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American films

What to see at Hong Kong’s Sundance Film Festival 2018, from Hearts Beat Loud to Three Identical Strangers

Crowd-pleasing film about a father and daughter bonding over music, and documentary about identical triplets raised in separate families who meet by chance, among our top picks for festival offshoot

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 6:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 5:42pm

At the January premiere of Hearts Beat Loud, the closing film of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the director of the event, John Cooper, came up to a group of journalists and asked if there should be more films like that in the programme. The answer was a resounding yes.

Hong Kong audiences will have the opportunity to see the crowd-pleasing film at Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong, which opens this week. On the programme are 10 feature films, two documentary features and a selection of short films.

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Hearts Beat Loud showcases the musical and acting talent of Kiersey Clemons, who has come a long way since her debut in Dope. At the festival’s awards ceremony she sang to the guitar strums of Nick Offerman, who plays her father in the film, and there was clearly a bond between them.

The film tells the story of Frank (Offerman), the owner of a failing Brooklyn record shop, who bonds with his daughter Sam (Clemons) playing music that goes viral. They clash when she wants to stick to her plan of leaving to study medicine.

“It’s a family film, a music-driven film and a story I’d always wanted to tell,” says writer-director Brett Haley. “It’s a sweet, heart-warming and sometimes funny tale that is a good antidote for a lot of what’s wrong in the world right now.”

At one point Sam considers staying in Brooklyn, as she has fallen in love with Rose (Sasha Lane). The lesbian relationship is commendably incidental. “I asked Kiersey and Sasha, who both identify as queer, to tell me the right way to do this,” Haley notes. “With their characters I hope people see two people who love each other, so it’s like any other summer romance.”

Lane also appears in Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, as a feisty teenage marijuana farmer with a prosthetic leg who calls herself Jane Fonda. She’s living at a restrictive gay conversion centre in 1993 and her freewheeling character helps newcomer, the titular Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz), settle in. The film won the grand jury prize at the Sundance festival, held annually in Park City, in the American state of Utah.

Moretz, who is heterosexual, throws herself wholeheartedly into the role. “I’m just an actor portraying the story and the real bravery came from the people I met who actually survived conversion therapy,” says Moretz. She felt close to the film’s subject matter, as she has a gay brother.

“It’s important to give young gay people something they can grasp, so they feel adequately depicted on screen, which is rare, especially with young lesbians. It was also exciting to tell a story that was not told before,” she says.

Blindspotting, the film that opened January’s festival, marked the directing debut of Carlos López Estrada. Its screenplay is the first by Daveed Diggs – who appeared in Wonder alongside Julia Roberts and won a Grammy and Tony for the 2015 musical Hamilton – and his close friend and fellow musician Rafael Casal.

Set in their hometown of Oakland, California, Blindspotting sees Diggs, the son of a Jewish mother and an African American father, and Casal, who is white, play best friends in a story that defies stereotypes. Collin (Digg) is the sensitive, caring type, while the edgier Miles (Casal) buys a gun. With three days left on his parole from prison, Collin witnesses a shooting that could greatly affect his future and his friendship with Miles.

“When we started talking about the film, I was living down the block from Fruitvale Station where Oscar Grant was murdered nine years ago,” Diggs says.

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“But the story’s gone through so many versions. When we started to revisit it as a contemporary story, the city’s gentrification took the driver’s seat of the narrative because we are going back and forth to Oakland all the time; the changes are so striking.”

Accomplished actor Paul Dano ( Love & Mercy ) also made his directing debut with Wildlife, a story based on Richard Ford’s novel, which Dano adapted with his long-time partner, Zoe Kazan. Carey Mulligan delivers a fraught portrayal as a neglected 1960s housewife who cheats on her husband (Jake Gyllenhaal).

“I’ve known Paul, Zoe and Jake for about 10 years, and it was such a pleasure to work with friends,” says Mulligan. “Paul was everything you’d want in a director – firm, but not grabbing you, while occasionally throwing you up into the sky.”

It’s important to give young gay people something they can grasp, so they feel adequately depicted on screen
Chloë Grace Moretz

Korean-American actors feature in two films. In the psychological thriller Searching, John Cho, best known for Harold & Kumar and the recent Star Trek movies, plays a widower who discovers the hidden online life of his missing daughter while searching for her. Steven Yuen has a supporting role in Sorry to Bother You, the opening film of the Hong Kong programme and the directorial debut of rapper Boots Riley.

Based loosely on Riley’s experiences as a telemarketer, the comedy is, like Blindspotting, set in Oakland, though in an alternate reality where black telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) discovers a magical key to professional success.

Also showing in Hong Kong is The Kindergarten Teacher, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as a bored 40-year-old New York teacher who becomes obsessed with a child poet in her class, believing him to be a prodigy.

Monsters and Men, produced by Tonya Lewis (wife of Spike Lee), stars John David Washington (son of Denzel), who recently impressed in Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. Here he plays a man who, after witnessing and recording on his phone a racial attack by a white police officer, has to decide whether to report it – a scenario not dissimilar to that in Blindspotting.

In Christina Chloe’s first feature, the psychodrama Nancy, Andrea Riseborough plays a lonely woman who becomes increasingly convinced she was kidnapped as a child. When she meets a couple (Steve Buscemi and J. Smith-Cameron) whose child was kidnapped 30 years earlier, that belief is reinforced.

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Two of the best selections in Sundance Hong Kong are documentaries. Derek Doneen’s The Price of Free, which won the grand jury prize at the US festival, follows Indian Nobel Prize-winning children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi as he rescues and rehabilitates children working as slaves in factories. Doneen offers a bird’s-eye view as we follow Satyarthi when he tracks down Sonu, a boy trafficked to Delhi for work.

The breakout documentary in Utah was Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers. By an astonishing coincidence New York triplets Edward, Robert, and David, who were separated at birth and adopted by three different families, are reunited at the age of 19, and discover they have similar mannerisms and tastes. The story is so remarkable that it is being turned into a dramatic feature.

Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong runs from September 20 to October 1 at The Metroplex, Kitec, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay. For more details, go to hk.sundance.org.

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