Sundance 2011 Reviews: Another Earth, Little Birds, Kinyarwanda

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Film editor was at Sundance this year. Here’s a round-up of some of the films he saw.

Another Earth
The synopsis of Another Earth sounds misleadingly sci-fi heavy: Scientists suddenly discover a second Earth whose unusual orbit has hidden it from view behind the sun all this time, and soon learn that there are strange parallels between that Earth and our own, including the possibility of alternate selves for each one of us. Sounds like an episode of The Twilight Zone, right? In fact, all that is just a setup for a deeply personal and philosophical exploration of identity, remorse, loss and reconciliation. The particulars of the story are best left to the film itself, but Mike Cahill’s direction is spot-on, and Brit Marling’s tour de force as producer, co-writer and one of the very best actors at Sundance is stunning. If not for the magnificent Take Shelter, this would have been the film of the festival, by a long shot.

Little Birds
The Salton Sea is a fascinating enough topographic anomaly all its own, but these days, with its resort-heyday past and its crumbling decaying present, it’s an eerie post-apocalyptic setting for any number of situations. Which makes it an ideal setting for a story of desperate adolescent ennui and longing, and its accompanying dangers, which is what writer/director Elgin James has given us. James is a former gangbanger who, in introducing the film, touchingly referred to filmmaking as saving his life. His life experiences prove valuable in convincingly creating the skater-punk underworld in LA that his two main characters, teenage girl best friends, evetually end up exploring. But it’s the relationship between the two, drawn out by two wonderful performances by good girl Kay Pannabaker and bad girl Juno Temple, that is the real showstopper. Temple, in particular, is headed for stardom.

It would be easy to label Kinyarwanda as Crash meet Hotel Rwanda. Like Crash, it tells six stories of seemingly unrelated characters whose lives eventually intertwine. Like Hotel Rwanda, it centers around historical acts of great cruelty and great courage during the hundred days of the Rwandan genocide. But Kinyarwanda is arguably a better movie than either. It’s the first feature film produced by Rwandans, and its treatment of the crisis is so personal and compelling, so deeply felt, that it will take your breath away. It was a thrill to see the film win the Audience Award at Sundance, and an honor to greet and embrace the filmmakers afterward and share in the moment. An ennobling film.

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