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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Napoleon,’ ‘Garden State’ prime a new audience for independent film

A friend of mine approached me the other day with a daffy grin on his face. He just had to tell me about the sweet new movie he had watched the night before. It was called “Napoleon Dynamite” and he sang its virtues.

“It didn’t have much of a plot,” he said, “but it was weird and quirky and funny.”

I graciously informed him that the film had actually played at Sundance last year, where they show all sorts of weird, quirky, funny movies devoid of plot. My friend recoiled in a mix of surprise and disgust.

“Sundance?” he said, curling his lip. “Really? I thought all those movies were depressing and artsy and stuff.”

“And in subtitles,” I added.

Know what’s weird? My friend’s reaction is pretty typical, even as independent cinema burgeons on breaking into the cinematic big-time.

A great many people have preconceived notions about Sundance-or anything saddled with the label labeled “independent”-believing that its movies are slow or grim or lacking in cigar-chomping, Jerry Bruckheimer machismo.

However, while such notions may describe the intentions of many independent films, they do not acknowledge the potential for independent films to reach and appeal to mainstream audiences.

“Napoleon Dynamite” was a sleeper-sensation last year. Uber-nerd Napoleon and his sweet moon boots won the hearts of people everywhere. Here was a movie that began its remarkable journey to popular culture at Sundance, of all places.

Zach Braff’s “Garden State” also premiered at Sundance and enjoyed similar popular success. Best known as J.D. from the delightfully loopy sitcom “Scrubs,” Braff brought his trademark brand of whimsical hilarity to his debut film.

Films like “Garden State” and “Napoleon Dynamite” are excellent entry points into independent films and they do well to prove that small-budget, artistic endeavors are not necessarily difficult films to enjoy-they’re often just a little offbeat.

True, some independent films do move at a slower pace than, say, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

However, I remember something Roger Ebert said: A movie’s not about what it’s about, but how it is about what it’s about.

I’ve seen movies about heroine junkies, prostitutes, drug mules, serial killers and even one in which a guy gets his head bashed in with a fire extinguisher.

I don’t say that to shock you or to prove how tough I am-I say that because no matter how ugly the subject matter was, the movies told their respective stories, and did so in a unique and honest fashion.

These films traditionally treat their characters with real humanism and leave viewers feeling incredibly satisfied.

That’s the sort of stuff on which Sundance thrives, and is what the best independent films are made of.

It’s a little sad that Hollywood continues to pour money into what are essentially fantasies for 13-year-old boys.

The popularity of “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Garden State” is telling. People are seeking these movies out. They want something weird and quirky and funny-something new, in other words.

So, the point becomes, if you enjoyed the exploits of Napoleon or Largeman on the big screen over the past years, go to Sundance and catch a flick.

What you see may be a lot more challenging (and perhaps even disturbing) than the popcorn Hollywood fare you’re used to, but if you’ve got the taste for something original, then Sundance is your buffet.

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