Indie Focus: Sundance Film Festival 2017 continues to combine movies and politics

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen, and welcome to another Sundance edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

For all of the LA Times Sundance coverage, go to latimes.com/sundance. Sporting their finest winter looks are Justin Chang, Amy Kaufman, Kenneth Turan, Jen Yamato and Steve Zeitchik (and me), along with photographers Jay Clendenin and Kent Nishimura and videographer Myung Chun.

There is a lot of weather and a lot of movies happening here in Park City, but for the moment both can wait. The presidential inauguration of Donald Trump has dominated the mood in the early days of the festival, and Jen Yamato took the temperature of the town.

“There’s a cloud hanging over the festival in general. Everyone is down,” Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams said.

Jen, Amy Kaufman and Steve Zeitchik also took in the women’s protest march on Saturday. There were concerns before the march about conflicts with official festival events, but it seems many festival-goers in Park City chose the march whenever they could. And that include some of the top festival staff as well.

“It’s not 1917; it’s 2017,” said comedian Chelsea Handler as she addressed the crowd gathered for the rally. “Who knew we had to fight for progress we already had?”

Here’s a gallery of portraits from our L.A. Times photo studio.

Amy Kaufman also wrote about the festival’s emphasis this year on films about climate change. As festival director John Cooper explained, “Climate change seemed to have slipped out of the public awareness a little bit, and it wasn’t helped at all during the election process, because nobody was talking about it much then, either.”

Amy attended the premiere of “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power,” the follow-up to the Oscar-winning documentary on climate change. Al Gore appeared after the screening, and aware of the moment he was speaking to, said: “We are going to prevail. And if anybody has doubts about our will to act, just remember: The will to act is itself a renewable resource.”

Steve Zeitchik wrote about the Yiddish-language film “Menashe,” premiering in the festival’s Next section and set within the world of New York’s Hasidic community.

Steve also wrote about “Icarus,” a documentary tale of a doping scandal involving Russian athletes.

“When this story took on a completely different trajectory I was feeling exuberant — ‘Oh my God, this is going to be a ten-times-greater movie than I ever imagined,’” filmmaker Bryan Fogel said in an interview ahead of the festival. “And at the same time I’m going, ‘holy … This is truly scary.’”

And Steve checked in on Brett Morgan’s “When The Streetlights Go On,” showing as part of the festival’s program of work made for television.

Justin Chang wrote about “An Inconvenient Sequel” as well, calling it “an awkwardly titled, stirringly crafted follow-up that measures the progress that has and hasn’t been made in the battle against global warming.”

Justin also wrote about Macon Blair’s “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” starring Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood. Blair has appeared in the movies of Jeremy Saulnier, and Justin noted “Saulnier’s brutal commingling of humor and horror is clearly an inspiration here, and if Blair’s movie is a scrappier affair, its finger-bending, throat-smashing energy offers its own dark pleasures.”

Justin also took in the films “Landline,” directed by Gillian Robespierre, and “Novitiate,” directed by Maggie Betts.

I also had a Q&A with Jeff Baena, writer-director of “The Little Hours,” a comedy of manners set in a 14th century convent. Starring Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Kate Micucci, Dave Franco, John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon, the film is a loose adaptation of stories from Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron.” Using contemporary language, the film feels like a modern story amidst a historical setting.

“People were really complex and led really rich lives,” Baena said. They’re just like us, they’re just from a different time.”

I posted a gallery of photos from the U.S. dramatic competition title “Golden Exits,” with commentary written by filmmaker Alex Ross Perry.

And yes, there is a movie at Sundance called “L.A. Times.” No, it is not about this news organization. It is, however, about the personal and professional aspirations of a group of young creatives in the Silver Lake/Los Feliz nexus. With a cast that also includes Dree Hemingway, Jorma Taccone and Kentucker Audley, the film is written and directed by Michelle Morgan, who also stars. I spoke to Morgan ahead of the festival about the movie.

“Nothing in the movie is particularly autobiographical,” Morgan said. “I mean, is the character me? Every character that you write as a writer is a little bit of you. I think that if you’re going to make a movie and you’re going to star in it, you should poke fun at yourself, and I tried to do that.”

We’ll have another Sundance special edition mid-week, provided the entire LAT Sundance team is not stuck in a snowdrift somewhere while trying to make it back to our rental condo, in hopes of bringing all of you the latest from Park City. Wish us well.

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter @IndieFocus.

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