A taste of Sundance: Amherst Cinema to screen new films as part of festival’s Satellite Program

  • In “Emergency,” Black and Latino college students have to decide how they’re going to deal with police when an unsettling situation arises. courtesy IMAGE/Sundance Film Festival

  • The documentary “Free Chol Soo Lee” covers a case from the 1970s when Asian-Americans of different backgrounds united to help a Korean immigrant falsely accused of murder. courtesy IMAGE/Sundance Film Festival

  • In “Alice,” which will be shown at Amherst Cinema, a young black woman escapes from slavery in Georgia in the 19th century ... and mysteriously finds herself in 1973 America. Sundance Film Festival

  • “Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul” satirizes the world of for-profit megachurches.

  • Heavy metal thunder in the Mideast: The documentary “Sirens,” to be screened in Amherst, explores the lives of young women in Lebanon who form a metal thrash band. Sundance Film Festival

  • Yasmin Chin Eisenhauer, executive director of Amherst Cinema, says being part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Satellite Program feels like a recognition of the theater’s commitment to independent film, community outreach, and inclusion and equity.  Photo courtesy Amherst Cinema/Gazette file photo

  • Yasmin Chin Eisenhauer, executive director of Amherst Cinema, says eight new feature films and four shorts will be shown at the theater in January as part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Satellite Screens program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Yasmin Chin Eisenhauer, executive director of Amherst Cinema, says eight feature films and four shorts will show at the theater in January as part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Satellite Screens program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Yasmin Chin Eisenhauer, executive director of Amherst Cinema, says being part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Satellite Screens program feels like a recognition of the theater’s commitment to independent film, community outreach, and inclusion and equity. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Yasmin Chin Eisenhauer, executive director of Amherst Cinema, says eight feature films and four shorts will show at the theater in January as part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Satellite Screens program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Yasmin Chin Eisenhauer, executive director of Amherst Cinema, says being part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Satellite Screens program feels like a recognition of the theater’s commitment to independent film, community outreach, and inclusion and equity. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/15/2021 2:36:39 PM

Attending the Sundance Film Festival is no small matter. As the largest independent film festival in the country, Sundance has attracted an estimated 120,000 attendees in recent years — and when travel, hotels, meals and ticket prices are factored in, visits to the festival at Park City, Utah, can also cost thousands of dollars.

But valley filmgoers will have an easier, less expensive option next month for getting a taste of Sundance 2022: watching some of the new films at the Amherst Cinema.

The movie house is one of seven independent theaters across the country that are part of Sundance’s “Satellite Screens” program, in which a selection of films from Sundance will be shown during the festival’s closing weekend, Jan. 28 to Jan. 30.

At the Amherst Cinema, eight feature films and four short films will play during that weekend. The films — dramas, dark comedies, documentaries, period pieces — cover a range of topics and are designed especially to offer viewers both a “multicultural and international perspective,” said Yasmin Chin Eisenhauer, the cinema’s executive director.

“I like to see (the Sundance films) as both a mirror and a window,” Eisenhauer said. “They’re a mirror in the sense that people can see aspects of their own lives reflected in them, and they’re a window in the way they give you a portal to other worlds.”

Sundance, which will show 82 feature films between Jan. 20 and Jan. 30, introduced its satellite program last January when the festival was forced to go online due to the pandemic. Then, Eisenhauer said, Amherst Cinema was invited to apply to the 2022 version of the event.

“We’re thrilled to be part of it this year,” she said, noting that the cinema is the only movie house in the Northeast to be included in the program (the six other participating theaters are in Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kansas, California and Washington).

Spencer Alcorn, director of communications for the Sundance Institute, said in an email that the film festival considered “several dozen venues” to be part of the Satellite Screens program “in recognition of a shared alignment as mission-driven nonprofits, committed to vibrant independent film, excellence in community programming and outreach, and to inclusion and equity.”

Eisenhauer said Amherst Cinema has built a strong relationship with Sundance over the years, both by screening new Sundance films after they’ve debuted in Utah and because George Myers, the theater’s general manager and programmer, has attended the festival for more than 10 years to scout new material to bring to Amherst.

“We’ve always looked for both the bigger films and the smaller ones, the ones on the margins that would appeal to our audiences and offer a variety of stories and settings,” she said. “So to have the opportunity now to strengthen our relationship with the festival through the Satellite Screens program? That was a no-brainer.”

Eisenhauer said the films to be presented here and at the other theaters were chosen after Sundance programmers held one-on-one and collective discussions with the theaters. “They asked us what our audiences were looking for and what we were hoping to give them, what our usual programming was like,” she said. “There was a lot of really good back and forth.”

In a statement, Kim Yutani, Sundance’s programming director, said the upcoming films “reflect the unsettling and uncertain times we’ve been living in for the past year and a half. ... through their bold and innovative storytelling, and their sheer determination to create work in this moment, (the artists) challenge us to look at the world through different lenses and examine and reevaluate how these stories impact us now and in the future.”

In “Emergency,” for instance, two Black college students, Kunle and Sean, get ready for a wild tour of fraternity parties at their school. But when they discover a white girl passed out on their living room floor, Kunle and Sean and their Latino roommate, Carlos, face a dilemma: Do they call the cops, knowing the optics look bad and that police interactions with Blacks can go south in a hurry?

And in “Alice,” a young Black woman enslaved in Georgia in the 19th century escapes through nearby woods and suddenly finds herself in America in 1973. The film, the debut feature of writer-director Krystin Ver Linden, “spins a modern liberation fable that is equal parts earthy Southern Gothic and soulful Blaxploitation,” according to program notes.

Other features include a documentary, “Free Chol Soo Lee,” the story of a Korean immigrant falsely accused of murder in San Francisco in 1973; “Marte Um (Mars One),” a profile of a poor Brazilian family dealing with the election of an extreme right-wing president; and “Sirens,” a documentary about young women in Lebanon who are trying to make it as the Middle East’s first all-female metal band.

Eisenhauser said Amherst Cinema will also screen a short film, “What Travelers Are Saying About Jornada del Muerto,” which looks at how people react from visits to the Trinity test site in New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb explosion took place in 1945. The film is directed by Hope Tucker, who teaches at Hampshire College, and the screening will be exclusive to Amherst Cinema.

The theater plans to offer some complementary programming during the Jan. 28-30 weekend, Eisenhauser said, and it’s also looking at the possibility of adding some recorded commentary from the directors of some of the Sundance feature films.

“We’d like this to be as much of an all-around experience as we can offer,” she noted.

Ticket sales for the Sundance films will open Jan. 6. In keeping with safety protocols observed both at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and Amherst Cinema, all ticket holders must present proof of full COVID-19 vaccination (which must be at least two weeks before attending) and wear face masks, which can only be removed when moviegoers eat or drink in their seats.

More information on the Sundance films and on regular programming at Amherst Cinema is available at amherstcinema.org.

Steve Pfarrer can be raeched at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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