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BEANDREA JULY & Sundance 2021 Roundup

It’s a Sundance tradition! We welcome back friend of the pod + film critic Beandrea July to chat with us about her Sundance Film Festival 2021 virtual experience and her favorite films. Beandrea July (@beandreadotcom) is a freelance film critic based in Los Angeles who works in print and audio. Her work has appeared in several publications including Vanity Fair, The New York Times, Time, The Hollywood Reporter, Hyperallergic, Level and NPR. She has also been a guest on the NPR shows 1A and The Takeaway as well as KPCC SoCal’s The Frame. Of the nine films that Sidney Poitier has directed the eighth one is still a favorite.

Click here to listen to our interview with Beandrea July on Apple Podcasts.

Episode transcription below.

BEANDREA JULY & Sundance 2021 Roundup

Larkin: Beandrea, welcome back to the podcast.

Jennifer: Um, a tradition at this point.

Larkin: It really is.

Beandrea: Yeah, I love it, I love it, I'm always happy to be here.

Larkin: Sad we couldn't spend Sundance with you like last year. Um, but here we are virtually chatting about Sundance. How was your, just generally, how was your Sundance experience?

Beandrea: Yeah. I mean, I think the pros and the cons of the virtual space, um, I mean, I, I certainly don't miss, like running from venue to venue in the snow, on a bus, but, and, but then it was also like, I felt like it was much more immersive.

Um, and you know, I have like a, I dunno how big it is, but it's a decent sized, uh, flat screen and I have it set up so that I can like be really close to it if I want to. And so it was kinda just like me and the screen for like seven days. And I probably watched about, I don't know, three to four movies a day and, um, yeah, it was just the most stressful part about it was the time limits and the like when you could watch stuff part, you know, I get it it's, you know, these filmmakers need to make a living like, so they're, you know, trying to control it.

It was just also like a little bit stressful. Like, do I have enough time? And there wasn't I played something. And then I didn't realize I had played it and then I couldn't watch it again, you know? So it was things like that. But after I figured out that, then it was. Cool. Yeah.

Jennifer: Yeah. Agreed. But then yeah, again, once figuring that out, I was like, wow, I'm seeing so many films a day. Like, definitely in my experience, it's more than like when we were in person, just because of like we're in our home. All right. Next one. You know, like that. That's what you do, I guess.

Larkin: Yeah. It's interesting. I mean, so you always watch a lot of films though. How did this compare to the number of films you normally watch in a year?

Beandrea: Oh, I've never watched this many and that's probably the best thing because, you know, it's a couple of things, the virtual thing.

And then also, like, I, um, was the assigned to write for anyone this year. So, um, you know, doing pitching freelance stuff after the festival's over, which gave me the space to just watch a lot. Whereas when you have to review certain things by a certain time, you just can't see as many films, so it was, it was a blessing in that respect.

Like I, you know, here's my, here's my list, my must-see list. And I think it has like 20 films on them. And I think I saw all of them. Wow.

Jennifer: Incredible. Impressive. Yeah. It's interesting too. I don't know if you had this thought or feeling old watching it. But I just, I did think that the festival did a really good job of, um, making it feel like we were watching these filmmaker's creations by doing, they do an introduction in the beginning where a programmer introduces a director, a director says a couple of things and then the Q and A's after which like for me, at the festival, that's like one of my favorite parts.

I love seeing the director talk about it and then bring up their cast or, you know, really, you know, crew members and, and I think Sundance did a good job of keeping that spirit alive. So it wasn't just like, Oh, I'm watching another movie. It's like, Oh, I'm watching this experience. Like, you know, all these people created

Beandrea: Yeah. No, the Q and A's are, I mean, that's huge. That's like so much a part of the experience and knowing that it's their first time showing this thing they've been living with. That you know, that sense of time and like the preciousness of revealing it to the public and, you know, being among the first people to see it, you know, is like just part of the specialness of Sundance.

But I think this year I noticed I was able to take more of a risk of watching films I wouldn't necessarily be drawn to, um, I did a mixture of, you know, my own thoughts of reading the description, but also like seeking out people, like yourselves, through recommendations of stuff that I should watch. And, you know, I watched a few experimental films that I probably wouldn't have seen.

So, um, yeah, it's, it's kind of opened me up a bit wider.

Jennifer: Well, I guess, um, yeah, we've, we've, you know, danced around the movie. So let's just talk about the films. Like what were some of your favorites, uh, from the festival?

Beandrea: Together Together was definitely like. The thing you come to Sundance for, um, to see films that may or may not have commercial success, um, but are really interesting and well-made, and, um, the people who made it really cared about it.

Um, so I just thought it was brilliant. It's a movie about a single guy who wants to have a kid by a surrogate, and it's about his. Relationship with the surrogate, as you know, platonic friends, they're not romantically involved. And so it just brings up all these, like, I think really timely questions about relationships and, you know, we're all three big fans of the platonic romcom. And it's sort of like, I felt like move that genre like really forward. And it's just very innovative and creative and well thought out and funny. So, um, yeah, I really liked that one. Um, I like, you know, I'm always here for like "a woman who's, who's older than like 30 doing something with her life" movie.

Um, so there were a lot of those, both in doc and, um, the main one in narrative was Robin Wright's Land, which I enjoyed. It was kind of like Castaway, but in the woods, um, I don't know if y'all saw that. I enjoyed that one. Um, and also there were so many docs about like legendary women, like, you know, Amy Tan, it was a beautiful documentary.

Um, and, uh, Pauli Murray, um, well Avenue. So a woman, but whatever, um, you know, cultural legends, um, Rita Moreno. So that was, I saw all those, and it was really a treat, um, just to see, you know, it's inspiring to just see someone's life story and how they lived it and you know, what they overcame and where they are now with it and all that.

And then also just, there was so much, I didn't know about each of them, I mean,I liked Judas and the Black Messiah. Um, I mean, I put quotes around "like" because you know, it's a really hard. Subject. Um, I did watch it twice though, just to try and give it a chance, another chance.

And, um, I definitely enjoyed it more the second time because, um, I'm just, you know, one of those weirdos who was very sensitive to violence and so like, I very carefully create what kind of movies I watch in that realm, because it'll literally stay in my mind for weeks and I can't get rid of it. yeah, so I, the second time I didn't watch the violent parts as much, but I, and I kind of loved the love story and, um, I was also just technically really impressed by how fair he was to all the different, like both to Judas and the FBI agent and to Fred and the Black Panthers.

Like I felt like he didn't, you know, put them on pedestals or take them down either. Um, maybe a little bit more on FBI. I mean, they did to themselves, but, um, he really leaves the audience to decide how they feel, which I thought was really demonstrated quite a lot of restraint, um, which I was like, wow, that's impressive.

Oh yeah. And I, I like Summer of Soul. There were some really good docs this year. For me. Those are the ones that stood out. What about y'all?

Larkin: Yeah. I was surprised by how many docs we ended up watching. And it was really fun to watch that I don't feel like we really watched many and last few years we focus more on features.

Um, but I came away with the same thing of like, wow, there is so much, I don't know about so many people and what a great gift to come to the festival and just learn about an incredible person--or Rebel Hearts, we watched that, and that was amazing. And just all of these women and learning about this history that we knew nothing about was really, um, informative and fun. And yeah, I loved watching them.

Jennifer: Yeah. We got to talk to the filmmaking team behind. My name is Pauli Murray, and that was exciting too. I was just like, Wow. Here's this person with this incredibly expansive life. And I just felt like the filmmakers were so excited to like, just tell about what they had learned about Pauli.

And that was an exciting, like kind of like meta experience, almost like we just took in the film and then just to like see their enthusiasm, both in the Q and A, and also when we chatted, um, was also an exciting part that just felt like, Oh, we were kind of more involved in that this round.

Beandrea: Um, right. Yeah. That's great.

Jennifer: Another thing that kind of stuck out to me, that Larkin and I talked about was, um, just how well they match up the programmers to the filmmakers and with the Q and A's like, we watched Marvelous and the Black Hole, which, um, a lot of the main cast are Asian-Americans and Kim Yutani was, you know, leading that, um, Q and a and just like, she was able to personally connect, you know, with that story and her own personal perspective. And I just saw that replicated throughout the whole festival of just the matching up and it just that added to it as well.

