Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart from “The Runaways”

Sundance2010, the independent film festival created by Robert Redford, came to a close on Sunday night in Park City, UT, and with it, fabulous announcements of the winning films across a range of categories, including World Cinema Drama to Audience Choice, and new this year, The Best of NEXT sponsored by partner, YouTube. It was a festival to remember, as most are, for many reasons other than the fact that you could spy A-list celebs on Main Street with fur-rimmed hats and designer Uggs AND have the slopes all to yourself since celebs do not come to Sundance to actually ride, in snow, but to be seen in the indie scene.

First, before the festival even started, producers made a wise decision in releasing several shorts live on their website for free, and then partnered with YouTube.com as a sponsor to make even more flicks available globally. Since one of the main goals of Sundance other than to get in, is to get a distributor, this made more films available to a wider audience right off the bat.

John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival, explained the changes in the film industry well: “This year it was as if I could feel a shift in the DNA of the film community – the reaction to the films was inspiring.”

“These awards celebrate the diversity of this year%uFFFDs program,” said Trevor Groth, the Festival%uFFFDs Director of Programming. “Hopefully the attention these prizes bring will allow the films to connect with a wider audience hungry for choice.”

And more choice is what many film-goers have been looking for in the last several years, particularly in youth culture markets. Ironically, it’s not always the winners that do the best when it comes to a younger generation. For example, no one predicted that “Napoleon Dynamite” would become such a cult classic, and when we attended the premiere of “Dogtown and the Z-Boys,” several years ago, because we were one of only a few in the audience, we were able to rap with director Stacy Peralta for an hour. This of course was before the film blew-up and became the mega skateboarding/surfing documentary that it is today.

The film industry, from a mainstream media and Oscar Awards perspective, does not always match the preferences of young audience. For example, it’s doubtful that anyone from “New Moon” will be nominated for an Oscar despite the fact that it blew-doors on box office sales. Johnny Depp, while ranked as the favorite actor in our North American Youth Culture Study, Fall 2009, wasn’t even on the radar for being nominated as Best Actor for his Captain Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” by the Academy, even though he’s a clear favorite.

One of the best ways to track what films from the festival will probably pop in youth culture markets is to check out the “buzz” section of the Sundance Film Festival site. One of the buzziest all 10 days, even after it debuted on opening weekend, was “The Runways” with Kristen Stewart playing Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie.

Other highlights include a healthy list of environmental movies such as “GasLand,” “WasteLand,” and “Climate Refugees,” plus several street art-inspired documentaries such as Banksy’s “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child” and flicks with retro music scores that are sure to tap into the ongoing craze for vintage fashion, styles, and music among youth culture.

Here’s a look at what we think will pop in the near future among youth culture:

The Runaways -Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Of all the bands to come out of the 1970s Los Angeles music scene, The Runaways are by far the most uniquely fascinating. This is partially due to their music but more so to the fact that they were teenage girls whose wild and reckless lifestyle was the stuff of legend.

Focusing on the duo of guitarist/vocalist Joan Jett and lead vocalist Cherie Currie as they navigate a rocky road of touring and record-label woes, the film chronicles the band%uFFFDs formation as well as their meteoric rise under the malevolent eye of an abusive manager.

Acclaimed video artist Floria Sigismondi directs from her own script, and her luscious camerawork captures every sweaty detail -from the filthy trailer where the women practice to the mosh pits of Tokyo. What really makes the film cook are the sizzling performances by Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart. The Runaways is an ode to an era and a groundbreaking band.


Skateland
It’s 1983, and Skateland, the roller rink and local hangout of a small town, is becoming a fading memory of an earlier time, when disco and roller-skating were king. The party scene is getting stale, and 19-year-old Ritchie%uFFFDs romantic life is as cloudy as his future. He struggles to make sense of it all, and decisions do not come easily to the carefree young man. When tragedy strikes his friends and family, Ritchie must face the music -and make the biggest decision of his life.

Without the benefit of a studio budget or name casting, Anthony Burns and Brandon and Heath Freeman capture the %uFFFD80s in startling detail. The result: a cinematic scrapbook of a time and place, a visceral visual, and an aural experience that reclaims the decade for those of us lucky enough to have lived through it once. While the atmosphere is time specific, the themes of the joys and pains of growing up are universal.

