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Sundance 2021: first impressions and my two favorites of the day

Last year I went to Park City. It was my first time at Sundance, and I really enjoyed the vibe of the festival. I had a great time working and watching some fantastic films. It was a wonderful experience and one I was looking forward to having again in 2021. But, as the pandemic hit us all, it was clear that I wouldn’t be going to Park City this year. Now, living in Colorado, I can only be jealous of my friends who are still in San Francisco and can easily go to the in-person shows that Sundance put together with the Roxie Theater.

Yesterday was the opening night of the festival. Although the experience isn’t the same, Sundance did an excellent job creating interactive spaces and developing apps to choose how to watch the films and events. I’ve used Apple TV. Besides small issues with the closed caption, everything has worked great, technical-wise. If there’s one thing that I would prefer is to have the ability to watch the on-demand films in 24 hours. I mean, the way Sundance did it, you have only 4 hours to watch a movie by the time you start it, which seems reasonable when you’re at a festival dedicated entirely to that experience. But, as we all know by now, working from home makes us multitask constantly, and I mistakenly assumed that I had spent less than 4 hours away from the series I was watching and ended up missing the final episode, which is a bummer.

4 Feet High and Coda

The two titles that have caught my attention were the series 4 Feet High, directed by Rosario Perazolo Masjoan and María Belén Poncio, and CODA, directed by Siân Heder. Although serendipitously (meaning, I didn’t select them purposely), the more I thought about those titles, the stronger I saw them complementing themselves.

Image by sundanceorg

While 4 Feet High tells Juana's story (Marisol Agostina Irigoyen), a 17-year-old girl who lives in a wheelchair, CODA presents us Ruby (Emilia Jones), also a teenage girl whose entire family is deaf. Both films succeed in telling a story about loneliness in the middle of abundant love from opposite perspectives. They also highlight experiences that we rarely see on the screen, with an assemble that is not faking the experience -- this is media representation to its best.

In 4 Feet High, the directors treat themes, such as sexual education and representation, subtly, looking at those issues from a new and exciting perspective. Juana is the agent of her life. She dates. She makes love. She fights to have the same kind of experiences everyone her age has. She demands to be treated as "normal." For instance, when Juana and another girl are caught grafting on the school wall, the principal suggests a less severe punishment for her, but she insists on getting the same fine as her friend. Juana's statements tell a lot about how society sees people with disabilities and why special treatments are nothing but discriminatory measures.

Image by sundanceorg

On the other side of the spectrum, in CODA, Ruby is literally interpreting life for her loved ones and losing sight of what she is. It's her choir teacher, Mr. V (Eugenio Derbez), who recognizes it promptly. He offers to train her and shows she has a chance to go to college and study music at Berklee. As Ruby tries to navigate these new possibilities, she needs to learn how to detach herself from the caregiving role that her parents have imposed on her, not willingly. More importantly, she needs to understand that deafness doesn't make her family less than her; she needs to see them as who they are, happy people who are smart enough to deal with their own troubles.

Regarding the aesthetics, each has its own style. While Siân Heder utilizes a cold palette for almost the movie's entirety, Rosario Perazolo Masjoan and María Belén Poncio play with warm colors. Moreover, in 4 Feet High, the imaginative editing of Mariana Quiroga mimics Juana's feelings, connecting sequences through intricate drawings.

Both titles are a must-see. CODA has been acquired by Apple for USD 25 million and might get a big marketing push for getting awards. 4 Feet High might run festivals and, hopefully, find a place so everyone can experience this fantastic story.

Check out the links below to watch each project's trailer:


Check out more Sundance highlights at beabadeprodutora

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