Stranger Than Fiction: 7 Sundance Films Based On The Creators' Lives
Since I've been highly passionate about independent films throughout my whole life, I could not help but feel intrigued by the Sundance Film Festival.
It's one of the most important indie film festivals in the world — if not the most important one — and has been held in Utah once a year since 1978.
The Sundance, as many of you may already know, has helped to shape little masterpieces, like "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," "Clerks," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Juno" and "Winter’s Bone."
Because of this, it has earned a reputation for being the best springboard around for young performers and rookie authors.
To provide just two examples, film directors, like Miranda July, and actresses, like Carey Mulligan, would not have been that successful without it.
Among so many unique titles and genres boldly mixed together, as only certain Sundance movies can do, some films have stood out because of one thing in particular: their unquestionable authentic backgrounds.
The movies discussed below were shaped by real-life experiences of their writers.
Whether the tale is told through a nostalgic love story, as in the cases of "Before Sunrise," "(500) Days of Summer" and "Like Crazy," or by screening a glimpse of an original existence, like in "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," "Stories We Tell" and, most recently, "Whiplash," none of the independent films developed from thin air.
They all tell dazzling, autobiographical stories that keep audiences hooked:
The story: Andrew Neiman studies at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory of New York because he wants to become one of the best jazz drummers in the world.
One day, Terence Fletcher, who is considered to be the best teacher of the school, accepts Andrew into his studio band as the alternative for the core drummer.
From here on out, Andrew will chase the approval of Fletcher, who generally just insults or humiliates his students, always looking for some insane, seemingly unattainable musical perfection.
The autobiographical element: Perhaps not everyone knows that "Whiplash," written and directed by Damien Chazelle, is based on his own experiences in the Princeton High School studio band.
Even Fletcher’s character, although exaggerated, was created as a reference to one of his former teachers.
Why, if you have not yet done so, you have to watch this movie right now: If you are among those who want to become "one of the greats," or if you simply have a dream, this movie will teach you, with a rather atypical lesson, that the best way to succeed is to act with arrogance and insatiable, desperate determination.
"The East" (2013)
The story: Jane, an operative agent of a private intelligence, must infiltrate a mysterious anarchist and ecologist organization called The East, which has already attacked several industrial companies, with the intent to expose its corruption.
The autobiographical element: Directed by Zal Batmanglij and cowritten by Brit Marling, this movie is loosely based on the material that the two accumulated during a few months spent together, living among a bunch of freegans (people who dumpster-dive for food).
Why you have to watch it: Because sometimes, there are only two great truths. This movie presents them both using equally great performances, as well as a thrilling screenplay.
"Stories We Tell" (2012)
The story: Film director and screenwriter, Sarah Polley, tells for the very first time, her family history by discovering and rediscovering it.
The autobiographical element: This movie explores the tender, yet difficult romantic relationship between Polley’s parents, Michael and Diane, as it is slowly revealed that Sarah is allegedly the product of an extramarital affair between her mother and the Canadian producer, Harry Gulkin.
Why you have to watch it: Because even though many websites report that it is a documentary, "Stories We Tell" is the Sundance movie that can mix different narrative elements and succeed in its intention to make you both laugh and cry.
"Like Crazy" (2011)
The story: Anna and Jacob fall in love for each other in college in Los Angeles. The only problem is that she is British and he is American, so after their graduation, Anna’s student visa forces her to return to the UK.
The autobiographical element: With this touching Sundance gem, Drake Doremus tells us about the long-distance relationship he had with a young British woman while he lived in Los Angeles.
Why you have to watch it: Because, despite being set in 2011, "Like Crazy" is kind of an old-fashioned love story, where neither Skype nor Facebook halve the distance, but instead, the lovers face romantic phone calls in the middle of the night.
Also, Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin share a spectacular onscreen chemistry.
"(500) Days of Summer" (2009)
The story: The shy and sensitive Tom Hansen meets the sunny yet unpredictable Summer Finn. Of course, theirs is not a common love story.
The autobiographical element: The co-writer of this delightful indie comedy, Scott Neustadter, admitted that he based the story on his young experiences at the London School of Economics, where he fell for a girl like Summer.
The funny thing is that Neustadter submitted the screenplay to the girl, and she told him that she felt closer to Tom than Summer.
Why you have to watch it: Because Zooey Deschanel would not have been Zooey Deschanel if she had not played Summer Finn.
"A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" (2006)
The story: Dito is a successful writer who lives in Los Angeles. One day, learning that his father is seriously ill, he is forced to return to Astoria, New York, the neighborhood where he was born.
The autobiographical element: Dito Montiel wrote and directed "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," which is the true story of how the author managed to escape the dangers of a wasted youth in New York during the 1980s.
Why you have to watch it: Because, if you still think Channing Tatum is not a good dramatic actor, you’re wrong.
"Before Sunrise" (1995)
The story: Jesse and Céline meet on a train. He is going to Vienna to catch a flight to the US, while she is returning to Paris after having visited her grandmother.
When they reach Vienna, Jesse asks Céline to visit the city with him, saying that if she does not do so, she might regret it in a few years.
The autobiographical element: Richard Linklater wrote and directed this movie thinking about the woman he met in a toy store in Philadelphia in 1989, and with whom he spent a whole day just talking and walking around.
Why you have to watch it: Because the stunning trilogy, which includes "Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight," started from here.
Not to mention, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are still one of the most iconic movie couples ever.