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Film gems stand out at Sundance Film Festival, Palm Springs Film Festival

By Don Marshall

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Feb. 14 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

The prize-winning documentary "Waste Land," set in Brazil, was a hit at Sundance.

Sundance Film Festival, Associated Press

Since it started as the Utah and then the U.S. Film Festival nearly 30 years ago, I've been attending what eventually became the now world-famous Sundance Film, held annually in picturesque but usually cold and snowy Park City, Utah.

I've also attended the Palm Springs Film Festival, set among the palm trees and surrounded by mountains, in the warm desert of sunny California for nearly 20 years.

Both are held annually in January, with Palm Springs running for 10 days during the first half of January, followed, two or three days later, by Sundance — which also lasts for nine or 10 days.

And how do they compare?

Let's talk first about their attendees. I would guess the average age of the audience at Palm Springs screenings to be somewhere around 55 — and possibly older, since that particular setting is greatly comprised of retirees.

Sundance, on the other hand might attract an average age of about 35.

The films reflect the audiences, with Sundance being known for its independent and — this year more than ever — much edgier and more daring fare.

Not that the films at Palm Springs don't cover a wide range of subjects; they do, in fact, feature even more foreign films than Sundance — approximately 50 of which are the submissions from their various countries for America's Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

The films at Palm Springs can certainly be "cutting edge" in many ways, but you'll be much less apt to be bombarded by the graphic sex and profanities that plagued most of the films at this year's Sundance Festival, where two or three films bordered on porn, and wall-to-wall use of the F word was almost a given in several of the films, including the prize-winning "Restrepo."

Nevertheless, each year both festivals come up with their little "masterpieces" — the kind you want to tell everyone about.

Highest on my list from Sundance would probably have to be the very memorable and life-changing documentaries — first of which would have to be the prize-winning "Waste Land." It features artist Vik Muniz going back to his homeland of Brazil and recruiting a select group of lovable "garbage pickers" to help him create (out of the 200 tons of garbage dumped daily in Rio de Janeiro) jaw-dropping art works.

Another exceptional documentary that is bound to move you emotionally is "The Sins of My Father," in which the son of the world's most notorious druglord, Pablo Escobar of Colombia, goes back to his homeland to ask forgiveness from the sons of the two leaders whose assassinations had been ordered by his father.

Also very powerful is the documentary "Climate Refugees," which everyone should see. Startling, disturbing and heartbreaking, it opens our eyes to the need we have, as humans, to do whatever we can to help the many countries that will simply be swallowed up by the sea or shriveled up and destroyed from drought if serious changes are not brought about immediately.

Enlightening as well is the documentary "Smash His Camera," about the earnest, dedicated but now-aging celebrity-photographer Ron Galella, whose jaw was broken by Marlon Brando and who was sued by Jacqueline Kennedy; and sure to give pause for thought is the controversial documentary on gays and the LDS Church called "The Mormon Proposition."

Aside from the documentaries, high on my list is the superbly done and highly atmospheric prize-winner "Winter's Bone," set in the backwoods of the Ozarks and featuring a cast that simply couldn't be more perfect. And for a re-creation of John Lennon's troubled teenage years and the origin of what became the Beatles, "Nowhere Boy" is excellently done.

Australia's prize-winning "Animal Kingdom" may be too rough, hard-hitting and disturbing for some viewers, but it's one of the best films about a family involved in criminal activity that I've seen in a long, long time.

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