Sundance 2015: ‘Wolfpack’ follows 7 kids locked in an apartment, raised on films

26 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Nikki Reed coy about love for rumored fiance Ian Somerhalder, but not for animals.

Movies at the Sundance Film Festival often arrive with tags of “originality” and “boldness.” But there are few offerings that substantiate the claim like “The Wolfpack,” a documentary about imprisonment, parental abuse and the power of classic films to redeem them both.

PARK CITY, Utah — Nikki Reed was coy when asked about her rumored engagement to actor Ian Somerhalder, saying only, “Life is really great right now and I’m so excited for the future.” But she was effusive about her love for animals. Crystal Moselle’s debut feature, which will premiere Sunday night at the independent-film gathering, tells of the real-life Angulo family, a set of six brothers and one younger sister growing up in a low-income development on New York’s Lower East Side.

The entertainer came to Sundance on Saturday to host the third annual Catdance Film Festival, a celebration of cats on screen that benefits the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Gerry, played by Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, is an empty shell of man who slumps through life in dumpy trousers listening only to Joe Navarro books on tape.

Cradling a tiny white kitten available for adoption, Reed says it was a natural fit for her to join Catdance, where all the felines on film are in need of homes. The cast was subdued at the after-screening Q & A, with Kidman explaining how difficult it was to dissect the movie after seeing her exposed, emotional performance for the first time on the big screen. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (“Half Nelson”) keep the motives and backstories of their leads ambiguous for most of the film, which laces every moment with tension and suspicion.

Their father, a convert to Hare Krishna, hopes to avoid the “contamination” of the streets below and keeps the children, who are home-schooled, strictly behind apartment doors. “I always metaphorically describe our childhood as him being the landowner and us the people who work on the land,” one of the children says in the film. “But if you want a more dramatic setting, we were in a prison and at night our cells would lock up.” In response to these conditions, the boys (their names are Bhagavan, Govinda, Mukunda, Narayana, Krisna and Jagadesh, though with many close in age and hairstyle, it can at times be hard to distinguish them) have turned to movies. The other major Australian entry is Partisan, written and directed by Ariel Kleiman in his first time feature, backed by the producers of Snowtown and starring Vincent Cassel as a father and assassin. Fleck joked that he didn’t know what she was talking about since he wasn’t there that day and moved on, eliciting some groans from audience members expecting a more thoughtful answer. Toni Collette is directed by Gerard Barrett in the Irish production Glassland, Guy Pearce takes the role of a personal trainer in Results and Ben Mendelsohn plays a down on his luck gambler in Mississippi Grind.

At the opening press conference to the festival’s slate of about 200 feature films, shorts and documentaries, founder Robert Redford was joined onstage by festival director John Cooper and Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam. Only the boys set out not only to view the films but to reenact them, and with an eerie attention to detail. “Pulp Fiction,” “Nightmare on Elm Street” and other modern hits are often staged and filmed, as are older classics. He said they were a type of long-form journalism that had gone missing in recent years. “We support filmmakers all over the world,” adds Putnam, “often in very tenuous situations telling stories. Entire movies are transcribed–not just the dialogue, but the gestures and the background details–so that the movies are staged with the utmost accuracy. In many places artists and storytellers and journalists are at risk so this is something we really need to stand for as a community.” Commenting on the Paris killings, Redford said: “There is an attack on freedom of expression in many different places, it’s not exclusive to Paris.

As the boys slowly emerge into the world over the course of the movie, their lives begin to take a different shape, and the collision produces some intriguing consequences. It’s diversity, showing us what there is out there.” Redford also clarified his original vision to start an independent film institute, not as a rival to Hollywood but to fill a gap that studio system was losing. “I was very fortunate as an actor for hire to be in what was then the mainstream in the 1960s and 70s. She befriended them and eventually spent nearly five years off and on at their apartment filming them, as well as unearthing a large amount of archival footage. “I felt like I was discovering a long-lost tribe in the Amazon,” she said in an interview. “There was a lot of awkwardness — I remember even having to explain to them what ‘small talk’ was, because they had no idea. But they were also really hungry for human interaction, and that was beautiful to watch.” Moselle said she sought to maintain her objectivity but at times did seek to help them understand more about the outside world. (Friends and family, at first concerned with how embedded she had become, soon came to know and like the boys.) She also became close with their mother — a sweet-natured woman caught in the cross-currents of a controlling husband and increasingly self-aware children, and perhaps the film’s most heartbreaking character. The boys trade in a kind of private language and even, notably, an exuberance, all of which can evoke “Capturing the Friedmans,” another movie about an insular family and possible parental malfeasance.

And then, in 1979, maybe, you could see it coming — there was cable and video on demand, and they were coming on real fast. “At the same time, Hollywood realised the money was with youth, so that drove Hollywood’s direction. With its mythic qualities, the movie, which is seeking distribution at Sundance, can almost come across like a fable. “I feel like there are so many larger repercussions — about raising children, about isolation,” Moselle said. “When someone is glued to Facebook all day, or to their computer, that’s a form of isolation too.” (And where better, it should be said, to spotlight a media-saturated world and its various forms of self-sequestration than at a hermetic, image-happy gathering like a film festival?) The boys are set to come to Sundance, though as they prepared to depart New York, at least one inquired about the rules of flying on a plane. A gently comic crowd-pleaser, the movie had its premiere in Salt Lake City on Friday night as part of the increasing trend to extend the festival from Park City to its larger neighbour.

Both Redford and Cooper introduced the opening night documentary, What happened, Miss Simone? a screening that was followed by Simone originals performed live by John Legend. Book adaptations include Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, written for screen by Nick Hornby and starring Saoirse Ronan, and Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints starring Ethan Hawke.

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