Sunday, January 21, 2007

Don't Work with Kids and Animals

The word on the street pre-fest was that wi-fi would be as accessible as slush in the streets, a veritable bounty of access. That, however, is a big fat lie. Wi-fi is occasionally available in a few select locations, provided you are a guest of a given hotel or perhaps far more famous than I am.

This makes blogging a more logistically complicated task than you would expect if you have made the commitment to carry around a laptop only slightly lighter than a dining room table. My one visit to the press office -- the one place truly flowing with wi-fi milk and honey -- occurred too early in the day for me to have anything really worth writing. Except about how hard it is to find anywhere to write from.

Later in the day, however, I was able to groove to a couple of very good films with children at the center -- in ways about as disparate as I can imagine. The Dramatic Competition film Joshua, from director/co-writer George Ratliff, initially appears to be a riff on The Omen, with a 9-year-old boy (Jacob Kogan) responding badly to the new baby sister born to his upper-class New York parents (Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga). But rather than being straight-ahead horror, it's actually a pitch-black satire about parents who give their children everything but a moral center. Grim-faced cautionary tales like Kids and thirteen may have tried to make similar points about how not-alright the kids are, but none of their ilk has done such a wonderfully creepy job of showing the effects of a soulless generation.

Adorable 4-year-old Marla Olmstead isn't nearly as chilling as Joshua, but there's other disconcerting stuff going on in the absorbing documentary My Kid Could Paint That. Director Amir Bar-Lev follows Marla -- whose abstract paintings became an art-world sensation -- through her rise and post-60 Minutes expose fall from grace. Predictably, it's at least a little bit about pointing a finger at the pretentious art snobs and laughing, Nelson Muntz-style, "Ha-ha!" Far less predictably, it's also about the entire nature of narrative, and about how we decide to grant things value. You won't find a more brilliantly disheartening scene than the one in which Marla's opportunistic gallery broker sells a skeptical buyer on a painting she doesn't really like, because it might become valuable.

As for the animals: If you don't know the premise of Zoo by now, think about the images evoked by the mock title employed by a Sundance staffer, Horseback Mountin'. Yes, it's based on the real-life death of a man who died after having sex with a horse, an affinity he shared with other "zoophiles". Director Robinson Devor takes an impressionistic approach, overlaying the voices of key players in the events on re-enactments and other dreamy imagery. It's intriguing and genre-busting, yet it's also strangely flat -- so determined not to judge anyone or anything that its canvas is utterly blank. Try selling that, Marla Olmstead's gallery broker. (Scott Renshaw)

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