We preview six narrative features to play at Sundance 2013.

First Adaptation of David Sedaris’ Work
Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez

There might not be anything more exciting in the world of satirical comedy than the first-ever adaptation of a David Sedaris story. Written and directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, who wowed fest audiences back in 2008 with his debut film, Easier with Practice (taking home the “Someone to Watch” award at the 2012 Indie Spirits), C.O.G.—from the title of a story in Sedaris’ critically-acclaimed 1997 book Naked—is the tale of a cocky young man who travels to Oregon to work on an apple farm. Out of his element, he finds his lifestyle and values being picked apart by everyone who crosses his path. Eventually he winds up taking a job cutting pieces of stone into Oregon-shaped clocks alongside a man who describes himself as a “Child of God”­—hence the acronym C.O.G.—and the two try to sell their handiwork at local craft fairs. Tenuous titling, yes, but isn’t that one of the reason we love Sedaris?

Alvarez is hesitant to clarify who’s actually playing Sedaris, but our best bet is Jonathan Groff, who’s done wonders both as a nemesis lead glee boy on “Glee,” and as the ruthless honey badger Ian Todd from “Boss.” C.O.G. also stars Denis O’Hare (of “True Blood” and “The Good Wife”), Corey Stoll, Dean Stockwell, Casey Wilson, and Troian Bellisario. Definitely look for this film in theaters later this year.


I Used to Be Darker
Signals Porterfield’s Arrival as Major Indie Player
Directed by Matthew Porterfield

The Kickstarter video for Matthew Porterfield’s I Used to Be Darker shows Porterfield getting a tattoo of the film’s title on his forearm. Backers who pledged $1,000 got to have their initials tattooed there, as well. (He ended up with three people’s initials, FYI.) I’m pretty sure that kind of commitment and sheer unadulterated determination is what makes an indie filmmaker truly badass. Porterfield ended up raising $42,394 as a last push for his third feature—a story about finding and letting go, about family and love and rocky futures—everything Sundance loves. The rest of the less-than-$1 million budget came from private equity and an arts grant. Shot entirely in Baltimore, Porterfield’s hometown, the film follows Taryn (played by newcomer Deragh Campbell), a Northern Irish girl who’s run away to seek refuge with her aunt and uncle in Baltimore, only to find their marriage ending and her cousin (played by Hannah Gross) in crisis. Putty Hill, his sophomore feature that gained popular acclaim at Berlin and SXSW, officially put Porterfield on the indie film radar. But this year as a first-time Sundance competitor, he’s in line to be a new major arthouse player.


The Future
Brings Roberto Bolaño to the silver screen
Directed by Alicia Scherson

With principle photography beginning back in the summer of 2011, 2013 finally brings great news for The Future—perhaps the most “global” film at Sundance. A four-way co-production amongst Chile’s Bruno Bettati, Germany’s Pandora, Italy’s Movimento Film, and Spain’s Astronauta Films, the drama was written and directed by Chilean-born Alicia Scherson, was filmed in Rome, and is an adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s Una Novelita Lumpen (by the way, this marks the first time anyone’s brought work from the late, great South American novelist to the silver screen). Sundance will be The Future’s world premiere, but Scherson is no stranger to the fest circuit. Her first feature film, Play, premiered at Tribeca in 2005, where it won her Best Director. And in 2010, her second feature, Touristas, won the New Directors Showcase Award at the Seattle International Film Festival. Following in her own creative footsteps, The Future illustrates the coming together of strangers who find themselves in tough situations: For orphaned siblings Bianca (Manuela Martelli) and Tomas (Luigi Ciardo) the dangerous streets of Rome and adulthood beckon. But Bianca finds Maciste (the often-cast villain Rutger Hauer), a retired Mr. Universe, and enters his dark mansion in search of a future. Looking for a dark and gritty foreign drama? Get tickets to The Future.


