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Sundance: Catechism Cataclysm and Sound of My Voice

Hey gang, Ben here. Today's post comes courtesy of Ryan Hall, who runs the fantastic music blog Tome to the Weather Machine out of Salt Lake City. Ryan had the opportunity to take a one-day jaunt up to Park City for this year's Sundance Festival. Both of the movies he saw - Catechism Cataclysm and Sound of My Voice - have been generating some serious buzz. Thanks for the reviews, Ryan!

Being a resident of Salt Lake City I have a love/hate relationship with the Sundance Film Festival. On one hand it is totally easy to hate on the hordes of famous and wealthy anglophiles who descend on our strange little berg with their furs, boots and fur-lined boots only talk shit on our town and keep their money up in the fabulously wealthy ski town of Park City. Sundance is a strange place, a maddening place, full of entitlement and pretense. But it is still difficult to fault it.

Sundance is still Sundance. It is an amazing experience for a delightfully undiscovered place like Utah to host America’s premiere film festival. It does a lot for us economically and culturally…Plus, the films are almost always top notch. Over the past couple of years Sundance has been desperately trying to return to its roots by taking greater risks in their programming choice. Their gamble has certainly paid off as critical focus has shifted from the dumping ground for mainstream director’s one offs with tacit distribution deals already in the works to more risky and challenging works from first time directors and left-of-the-dial provocateurs.

I have been doing Sundance for the past four years. I usually took a day off of work/school, bought tickets early and marathoned a 9:00 AM – Midnight full day of films. This year, being on a shoestring budget of $40, I decided to do things differently. Every year I promise myself I am going to check out Slamdance but I never do. By sheer lack of foresight I assumed Slamdance ran the same schedule as its more famous older brother. I was wrong. The hotel where Slamdance is held every year was back to being a regular hotel. This lack of planning caused me to only catch two films this year. Learn from my fail: Go in with a gameplan. Sundance/Slamdance is a fickle dance of wait listing, planning ahead and having at least two backup plans if films sell out.

The first film I saw was Todd Rohal’s sophomore film Catechism Cataclysm about a priest played by Steve Little (Eastbound and Down) and a former local metalhead god played by Robert Longstreet (Great World of Sound) who set off on a weekend canoe trip from hell. Catechism Cataclysm is a comedy that, while relying heavily on a poop jokes and a Scanners-style head explosion, weaves a strange narrative that is half allegorical Old Testament Bible tale and half reflexive commentary on the art of story telling itself. Things get weird when two Japanese girls who are recreating the great American tropes of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer (along with their “slave” Jim) cross paths with Little and Longstreet. I mean like really weird. But if donkeys talk, women get turned to salt in the Bible the hijinks in Catechism Cataclysm are par for the course of a modern day retelling of faith, destiny and rock-head resurrections (that is a literal statement). Catechism Cataclysm was produced by David Gordon Green and Danny McBride.

The second film I saw was Zal Batmanglij’s brilliant Sound of My Voice. Sound of My Voice was co-written by and starred Sundance 2011’s “it girl” Britt Marling. Marling co-wrote and starred in Sound of My Voice (part of the new ultra-low budget NEXT section) and the U.S Dramatic Competition film Another World. Both are high-concept science fiction films that put human drama front and center. In Sound of My Voice Marling plays a charismatic and utterly mesmerizing cult leader Maggie who is supposedly from the year 2054. Maggie has come back to lead a small group of recruits through the next civil war into a new age of peace and seemingly spartan anarcho-communal living. The narrative centers around a young couple Peter and Lorna who join the cult in order to expose its less-than-honorable intentions. Through the narrative the line between truth and reality, intention and belief, are obscured when Peter and Lorna find themselves in way to deep to extricate themselves easily. Bringing up way more questions than it answered, Sound of My Voice feels much more like a pilot to a series (the director did confirm this is a part of a trilogy), the film has the makings of a new Lost-type mythological arc or a thinking man’s Terminator.

I wish I had more to write here but lack of funds and poor planning made for a somewhat unfulfilling Sundance experience. There is much more that I wanted to see. Elgin James, Matthew Lessner and Richard Ayade (!!!) all have films that I was dying to see. We can only hope they get picked up and distributed. While I didn’t get to see that many films I spent a lot of time at the New Frontiers in both Park City and Salt Lake. 2011’s New Frontiers was an exceptional (and huge!) collection of cutting edge visual art, and interactive story telling. Bill T. Jones’ 3D dance piece After Ghostcatching and Mark Boulos’ split screen documentary All That is Solid Melts Into Air were exceptionally powerful and moving.

-Ryan Hall

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