Beandrea: Yeah, they were super thoughtful about that. And I don't know about you guys, but it took on the programmers introducing the films. There's a way in which you don't really get to connect with him at the live festival, but through the virtual festival, I felt like I noticed I was starting to find, Oh my God, Sudeeps's here. Like, I love it. You know, um, like attached to almost like their YouTube personalities or something.

Larkin: That's so true. I didn't think about that, but you're so right.

Beandrea: Yeah. It was a good opportunity to see some of the programming staff and their individual personalities too.

Larkin: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It felt like I got to know them more and just honestly just saw each of them more times this year, probably just because I watched more films, um, than in years prior.

Jennifer: I'm curious to hear your thoughts on Coda. I know that's a been a big, um, I'm assuming you've seen it, but it's been like, I feel like the darling of the festival. I just wanted to discuss like what you thought about the film.

Beandrea: Yeah. I mean, Coda was really unexpected, but also so felt like, Oh, this is way past its expiration date. Um, in terms of seeing this representation. I actually went to high school with a girl who was a CODA, um, and so I, and she was the first person I knew who was part of like the deaf community. And so I learned a lot about deaf culture from her and I used to live in DC. And one of my best friend works at Gallaudet, which is the premier deaf university. And, um, she's hearing, but you know, signs. And so I've gotten like little bits of exposure to deafness. I guess I didn't really, I'm really wary of like, I could pass judgment on it as a movie, but I have no idea about like the cultural cues and like, you know, how it landed for deaf people. So I'm actually, I haven't read anything about that. I'd really like to see how deaf people respond to it.

I thought it was a great movie, really great, you know, um, storytelling. I loved how they mixed like sort of the working class struggle with like that these people aren't just deaf, you know, like there's a whole bunch of things going on in their lives.

Um, all about worker co-ops. Yeah. Um, so yeah, I think people, I thought it was just fine, you know, it didn't like, wow me, wow me, but it, and I was a part of that really took me out, was like, girl, Berklee School of Music, they cancel your appointment. Like if you don't confirm that stuff, you don't get it, it's not waiting for you girl. Like, and I know that's like, you know, that's just the movie person to me is like, girl, that appointment's gone. But, um,

Jennifer: I'm dying. That's how the world works.

Larkin: Yeah. I think like my big takeaway is just like, Oh wow. Yeah. I've never seen a movie like this with a ensemble of a deaf cast and had never thought about that either. You know, it's like, Oh yeah, we should be seeing films like this and hearing stories like this and yeah, questioning like, are we seeing films written by, you know, different types of screenwriters or deaf screenwriters so? Yeah. And it was just so fun to see the actors at the Q and A and, um, like that was just, I dunno, it was kind of magical to see that Q and A in particular. Um, and then like the award ceremony when they got the many awards that they got, um, that was really exciting.

Jennifer: Uh, last question. Did you pop into any of the New Frontier things that was like a big part of the virtual? Um, or I guess like film party stuff --

Larkin: they built a virtual reality spaceship. That you could partake in, on your computer or on the virtual reality goggles. And that allowed you to experience these like film parties after the films and, or the VR projects themselves,

Beandrea: but did you, did you delve into the VR space at all? Or did you, did you, yeah, I couldn't figure it out. Um, and I think I waited too late cause there was, um, a VR on Octavia Butler. and, um, I wanted to see that because Terrence Nance was behind it and this other new filmmaker, Sophia, Ashley whose short, I really liked this year, um, about Latasha Harlins. Uh, but I, I couldn't figure it out. I kept clicking on it and it wasn't going. So I went to like the virtual parties. I think I posted on Twitter about how I was sitting at the bar by myself virtually.

So I was like, Hmm, interesting. It was kind of weird cause people were like running towards you and then you were just like a face on this, like stick body and it was, I dunno, it was kind of hilarious, but, um, No connection really happened for me there.

Larkin: Yeah, I'd say same. You know, we tried it. Um, I also tried doing this, some of the VR stuff from my computer without the goggles and a lot of them, some of them work with the goggles and with the computer, some of them don't work with the computer. Some of them only work with the phone. It's like the tech stuff was a little complicated, you know, it's not like you can't use everything with everything, which then I gave up on things.

