PARK CITY, UTAH — Midway through Dark Night, the gun madness drama that electrified the Sundance Film Festival this past weekend, an angry young man named Robert tries on masks in a mirror.
One is a Batman mask. The other is a skull’s head death mask.
As Robert dons each one in turn, he stares at the mirror, but he’s really staring at the camera. It’s a look that seems to say, “What are you going to do to stop me?”
That’s as close as this film gets to making a direct challenge to the audience, but it’s all that’s needed.
This third feature by Brooklyn filmmaker and teacher Tim Sutton is based on the July 20, 2012 movie theatre massacre in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises.
A man in battle attire named James Holmes fired multiple guns and tossed tear gas grenades into the audience, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others. He’s now serving 12 life sentences in prison, one for each person he murdered.
It was the worst such incident in U.S. history, but not the first and surely not the last — and the gun violence epidemic knows no national boundaries, as witness the school shooting in La Loche, Sask., that left four people dead.
Each such tragedy leaves people feeling numb, helpless and wondering how to prevent similar events from occurring.
Two other films that premiered at Sundance this past weekend, the documentaries Under the Gun and Newtown, made powerful statements about rising gun violence from the victim’s point of view.
Dark Night has no point of view and that’s what gives it such immense power. A killer could be anyone in our midst and we all could be a potential victim.
“I think there’s a long line of people waiting to do it next,” Sutton said at the post-screening Q&A.
Sutton presents an average day in Anytown, USA, of citizens going about their business, which will include seeing The Dark Knight Rises that evening. His actors are not famous; most of the characters aren’t given names, and the narrative is fractured and even surreal.
At least three of these people, one of them mask-wearing Robert (Robert Jumper), exhibit signs of anti-social behaviour that hint they might be the multiplex shooter. One of them even has bright orange hair similar to the look favoured by Holmes.
The palpable sense of dread is pushed further into gloom by the bleak soundtrack tunes of Canadian musician Maica Armata, whom Sutton met on a trip to Montreal.
Dark Night doesn’t attempt to recreate the carnage — it stops just short of showing it — but that didn’t stop some audience members following the film’s Sunday world premiere at the Library Theatre from questioning Sutton’s motives.
There were a few grumbles about exploitation cinema and one man asked Sutton what a film like this could possibly contribute to the “conversation” about gun violence.
“It’s not a gun-control movie,” answered Sutton, who is a middle-aged father of two sons. “This movie is not about answering questions.”
He said he’s exploring the “disconnection” between public shootings and society’s increasing sense of futility about stopping them. He’s hoping to provoke people to talk about the situation even if it makes them uncomfortable.
Another questioner made Sutton feel ill at ease. He wanted to know if the filmmaker has stopped to consider whether Dark Night might inspire copycat killings.
A stricken look crossed Sutton’s face.
He’s had that very thought and “it horrifies me,” he replied.
As I tweeted early Monday, immediately following the midnight world premiere of Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers, this shambolic valentine to Canada is either “the best thing since maple bacon or 88 minutes of hockey stick to head.”
It all depends on your appreciation for Smith’s increasingly absurd sense of humour, which lately has been bringing this Sundance veteran and New Jersey native to Canada, the country he fell in love with during visits as a child.
Yoga Hosers is the second film in Smith’s planned True North Trilogy, which centres on very strange occurrences at a Winnipeg convenience store called Eh-2-Zed, which among other things sells artisanal maple syrup.
The shop is staffed by 16-year-old clerks played by Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of Johnny Depp, and her real-life friend Harley Quinn Smith, the daughter of writer/director Smith.
The two yoga-loving and rap-singing teens get caught up in an investigation led by Quebec police detective Guy Lapointe, played by a nearly unrecognizable but entirely game Johnny Depp. There’s some nasty business afoot involving neo-Nazis and pint-sized anal attackers, and the girls are ready to fight for Canada, but there’s not much more to a picture the Sundance program book succinctly describes as “an intoxicatingly silly pulp tale for the Instagram age.”
Smith really lards on the Canuck clichés, especially the damnable lie about how we all pronounce “about” as “aboot.” That joke gets old really fast.
But Yoga Hosers does provide a closer look at the great chemistry between Lily-Rose and Harley, who even manage to sing “O Canada” in both official languages. These two deserve a movie with more story and structure.
And Smith really does have an affection for Canada, even musing during the Q&A that he’d consider seeking dual citizenship, as long as Canadian authorities aren’t mad at him.
“I’m from New Jersey, which is kind of the Canada of the United States,” said Smith, 45, who was wearing a custom hockey sweater with his face on front, Chicago Blackhawks style.
He said that people have pointed out to him that Yoga Hosers bears some resemblance to Clerks, the 1994 film that launched Smith’s career after it premiered at Sundance, for which he is eternally grateful: he told a story about breaking into tears this year after meeting Sundance founder Robert Redford.
Smith acknowledges the Clerks connection, but for him the link is to Bob and Doug McKenzie of SCTV fame, the toque-wearing and beer-guzzling brothers who also starred in a film called Strange Brew.
“This is me trying to do Strange Brew with girls,” Smith said and you don’t get more Canadian than that.
Ireland’s John Carney won the audience award at Sundance 2007 for Once, a musical romance set in the streets of Dublin that later won an Oscar, and inspired a concert tour and Broadway production. He may well be following a similar trajectory following the ecstatic reception here for his latest film, Sing Street, set in the Dublin of 1985 and infused with the synth-pop sound of the decade. Newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays a bullied high schooler named Conor who creates his own band both to prove his worth and catch the eye of neighbourhood girl Raphina (Lucy Boynton).
The film is filled with great original pop tunes, which Carney’s crew presented a sample of in miniconcerts following two packed world premiere screenings Sunday night and Monday morning.
Reminiscent of The Commitments, the film is a charming and authentic look at what it takes to form your own band, made by a guy who really loves music. Carney said he sought advice from Dublin’s two most famous musicians, Bono and the Edge of U2.
He said Bono told him to move up the line in the movie where Conor, seeking to impress Raphina, tells his friend they need to form a band, pronto. Carney had planned the scene for later in the film, but Bono had the right instincts.
“They were very helpful in telling us anecdotes, and sharing ideas and listening to music,” Carney said of his U2 pals.