This years Sundance Film Festival is virtual, and although we will miss the physical presence of audiences, artists and creatives on Park City's Main Street, we hope that more people across the country will be able to tune into the remarkable films that the festival has on offer this year from their homes.
This coming week, we will be viewing three films that we wanted to share with our audiences that have specific relevance to Religion & Ecology.
I Was a Simple Man
The rushing wind on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawai'i, never stops. It constantly rustles the leaves outside Masao’s house, providing a balmy sonic backdrop. Nature is both a driving force and a spiritual indicator in I Was a Simple Man, the second feature from writer-director Christopher Makoto Yogi. When Masao is healthy, his plants thrive; when a terminal sickness encroaches, the plants wither and die. The island’s ambient noises—the waves, the wind, the birds—thread through the film’s time-shifting chapters, from the pre-World War II sugar plantations of Oahu to Hawai'i statehood to the present gentrification of Honolulu. As Masao gets sicker, he is visited by ghosts of his past, including his wife, Grace (Constance Wu), who helps shepherd him into the beyond. Part dream, part family history, I Was a Simple Man feels both achingly intimate and incredibly expansive. The director’s restrained filmmaking grounds the film in Hawaii’s pastoral landscape, while match cuts and surrealistic editing alter time and space, connecting and disrupting past and present and one family’s relationship to their patriarch—and the place they call home.
Jesmark, a Maltese fisherman, contends with a newfound leak in his wooden luzzu boat. Barely getting by, he sees his livelihood—and a family tradition from generations before him—imperiled by diminishing harvests, a ruthless fishing industry, and a stagnating ecosystem. Desperate to provide for his wife and their newborn son, whose growth impediment requires treatment, Jesmark gradually slips into an illicit black-market fishing operation. Although Malta makes the occasional movie appearance, Luzzu is one of its first truly local films. This is a poignant, humanistic portrait of an eclipsing way of life, its authenticity stemming from the years filmmaker Alex Camilleri spent befriending Maltese fishermen, who then became his cast. Camilleri’s neorealist approach finds the quiet power of small moments and the underlying intensity of ordinary people pushed into untenable positions. Yet it still belongs firmly to today—a reflection on sustainable ecosystems and the consequences of climate change for these fishermen. You feel their struggle, the loss of an identity tied to tradition, and a love for the sea and these colorful boats with their wood-carved faces.
Makwa, a young Anishinaabe boy, has a rough life. He often appears at school with bruises he says he got falling down, but no one believes him. He and his only friend, Ted-O, like to escape by playing in the woods, until the day Makwa shockingly murders a schoolmate. After covering up the crime, the two boys go on to live very different lives. Now, as adult men, they must face the truth of what they have done and what they have become.
In his feature debut, writer/director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. (Shinaab and Shinaab, Part II, 2017 and 2019 Sundance Film Festivals) tells a story that spans centuries and the continent in a film destined to be a touchstone in Indigenous cinema. Leading an impressive cast, Michael Greyeyes delivers a gripping, enigmatic performance as a modern Native American man who has done terrible, unforgivable things. With a strong and compelling visual style that evokes both fascination and dread, Wild Indian considers the cost of survival in a world as cruel as our own.
Tickets to individual films are still available for virtual screening on their website https://festival.sundance.org/.