Sundance — No Budget, Noteworthy
One of the most subversive films at Sundance came from Disney. It isn’t being released by Disney, and it may likely be suppressed by Disney. But the Disney brand is all over it, to Mickey’s chagrin, we can assume.
Escape from Tomorrow by Randy Moore is a vacation horror film – inspired if not haunted by the Chevy Chase summer vacation series. The film starts on a balcony overlooking Disney World as Jim is told that he’s losing his job. He doesn’t tell his family as they head out to the theme park, where Jim spots two gorgeous French girls, whom the family keeps running into all day. During that time, the theme park becomes a rapacious organism that turns on the Jim, and his wife and children. By the end of their visit, every bodily fluid is exchanged or voided with Disney icons and monuments in the background. Lim’s son says that he doesn’t like Epcot, just before an Epcot monument is blown up. I won’t give away the rest, but it won’t make Disney happy.
Filmed on Disney property, Escape from Tomorrow was shot without Disney permission. Moore’s team bought season passes to parks in Orlando and Anaheim, and they went into the parks with cameras. It was a stealth operation, but stealth in plain sight. The crew had Canon 5D cameras, like thousands of other people who paid their admission. The actors wore Olympus Dictaphone clips that were kept on all day. They were prompted for their lines on cellphones.
The result, ranging from a shimmering classic black and white aesthetic to grey grotesquery, is a family’s account of the subversion of the family entertainment industry – portraying the theme park as hell, a hell that tears your family apart and kills you. And they did it all without saying Mauschwitz. The logical response, according to this film, is to hallucinate, or to vomit. But there’s a threat facing Moore and his team, who were at Sundance to show and sell their film for distribution.
Will Disney threaten that Moore “will never vomit in this theme park again?” Will Disney just keep the film from being seen? So far, Moore said at a screening Thursday, there has been no official response. Escape from Tomorrow will be at the European Film market at the Berlinale. It also could show up in New Directors/New Films at Lincoln Center and MoMA. Will Disney engage the guerrilla filmmakers who have held up a no-budget mirror to managed fun? The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have reported this story. The New Yorker published a Columbia University law professor’s argument that the film can be shown, as “commentary” and “parody”. Who would disagree? Who indeed.
On the other end of the spectrum in everything but budget, A Teacher isn’t playing for laughs, although its subject propriety in an unambiguous way. The drama by Hannah Fridell is a delicate treatment of a situation that’s usually smeared across the tabloid pages – an affair between a young high school teacher and a much younger boy in a Texas town.
Diana (Lindsay Burge), who resembles a young Michelle Pfeiffer, is attracted to Eric, a strapping kid in class. Besides making the mistake of having sex with him – seemingly as often as she can – Diana sends him a topless photo of herself. This act of cyber-passion happens just as a freshman at the high school causes a scandal when she sends her own topless self-portrait to a boy.
The stress is taut in this elegantly shot tale , with anxiety all over Burge’s face. Fridell finds a rhythm of pain between close-ups and details wherever the camera goes in grey rainy Texas, in what looks like the grainy texture of somber French love stories in gauzy color from the 1960’s.
These lovers, if you can call them that, are doomed, but I wish that Fridell, who wrote and directed, had found another resolution to it all than an attraction that freefalls into frenzy. We’ll still be seeing more from this director and actress, and from a promising cinematographer.