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Sundance celebrates the ‘magic’ of being back in-person

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Sundance celebrates the 'magic' of being back in-person

The Sundance Film Festival met the moment by going virtual for the past two years because of the coronavirus pandemic. But on Thursday, there was a palpable sense of relief from the festival’s leadership team at being in-person again.

Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente, director of programming Kim Yutani, senior programmer John Nein and incoming Sundance Film Festival director Eugene Hernandez gathered Thursday afternoon in Park City, Utah, to discuss what’s to come. Just outside, on a snowy Main Street, finishing touches were being put on storefronts and restaurants that sponsors have taken over for the week.

“It feels so good to be back in person,” Vicente said. “There’s nothing like the magic of being together in Park City.”

Yutani also announced the last-minute addition of “Justice,” a documentary from filmmaker Doug Liman about allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, that will debut Friday.

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“It was a powerful documentary that we felt was important to add,” Yutani said. “We saw it, like, yesterday.”

Eleven films have their world premieres Thursday night, including the documentary “Little Richard: I Am Everything” and the Frankenstein-inspired psychological horror “birth/rebirth,” about a morgue technician who reanimates a little girl. Also on Thursday, “Shayda,” about an Iranian mother and her 6-year-old daughter who go to a women’s shelter in Australia, “The Longest Goodbye,” a documentary about a NASA psychologist preparing Mars-bound astronauts for social isolation, the Daisy Ridley film “Sometimes I Think About Dying” and “Kim’s Video,” a documentary about a hunt for a lost video collection of 55,000 movies.

Programmers watched 16,000 films to determine this year’s slate of 111 films and say that there is something for everyone. Biographical documentaries, films about world issues and diasporic filmmaking are especially popular this year.

Nein said that he expects audiences to be buzzing about the performances of both known stars like Jonathan Majors, in “Magazine Dreams,” Cynthia Erivo, in “Drift,” and Eugenio Derbez in “Radical” and newcomers like Lío Mehiel in “Mutt” and Priya Kansara in “Polite Society.”

The Sundance Institute is also hosting a dinner Thursday night honoring filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, Ryan Coogler, Nikyatu Jusu and W. Kamau Bell. There will also be a fundraising component to support the Institute’s work. Vicente said that it has been a challenging few years for the Institute, financially.

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Sundance is not just a festival, after all. The non-profit institute, founded by Robert Redford in 1981, provides year-round support to emerging filmmakers with labs, fellowships and mentorship.

“The festival is this amazing platform to celebrate and share with audiences,” Vicente said. “But really, as Robert Redford says, the engine, the most important work we do happens year-round.”

Filmmaker Sophie Barthes, whose film “The Pod Generation” is among the opening night selections, attributes her career to the Sundance Institute. Her first short film debuted at the festival almost 20 years ago, marking the beginning of a relationship that continues to this day. Over the years, she participated in the director’s lab, the composers’ lab and the writers’ lab. It’s also where she debuted her first feature, “Cold Souls,” with Paul Giamatti, in 2009.

“I wouldn’t be here without Sundance,” Barthes said in a recent interview. “They helped my career so much. I had like 50 advisers, the best of the best in the industry. It was like a film school on steroids. For filmmakers it’s the best thing that can happen to you because once you enter the family, they help and support you.”

Her film “The Pod Generation” is a futuristic satire about a New York couple (played by Emilia Clarke and Chiwetel Ejiofor) who use an “artificial womb” to get pregnant. She wanted to explore not-so-far-off advancements like artificial gestation and AI therapy and poke at ideas like detachment parenting.

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“It’s a satire about the fact that we’ve lost so many of our instincts because of this modern life, we’re trying to reinvent the wheel and it becomes very comical,” Barthes said. “I think it’s very funny to explore the psychology of parents, especially in New York.”

She hopes the film raises a debate about our relationship to technology. It will also be part of the “beyond film” conversations taking place in Park City outside of the cinemas throughout the week. Subjects range from how to cross-over from television to film, with “Flight Attendant” director Susanna Fogel whose “Cat Person” is premiering at the festival, to representation, with Randall Park and Marlee Matlin. There will be conversations about making your first feature and even burnout, with Majors, food writer Ruth Reichl and graphic novelist Adrian Tomine. Many of the sponsors, from Acura to Adobe, are also hosting timely conversations as well about climate change in movies, reclaiming trans narratives, building inclusive productions and even getting into Sundance.

The festival has continued to evolve over the past few years. Though in-person was the priority, they also committed to a hybrid format. This year some 80 films will be available to watch online for ticketholders. The digital package, Vicente said, sold out very quickly.

