Blog: Pirates, Paradise and a ‘Hit’ at Slamdance


I have perfected the art of writing these posts by text on my iPhone. Of course, I would prefer to sit down in comfort and type on an ergonomically correct desk in my hotel room. But if it’s between staying up past 2 a.m. to write vs. being antisocial in a line, I choose to be mobile.

After a fiasco trying to get into the in-demand Michael Fassbender film Frank, I chose the salacious doc Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart.

The well-produced HBO documentary had my eyes glued to the screen as intensely as other comparable true crime films Thin Blue Line and Paradise Lost. Documentaries here at Sundance are the least riskiest films to see and virtually guaranteed winners. This year has been no exception.

One of the big curiosity films for me this year is the Somali pirate film Fishing Without Nets, directed by Cutter Hodierne. With another Somali pirate film in the works here in Canada, it’s curious to see how different perspectives on the topic play out.

It turned to be a terrific film,  also another example of the transition from shorts to features, as this first feature from Hodierne expands on the director’s Sundance Jury Prize winning short film of the same name.  The Harold Greenberg Fund in fact has a program very specific to this.

The first major acquisition belonged to Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, the opening night film which just about wowed everybody, including Sony Picture Classics who picked it up for a rumoured $3 million. Look closely in the credits and you’ll see Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity) as the producer, proving he has the Midas touch when it comes to low-budget films.

Putting my ear to the ground for other buzzing titles brings up Infinitely Polar Bear starring Mark Ruffalo and directed by Maya Forbes, as mentioned,  Frank, a strange UK film featuring Michael Fassbender on screen much of the time wearing a large head mask, and the Aussie Midnight entry The Babadook, directed by  Jennifer Kent. And by listening in to other people’s conversations, it sounds like the Columbian film Marmato, produced by Canadian Stuart Reid, is impressive.

After a walkout (whose title shall remained nameless) it was Rory Kennedy’s Last Days of Vietnam. A tremendously powerful moment-by-moment doc recounting the military evacuation of Saigon in 1975. I knew the broad strokes of this story, but the details are pure cinematic drama. A smattering of applause from the normally reserved P&I crowd confirmed my initial reaction of this film as something special.

Events turned to Slamdance at the end of the day for the premiere of Dane Clark/Linsey Stewart’s I Put a Hit on You (pictured) made for a crazy-small budget, but one stretched well beyond its value. A really fun film and impressive DIY execution.

Alan Bacchus is the Programs Manager for Bell Media’s The Harold Greenberg Fund, overseeing the Script Development Program for Canadian feature films. Alan is a member of the Online Film Critics Society, writing for Exclaim! as well as his own blog,  Alan has also produced and directed a number of short films.