Sound City
Fascinating Doc on America’s Great Unsung Recording Studio
Directed by Dave Grohl

Can you think of anyone better to direct an indie rock doc than Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters (and, of course, Nirvana)? Dave Grohl couldn’t, either, which is why he took the helm of his first-ever film, Sound City. The documentary explore the endless, seminal recordings of Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, where albums like Nirvana’s “Nevermind” manifested—not to mention records by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Guns N’ Roses, Fleetwood Mac, and Metallica. “Sound City is a film about America’s greatest unsung recording studio,” writes Grohl on the film’s website. “Like the dark hallways of Sound City Studios itself, it might not be pretty…but it’s fucking REAL.” And with interviews from Pixies’ Frank Black, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, producers Rick Rubin and Trent Reznor, Garbage’s Butch Vig, Mick Fleetwood, Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, and Nirvana’s own Krist Novoselic, it will probably be the hardest documentary to secure tickets to in January. SXSW, the traditional launching pad of major rock docs, has already selected Grohl as one of their 2013 festival keynote speakers. They’re probably bummed they didn’t get to premiere the film, but we can more or less guarantee it’ll be in Austin in March, too.


Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Not a Modern-day Western, Stars Casey Affleck
Directed by David Lowery

This star-studded indie, both below and above the line—with DP Bradford Young (Pariah) and production designer Jade Healy (from the Josh Radnor camp), and talent like Rooney Mara, Ben Foster and Casey Affleck—is writer-director David Lowery’s second feature. Quite the lineup for a sophomore feature, we must say.St. Nick, Lowery’s freshman film, premiered at SXSW in 2009, and went on to screen at festivals around the world for the next two years, winning awards at several along the way, including AFI Dallas, Sidewalk Film Festival, and St. Louis International Film Festival. His short film, “Pioneer,” won Best Narrative Short at SXSW 2011. This latest endeavor is not necessarily a modern-day western. “Calling it that is actually something of a misnomer,” explains Lowery, “because it’s set decidedly in the past. Exactly when in the past is sort of vague, as there are shades from all sorts of different eras. We wanted to make a movie that felt old and well worn…like an old piece of wood or a folk song that’s been around longer than anyone can remember.” The story follows the tale of an outlaw couple (Affleck and Mara) in the spirit of Bonnie & Clyde. “The film begins with them being caught and then takes off from there,” hints Lowery.


Narco Cultura
Highlights Exactly why Narco Glorification is a Problem
Directed by Shaul Schwarz

Thanks in no small part to Hollywood’s romanticization of drug trafficking (ScarfaceTraffic, and Blow, not to mention “Weeds” and “Breaking Bad”), a lot of people on both sides of the Mexican/American border see Pablo Escobar, the Ochoa brothers, and the rest of the drug-dealing figureheads as occupying some moral space between admirable villains and folk heroes. But Narco Cultura’s director, Shaul Schwarz, wants to shine a light on our celebration of carteleños and pinpoint why our exultation is a major problem. The film focuses on the harsh day-to-day reality of living in border towns, where millions of Mexicans’ and Americans’ involvement in or, or proximity to, the drug trade is propagating a trend toward “Narco Luxury”—that brand of nouveau riche opulence that condones jewel-encrusted Ak-47s. Schwarz, born in Israel, began his photographic career in the Israeli Air Force. “Growing up in Israel,” he says, “I was fascinated by telling stories of societies affected by conflict. But rather than focusing on the first circle—the soldier, the politician, the protester—I was interested in looking at the indirect effects that seep into people’s everyday lives; I was looking at how children are raised, how war comes into our lives through different channels. I think this had a direct effect on the way I wanted to tell the story of the drug war almost 20 years later. Conflict and its effects are deeper and more complicated when looked at through a perspective that tries to understand how one man’s criminal is another man’s Robin Hood.” This film is Schwarz’s first endeavor into filmmaking and is sure to be one of the heaviest hitting docs in Park City this year. MM