Welcome to the Rileys
Trauma transforms us. Years after their teenage daughter’s death, Lois and Doug Riley, an upstanding Indiana couple, are frozen by estranging grief. She isolates herself in their immaculate suburban home. He philanders with a local waitress, anesthetizing pain with easy passion. When he loses his mistress to cancer, Doug, beset by further heartache, escapes to New Orleans on a business trip. Compelled by urgencies he doesn’t understand, he insinuates himself into the life of an underage hooker, becoming her platonic guardian. Meanwhile, Lois summons all of her remaining force to overcome agoraphobia and venture south to reclaim her marriage.

Exacting performances from three consummate actors (James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo, and Kristen Stewart) infuse this emotionally raw, gently humorous drama with penetrating humanity. Director Jake Scott’s uncompromising film refuses to flinch from difficult moments or tie neat bows around its characters. Instead, it reveals how taking risks and leaving our comfort zone can become a profound path to healing the human heart.

Hesher
Hesher is the story of a family struggling to deal with loss and the anarchist who helps them do it -in a very unexpected way. TJ is 13 years old. Two months ago, his mom was killed in an accident, leaving TJ and his grieving dad to move in with grandma to pick up the pieces. Hesher is a loner. He hates the world -and everyone in it. He has long, greasy hair and homemade tattoos. He likes fire and blowing things up. He lives in his van -until he meets TJ.

Hesher is that rare film that manages to be a completely original vision, a thoroughly entertaining story, and a provocative metaphor. Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings the character of Hesher to life with anger and angst, and Devin Brochu makes quite a splash as the young boy dealing with both the loss of his mother and an unwanted houseguest. Cowriter/director Spencer Susser crafts a multidimensional, darkly humorous film that exhibits an immensely talented storyteller at work.

HOWL
It’s San Francisco in 1957, and an American masterpiece is put on trial. HOWL, the film, recounts this dark moment using three interwoven threads: the tumultuous life events that led a young Allen Ginsberg to find his true voice as an artist, society’s reaction (the obscenity trial), and mind-expanding animation that echoes the startling originality of the poem itself. All three coalesce in a genre-bending hybrid that brilliantly captures a pivotal moment -the birth of a counterculture.

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman navigate a seamless segue from their documentary roots to masterful storytellers. They expand the notion of how a “true story” can be realized on film by not simply relying on facts but enlisting cinematic vision to capture the Zeitgeist of an era. The amazing cast provides the extra passion and urgency that are sure to introduce HOWL to the best minds of a new generation.

Waiting for Superman
AUDIENCE AWARD: U.S. DOCUMENTARY, Presented by Honda
For a nation that proudly declared it would leave no child behind, America continues to do so at alarming rates. Despite increased spending and politicians’ promises, our buckling public-education system, once the best in the world, routinely forsakes the education of millions of children.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim reminds us that education “statistics” have names: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, whose stories make up the engrossing foundation of WAITING FOR SUPERMAN. As he follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages, academic growth, Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying “drop-out factories” and “academic sinkholes,” methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems.

However, embracing the belief that good teachers make good schools, and ultimately questioning the role of unions in maintaining the status quo, Guggenheim offers hope by exploring innovative approaches taken by education reformers and charter schools that have -in reshaping the culture -refused to leave their students behind.

Teenage Paparazzo
Documentary Spotlight Award
When precocious 13-year-old paparazzo Austin Visschedyk snapped a photo of celebrity Adrian Grenier (HBO%uFFFDs Entourage), little did he know his life was about to change. Turning the tables on the juvenile paparazzo, Grenier stepped on the other side of the lens in an attempt to mentor a teenager obsessed with the lure of the Hollywood lifestyle. Grenier develops a meaningful relationship with his camera-clicking young friend as he attempts to reconcile their mutual exploitation. Indeed, Grenier puts himself on the line here, trying to make sense of his own recently acquired fame.

Given the success of Entourage and its place in the Zeitgeist, Adrian Grenier is the perfect person to explore our preoccupation with celebrity and the adolescent desire for fame. Exquisitely layered, Teenage Paparazzo moves beyond personal documentary, charting a cultural revolution of celebrity obsession that may have been born in the United States but stretches across the globe.