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Jailed Iran filmmaker Jafar Panahi says on hunger strike

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Jailed Iran filmmaker Jafar Panahi says on hunger strike

Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who has been jailed for the last six months, said he has begun a hunger strike to protest his continued detention, according to a statement published by his wife Thursday.

Panahi, whose films have won prizes at all of Europe’s main film festivals, was arrested in July even before the current wave of protests that have shaken the regime started in September.

There were expectations last month that the judiciary could order his release, but he remains behind bars in Tehran’s Evin prison.

He started his dry hunger strike, refusing food and water, from Wednesday, he said in the statement.

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“Today, like many people trapped in Iran, I have no choice but to protest against this inhumane behaviour with my dearest possession — my life,” said Panahi.

“In protest against the illegal and inhumane behaviour of the judicial and security apparatus and this hostage-taking, I have started a dry hunger strike as of February 1. I will refuse to eat and drink any food and medicine until the time of my release.

“I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison.”

Panahi, 62, was arrested on July 11 and had been due to serve a six-year sentence handed down in 2010 after his conviction for “propaganda against the system”.

But on October 15, the Supreme Court quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial, raising hopes among his legal team he could be released.

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Panahi won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 for his film “The Circle”. In 2015, he won the Golden Bear at Berlin for “Taxi Tehran”, and in 2018, he won the best screenplay prize at Cannes for “Three Faces”.

Panahi’s July arrest came after he attended a court hearing for fellow film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who had been detained a few days earlier.

Rasoulof was released from prison on January 7 after being granted a two-week furlough for health reasons and is still believed to be outside of jail.

Cinema figures have been among the thousands of people arrested by Iran in its crackdown on the protests sparked by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested for allegedly violating its strict dress code for women.

Star actor Taraneh Alidoosti, who had published images of herself without wearing the Islamic headscarf, was among those detained although she was released in early January after being held for almost three weeks. 

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Shekhar Kapur all praise for Sajal Aly

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Shekhar Kapur all praise for Sajal Aly

Indian filmmaker Shekar Kapur sees Pakistan actor Sajal Aly “more than a petty face” as he praised the star for her acting skills.

The highly anticipated international debut film, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”, featuring Aly, is soon to be released globally. During promotions, the film’s director, Shekar Kapur, praised Sajal’s performance and shared that she was highly recommended to him by her peers.

Kapur stated that Sajal’s beauty on screen is accompanied by her depth and maturity as an actress. “She is obviously very beautiful. Whenever she comes on screen, she has that aura. During screenings, I always heard someone gasping,” he said mimicking a surprised emotion. “So there’s no doubt that she’s beautiful, but behind that beauty, her performances have a lot of pain and strength as well.”

He advised Sajal to not confuse her character’s shyness and gentleness with weakness, and expressed his pride in the strength she portrayed in the film.

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“When we spoke about her character initially, I told her that you do not have to be perceived as weak. You’re gentle, you are shy and you have to portray that but gentleness and shyness are not the same as weakness. What you have to portray is strength. And now when you watch the film, you’ll realise the kind of strength she portrays,” he said.

The film, a romantic comedy-drama, also stars a talented cast including Lily James, Shazad Latif, and Emma Thompson, among others, with a cameo appearance by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

Sharing the news on Twitter, the producer Jemiama Khan wrote, “Our film opens today in Dubai and the Gulf Countries.”

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‘Besharam Rang’ wasn’t a hit due to controversy, says singer Shilpa Rao

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'Besharam Rang' wasn't a hit due to controversy, says singer Shilpa Rao

Shilpa Rao, who is also the singer of most controversial song of 2022-23, “Besharam Rang”, said the reason of the song’s success was not the controversy.

The singer said the song did not gain instant popularity because of all the controversy that raged after its release. Rather, she thinks that people actually understood the song especially after watching it along with the movie.

Rao stated, “I still believe that a song has to be great as it is. So, it is very important for it to have a good melody and lyrics that people can connect with. When it reaches that stage, only then will people pick it up and make it popular, so the promotion, reach, and reels will come after that.”

She further went on to say, “I think the only reason this song has done so well is because people have actually got the meaning of the song, which is to express yourself without apologies and to love yourself the way you are. People got that and so, they are expressing themselves and that’s why it’s getting popular.”

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When asked about her personal opinion about Pathaan, Shilpa remarked, “I’ve seen the film. It feels really great to be a part of such an enriching project. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it was thrilling to see others’ reactions too. ‘Pathaan’ promised to be a great film and it kept that promise,” reported Indian media.

Shilpa Rao is widely-known for songs like; “Ghungroo”, “Malang”, “Khuda Jaane”, “Subhanallah”, “Bulleya” and many others.

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