Beandrea: And Sundance has been at the forefront of VR storytelling. So you know, it felt like natural for them to do it because they've been doing it for years. And I don't know many other spaces that actually give filmmakers a real shot to show VR work, so...

Larkin: Can we continue to watch the shorts after the festival?

Beandrea: Well, try it. I, I want to, I hope so. Yeah. I know we can watch the Q and A's because I asked the press people about that. Okay.

Yeah. I made a playlist on YouTube with them. And I think, I don't know if y'all know about the backstory. I mean, I'm asking of like, people got in knowing like where they're blessed people who applied because they knew it was going to be virtual and the people who got in did some of them withdraw because they didn't want, you know, they wanted to, cause I feel like maybe part of the reason there were a lot more docs and a lot more Indies this year was because of the commercial aspect of like, there was only a couple commercial, big commercial films. Um, and this could be my brain working overload, but I know that, you know, selling it, the selling is a big part of Sundance.

And so if they're selling potential is going to be limited, they might've sat on it a little longer.

Larkin: I think some people did sit on there. Wow. What would it be like to have a film and sit on it? Um, I do think some people didn't, uh, apply probably, um, I think a lot of shorts applied, but far as features go. Yeah, I would imagine that's the case, especially. I mean, you might know more about this. I read somewhere, maybe that, um, some of the, I mean, there's, you know, they're not going to buy the films right now, like Amazon or somebody isn't going to buy films and they're not going to release them, like they already have their slate for the next year ,you know, um, a lot of the studios already kind of have their slate because they've been sitting on films.

Beandrea: Yeah. It's a backlog. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Larkin: So I don't know.

Beandrea: I did a panel yesterday, moderated a panel yesterday with, um, Regina King and the cast of One Night in Miami and Regina, at the end, started actually started crying, but not like in a crazy way, but she was just emotional about, you know, how they didn't get to have, you know, a premiere in person.

I mean, they haven't seen each other since they made the movie. And I think there are just a lot of people in that situation right now. Like, no, grateful that they have a career in movies out, but also like sad that especially when it's your first feature and you don't get to have that experience. It's like so many people this year, you know, even Miranda July from last year, you know, all the people from last year's phones got bought and then, you know, the COVID happened.

And I just really feel for all of them because it's so much of a part of the film experience. And really connecting with the audience and like seeing how it lands for people, this thing that you've lived with and made for so long. And, um, yeah, so that was definitely like, in my mind, I was, I was experiencing Sundance too. It was just like, kind of feeling for all these filmmakers, you know, Yeah.

Larkin: And just like, how does the, you know, it's like, there's like this Sundance buzz and conversation, and then if your film gets distribution, then like later on in the year, there's even more buzz and conversation, you know? And it just feels like, Oh yeah, that all dropped for the 2020 ones.

And then for this it's like, yeah, I think they said more people participated in this Sundance than ever before, but then it's also like, Yeah. So is it just this week that we're thinking about these films and then, you know, then we're in the pandemic still and, and then what happens? I'm not sure. Was it, is it just sort of like, Oh wow. We wanted new things to virtually watch, um, this week, but how does that translate for the rest of the year? And, and, yeah, I don't know.

Beandrea: Yeah, that is, that's the ongoing question of like, is the accessibility, does it cheapen the product or does it reduce it in some way, you know, its value or is perceived value.

Larkin: But, um, but then on the flip side of that, the accessibility of the festival this year is amazing. Like people from all over the world who, for a number of reasons, might not normally be able to travel to the festival were able to watch these films and participate in it. And that's also an interesting, um, you know, piece of it.

Beandrea: Totally. Yeah. My mom's like, Hey, did you know Sundance is online this year? Like, yeah I heard about it!

Jennifer: Wow. I think it really covered the gamut here. This was really deep today. We needed this download. Um, It's funny. Cause like, yeah, seeing it virtually, you really kind of feel like you're in your own, like cone of silence with it. And even like on Twitter, there's not like a co it wasn't a cohesive, like, okay, we're all watching this, you know?

So like I do miss that feeling. Um, so I feel like we recreated a little bit right here. Yeah.

Beandrea: Yes, absolutely. I always appreciate you inviting me on your marvelous podcast.

Larkin: Thank you. We loving have you. Yay.

Jennifer: Yeah, well until next time

Beandrea: Until next time!