Higher Ground at Sundance

The 2011 Sundance Film Festival is driven by ultimate questions. John Horn from the Los Angeles Times notes how bad faith fuels films like Salvation Boulevard, The Ledge, and Kevin Smith’s bloody Red State. Festival programmer John Cooper told Horn, “It’s America looking at itself.” Even the Sundance website acknowledges the rise of spiritual cinematic themes this year. The great news is that many of these refreshing films are likely to reach theaters this coming year. We have more than 100 students from faith-fueled schools like Fuller Seminary, Biola University, Taylor University, and Pt. Loma University gathered here to grapple with these deep themes. 

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Precious is the most basic, extraordinary and humane film of 2009.  After a summer of silliness, Precious arrives as a bracing alternative, powered by jolting performances from Mo’Nique and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe.   It takes viewers inside the tragic life of a teen mother.   It puts a face on poverty, abuse, and perseverance.   Precious offers hard-earned hope amidst overwhelming odds.

I had the privilege of seeing Precious on the night it won the Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.  Director Lee Daniel was delighted to discover that ‘white folk’ liked his unapologetically ‘black’ film.   Initially, it was called Push:  Based upon the Novel by Sapphire.  It arrived at Sundance with little fanfare, but got way under audiences' skin.   Now, the star (and theme) of the film has been pushed to the forefront—everything revolves around Precious.   Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey have added their endorsement.   Viewers have responded by breaking box office records in both upscale art-houses and down-home black theaters.   Just as pundits declared independent film dead, Precious redefines what's possible.

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Recap of Sundance '09

Day 5: Dan Parris raps up Sundance '09

Conversant @ Sundance Day 4

Day 4: Dan continues to ask great questions and gets a nice plug for 'Give A Damn?'


The Sundance Film Festival is always full of surprises.  Some are snappy like Little Miss Sunshine or silly like Napoleon Dynamite.  Others are serious like An Inconvenient Truth.  A surprising number of Sundance movies are deeply spiritual.   They range from the dark comedy of Adam’s Apples to the heartfelt drama of Save Me.  

For five years, I’ve taken a group of students to Sundance in search of transcendent moments.  We call our gathering the Windrider Forum.   At the 2008 fest, we were surprised by the sublime charms of Henry Poole is Here.  Yet, like many independent films, it experienced a quiet death at the box office.   I kickoff off the 2009 edition of Sundance with a tribute to this overlooked gem, starring Luke Wilson.

A look back: Sundance 2008

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