatre on the two weekends of the festival (Jan. 20-22, 27-29). Great for locals who have, y’know, jobs during the week.
There are also options for packages of 10 tickets. Utahns can get one for $300, good for screenings at all venues, or $250 for SLC venues only.

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