Josh Radnor accepting his award on Sunday, January 31, 2010, for Audience Award in U.S. Dramatic in Park City, UT

Happythankyoumoreplease

AUDIENCE AWARD: U.S. DRAMATIC, Presented by Honda
Six New Yorkers juggle love, friendship, and the keenly challenging specter of adulthood. Sam Wexler is a struggling writer who%uFFFDs having a particularly bad day. When a young boy gets separated from his family on the subway, Sam makes the questionable decision to bring the child back to his apartment and thus begins a rewarding, yet complicated, friendship. Sam’s life revolves around his friends -Annie, whose self-image keeps her from commitment; Charlie and Mary Catherine, a couple whose possible move to Los Angeles tests their relationship; and Mississippi, a cabaret singer who catches Sam’s eye.

Written, directed, and starring Josh Radnor (CBS%uFFFDs How I Met Your Mother), happythankyoumoreplease boasts a wryly funny script and engaging performances from its ensemble cast. With honesty and humor, Radnor captures a generational moment -young people on the cusp of truly growing up, struggling for connection, and hoping to define what it means to love and be loved.

HIGH school
So it’s the end of the school year, and smarmy Principal Gordon (Michael Chiklis) has suddenly instituted a zero-tolerance crusade against his nemesis, the reviled marijuana. A mandatory drug test for all students is to be administered, failure of which will result in immediate expulsion. Normally, this would be of no consequence to straight-arrow valedictorian Henry Burke, except he just tried ganja for the very first time. With his college scholarship hanging in the balance, Burke begrudgingly teams up with charismatic pothead Travis Breaux to do the only thing they can think of to neutralize this threat -get the entire student body stoned.

In his debut feature, director/cowriter John Stalberg Jr. percolates his deliriously manic narrative with sparkling energy and deviant characters, joyously ramming his protagonists deeper and deeper into frenzied chaos. HIGH school paints its slacker wit with lush broad strokes, firmly accomplishing the conclusive stoner fantasia run hilariously amuck.

Grown Up Movie Star
WORLD DRAMATIC SPECIAL JURY PRIZE FOR BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE

When Lillian leaves town in search of stardom, her husband, Ray, and two precocious daughters, Ruby and Rose, are left to salvage the family. Ray’s emotional development is plagued by a past that won%uFFFDt go away. As he flails from woman to woman in search of a replacement mother for his girls, starry-eyed teenager Ruby is on her own path -discovering that her newfound sexuality is an easy way to get the attention she desperately craves. Separated only by their generations, father and daughter find themselves on similar journeys of sexual awakening.

Grown Up Movie Star is an accomplished first feature by Adriana Maggs. Using a remote small town in Newfoundland as her backdrop, she orchestrates a highly capable cast -with an especially riveting breakout performance by Tatiana Maslany as Ruby. Sharp, honest dialogue blurs the roles of parent and child and magnifies the pain of growing up . . . at any age.

Catfish
Documentary Spotlight
Nev, a 24-year-old New York%u2013based photographer, has no idea what he’s in for when Abby, an eight-year-old girl from rural Michigan, contacts him on MySpace, seeking permission to paint one of his photographs. When he receives her remarkable painting, Nev begins a friendship and correspondence with Abby’s family. But things really get interesting when he develops a cyber-romance with Abby’s attractive older sister, Megan, a musician and model. Prompted by some startling revelations about Megan, Nev and his buddies embark on a road trip in search of the truth.

Catfish centers on a riveting mystery that is completely a product of our times, where social networking, mobile devices, and electronic communication so often replace face-to-face personal contact. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s grounded documentary is a remarkable and powerful story of grace within a labyrinth of online intrigue.

Sympathy for Delicious–Directed by Mark Ruffalo
U.S. DRAMATIC SPECIAL JURY PRIZE

Recently paralyzed DJ “Delicious” Dean battles the mean streets of Los Angeles, struggling to survive in his wheelchair. Yearning to walk again, and fighting to spark the ashes that were once his career, Dean turns to the dubious world of faith healing and gets much more than he bargained for. Lured by easy money and the heat of fame, Dean sells out to an unstable rock band, stomping the dreams of so many who see him as their only hope. World-famous DJ “Delicious” must now tackle his own worst demon -himself -if he is ever to conquer his “handicap” and find true healing.

Written by and starring Christopher Thornton in a gripping performance as the fiercely determined deejay, Sympathy for Delicious is a wildly original story. Mark Ruffalo makes an auspicious directorial debut with a gritty, yet fervent, take on the search for meaning amidst tragedy and the redemptive power that is compassion.

