Film Projections: Sundance, U23D evoke a real “sense of place”

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Images courtesy of National Geographic and U2 Limited.

Every geographer knows that our most powerful memories and experiences are
often deeply rooted in a sense of place. Think about the emotions connected to
the site of your childhood home, favorite vacation locale, or daily refuge
spot. A good filmmaker recognizes this terrene and transcendent nature of place
and strives to bring viewers into
the elaborate environment(s)
inhabited by their characters. Two successful approaches were described in last
week’s New York Times reviews of the Sundance Film Festival and
National Geographic’s U23D.

The old-fashioned technique of vivid story-telling and richly crafted detail
is back in style—with a new, more nuanced mien. NY Times critic Manohla
Dargis describes this year’s most appealing Sundance Films as evincing “…the
emergence of a new American realism. Although my favorite fiction films at
Sundance were different in theme and tone, they were united by stylistic
commonalities, a feel for the still moment — and, importantly, for beauty — a
grounded sense of place.”

Below is a brief selection of some of Dargis’s place-based observations. For
more, read the full Sundance review.

Ballast: Expressively shot in the Mississippi Delta by Lol Crawley, who
splashes shocks of color on the wintry blue landscape, the film owes an obvious
debt to the Dardennes in its sense of urgency, intimacy and carefully
articulated feel for place without in any way being a slavish imitation.”

The
Order of Myths,
Margaret
Brown’s examination of the history and present-day reality of the segregated
worlds of Mardi Gras in Mobile, Ala…[is] a story that is at once very
site-specific and seemingly simple and as big and richly complex as the United
States itself.”

Another NY Times review by Matt Zoller Seitz
describes the revolutionary, technologically advanced approach to filmmaking
and space creation in U23D. The film follows one of the famous rock band’s concerts in South America during the Vertigo tour. Like most
concerts (and albums), the artists strive to create a unique experience through
the lyrics and musical composition of their songs. U2 and the band’s lead
singer, internationally recognized humanitarian Bono, have long articulated a message of peace and social justice. U23D represents an attempt to bring that message to the cinema
just as it would be experienced in real time at a concert. Shot entirely in
3-D, the film provokes a broad range of sensual modalities to make the audience
feel like they are actually attending the performance.

A U2 fan myself, I was lucky enough
to take part in an advanced screening for National Geographic employees a few
months ago. As Seitz says, “The very idea of self-contained screen geography is
thrillingly reconceived…” and I can attest that U23D is truly the next best thing to witnessing the live concert.

Check out these new films, and think about how place is artfully constructed
and construed through the many productions you watch, books you read, and music
you listen to. You’ll likely find that your memories and impressions are as
profoundly linked to setting as they are in your daily life.

Sarah for My Wonderful World

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