image [Melissa Hibbard follows her first Sundance report with this new post filed on January 24]

First of all, congratulations to Thom and Raphaela on the birth of their son, Bez.

With the snow still piling up all over town, I woke up early and stood in the wait list line to see SPACE TOURISTS, a science fiction-esque documentary directed by Christian Frei. The film, which explores the impact of space tourism on the heavens and the earth, seemed very much like a homage to the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky.  It’s beautiful images, moody dialogue and slow paced editing transports the viewer to the uncomfortable spaces of the old Soviet Union where space tourist are funding the continued exploration of the stars. It’s the kind of film I love to watch: sparse dialogue, stunning landscapes, and a gorgeous soundtrack composed by Jan Garbarek , Steve Teich and Edward Artemyev (who was the composer on some of Takovsky’s more sci-fi films including Stalker and Solaris)  For the Q and A, Frei was there along with the protagonist of the film, Anousheh Ansari [pictured], the first woman space tourist who paid more that 20 million dollars to make her childhood dream of going to space a reality.  Most of the questions were directed to Ansari who answered questions ranging from “What were the after effects on your body?”  to “Was it really worth that much money?” I loved Ansari’s reply: “How do you put a price tag on a dream.”

Right after SPACE TOURISTS I headed into THE RED CHAPEL, by Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger, for a surreal journey to North Korea.  Brügger travels to North Korea under the guise of directing a theater troupe that promotes cultural understanding. The troupe, consisting of Simon the straight man and Jacob the self proclaimed spastic are both Danish Koreans who have never been to Korean. The film is a crazy mix of the theater of the absurd and political activism. It reminded me, in some ways, of BORAT. But instead of making fun of the soft targets of American society, THE RED CHAPEL attempts to expose the dictatorship for the “evil and demonic” oppressor that it is.  Not sure if they accomplished that but it did reveal a lot about a country that most people don’t know: the capitol city is virtually deserted, there are no handicapped persons to be seen and that Kim Jong-ill wrote a book on how to make a great movie. 

With my mind reeling from images of space junk scrappers and robot-like 5 year olds performing for their Dear Leader, I make my way to my last film of the day, WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, directed by Davis Guggenheim. The film examines the current state of the US education system, which is an enormous undertaking.  Guggenheim uses archival footage, animation, charts, interviews and the stories of 5 children to tackle this beast. The stories of the kids were most effective and I wish Guggenheim had spent more time with them.  But the ending is suspenseful and does a good job of conveying just how big of a mess we are in.