Metropolitan
When Tom (Edward Clements) accidentally meets a group of young partygoers outside a New York City hotel during Christmas vacation, he is injected into a sophisticated world whose inhabitants are rich, bright, articulate, and more-than-a-little lost. Dubbed Sally Fowler’s Rat Pack or SFRP by Charley (Taylor Nichols), who likes acronyms, the seven friends adopt Tom because “there’s a real escort shortage.” He soon establishes a relationship with Audrey (Carolyn Farina), who idolizes Jane Austen, as the group wanders from one gathering to the next amid Charley’s gloomy prediction that they are “doomed to failure” once they enter the real world.

Whit Stillman’s stylish portrait of the “preppy” class played at the Sundance Film Festival exactly 20 years ago and went on to win an Independent Spirit Award for best first feature and an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay. Beyond the obvious parallels to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Metropolitan is an American counterpart to Eric Rohmer’s comedies of manners; Stillman also shares Luis Bu%uFFFDuel’s ability to deftly skewer social mores and behavior, but his touch is much lighter. Thanks to Westerly Film Video for providing the print for this screening.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child–Directed by Tamra Davis
In his short career, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a phenomenon. He became notorious for his graffiti art under the moniker Samo in the late 1970s on the Lower East Side scene, sold his first painting to Deborah Harry for $200, and became best friends with Andy Warhol. Appreciated by both the art cognoscenti and the public, Basquiat was launched into international stardom. However, soon his cult status began to override the art that had made him famous in the first place.

Director Tamra Davis pays homage to her friend in this definitive documentary but also delves into Basquiat as an iconoclast. His dense, bebop-influenced neoexpressionist work emerged while minimalist, conceptual art was the fad; as a successful black artist, he was constantly confronted by racism and misconceptions. Much can be gleaned from insider interviews and archival footage, but it is Basquiat’s own words and work that powerfully convey the mystique and allure of both the artist and the man.

Pepperminta
Pepperminta is a playful young woman with an anarchic imagination, determined to free people from their fears through her own special alchemy. Colors are her best friends, strawberries are her pets, and the world outside her door is there to be licked. Together with a plump, shy young man named Werwen and Edna, a gender-bending gardener, Pepperminta sets out on a mission to fight for a more humane world.

Internationally acclaimed visual artist Pipilotti Rist’s first feature, Pepperminta, is an explosion of psychedelic color and fantasy where things sacred and taboo become playful and whimsical, and color can transform and heal lives. Crafting a tactile film seen through a toddler’s-eye camera, Rist irreverently engages with childhood fairy tales to create a magical and visually stunning contemporary fable of courage in the face of shame.

Twelve -Directed by Joel Schumacher
Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Nick McDonell, written when he was only 17 years old, Twelve is a chilling chronicle of privileged urban adolescence on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Set over spring break, the story follows White Mike, a kid with unlimited potential, who has dropped out of his senior year of high school and sells marijuana to his rich, spoiled peers. When his cousin is brutally murdered in an east Harlem project, and his best friend is arrested for the crime, White Mike is hurled on a collision course with his own destiny.

Led by director Joel Schumacher, a talented ensemble cast perfectly captures the obvious pain of children teetering on the brink of adulthood. Schumacher counters their overindulged behavior with operatic staging and a literary voice-over. For every decade, there are moments when youth culture is frozen in “art,” to be reveled in by the generation that lived it and observed by those that didn%uFFFDt. That is Twelve.

The Romantics– Galt Niederhoffer
In The Romantics, seven close friends -all members of a tight, eclectic college clique -reconvene at a deluxe seaside wedding to watch two of their own tie the knot. Lila is the golden girl preparing for her dream wedding, and Laura is Lila%uFFFDs maid of honor. Once college roommates, Laura and Lila have been best friends since their first meeting on campus, but Lila%uFFFDs groom, Tom, is the man they have long rivaled over. Promiscuity and hi-jinks abound as the drunken friends frolic in the nearby surf and revel in the nostalgic haze of their glory days.

Producer-turned-director Galt Niederhoffer adapts her own novel of the same name in this audacious first feature. With an outstanding ensemble cast, The Romantics is both a Zeitgeist love story and generational comedy that breathes new life into the genre and recaptures the camaraderie of youth.

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