January 21-30 marked the twenty-sixth Sundance Film Festival in the US, and the first under the festival directorship of John Cooper. One of Cooper’s goals was to bring more of an indie feel back to Park City, which over the years has conceded slots to more mainstream fare. The “rebel” theme permeated the psyche of this year’s festival and featured prominently on festival merchandise and in promotional trailers. Of all the festival’s sections – which included world documentary and narrative competitions – two sections most comprehensively embodied the rebel theme: the brand new NEXT programme, featuring low-to-no-budget filmmaking, and New Frontier, which champions innovative cinematic storytelling.
New Frontier is both installation space and film section. The installation space showcases media works that straddle the boundaries between art, cinema, and new technology, with panels tackling current issues such as Web 3.0 and creative ways of financing. Sundance kicked off the festivalwith a press reception at New Frontier, and right out of the gate the biggest buzzword of this year’s festival surfaced: “transmedia”, a word that is pulsing through the indie film world as intensely as iPhones and crowd sourcing are shaking the citadel of traditional filmmaking. The New Frontier film programme shone the spotlight on visionary filmmakers.
A perfect example of a New Frontier film was Double Take by Belgian filmmaker Johan Grimonprez (Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y) which also received the award for the hardest film to categorize out of any I’ve seen in years. Double Take embodies the mantra of New Frontier storytelling, challenging viewers at every edit, interweaving multiple documentary strands, adding narrative elements, creating film art and political commentary that exceed the sum of their parts: doppelgangers, propaganda, nuclear apocalypse, Alfred Hitchcock, even the advent of instant coffee: