The Sundance Film Festival began in 1985, in the mountains of Utah, created by the Sundance Kid Robert Redford – as in the character from the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, directed by George Roy Hill. It is now considered the most prestigious showcase of American independent film. The Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Todd Haynes and Jim Jarmusch all broke through in Salt Lake City, US. Through the years, it became more mainstream, while still giving the opportunity for unknown filmmakers to launch their careers.
Four years ago, festival president Redford, Sundance director John Cooper and director of programming Trevor Groth decided to extend its influence in other cities, such as London and Hong Kong. London first editions repeated the focus on Indie film, plus music events, talks and hub, but there was too much to offer in only three or four days. Previously the venue was not very central – originally Sundance London took place in the O2 Arena (in Southwest London) -, so this year they moved to Central Picturehouse, in Piccadilly (at the heart of London), significantly reduced their programme. This does not mean that Sundance lost its innovative talent. Morris from America shows that the Festival still exudes indie creativity and boldness.
In the 61-minute featurette Morris from America 13-year-old Morris, a hip-hop loving American, lives in Heidelberg, Germany, with his father. In this completely foreign land, he doesn’t fit anywhere. Morris is still learning German. All his classmates are white, they can’t play American football and they prefer techno music to Jay Z. Morris heeds his father’s advice and tries to become more social. He falls in love with a reckless blonde two years his senior. She swiftly gets him into parties, drugs and (possibly) sex.
Chad Hartigan (This is Martin Bonner, 2013) plays with his audience using a MacGuffin (or red herring) – a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivation that the protagonist pursues. This device is typically unimportant to the overall plot and serves to distract the audience from finding what is really going on. By the time Morris googles “how to use ecstasy”, the audience is already convinced this kid will fall prey to some sort of Neo-Nazi scheme.
It turns out that Morris remains naive. It’s still not time for him to grow old yet. He keeps his puerile ingenuousness despite the tribulations of adolescence.
Ar one point, Morris’ father drives his son home and telling him his memories of when he was dating Morris’ mother. The subtle moves of the camera through the car windows make the confession heart-rending. The film deserves a second watch both for the social content and this sequence.
Morris from America won Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance (Craig Robinson). It is playing at Sundance London on June 5th – click here for more information about the event.
Watch an interview with the director Chad Hartigan below: