The Sundance Festival was rocked by the film Whiplash, which won the prestigious first prize. Favoring independent productions, the Sundance Festival stayed true to form as its first choice went to a musical drama written by Damien Chazelle. The writer-director appeared in last year’s festival with a shorter version of the winning full length feature film, where he won the top shorts prize, thereby gaining support to finish the project. The initiators of the short film were Jason Reitman and Jason Blum, desiring to overcome the myopic view of most coming of career movies about young musicians.
The film’s story is about a young drummer on a quest to rise above the cornfield and shine in the sun. As in most films about people with ambitions, the fight to rise above is one of the main storylines. Then there is the encouragement and discouragement of the mentor, the (replacement) parental figure. In this case, representing approval and authority, is the character played by J.K. Simmons, lending a hand to the junior cast. Instead of being a side line story, the love interest in Whiplash is given equal consideration. Melissa Benoist plays the girlfriend of the musician ready to give everything up for a successful career. Although this seems standard, reviewers agree that the movie’s conflict is most present in the lead character’s inner fight to rise from within himself.
Miles Teller stars in the lead role as Andrew Neiman, the drummer. Among Teller’s other movie credits are The Spectacular Now in which he won a special prize for dramatic acting. Mr. Teller graduated from New York University, earning a Bachelor Fine Arts from the Tisch School of Fine Arts and has many film credits to his resume.
Clearly not only the jury of the Sundance Festival was rocked by Whiplash this year. Composed of six members, the jury weighed the selections competing for the U.S Grand Prize. Movie critic Leonard Maltin headed the judging for the dramatic category, assisted by directors Peter Saraf, Lone Scherfig, Bryan Singer and film critic Dana Stevens. Whiplash also gained public favor and won the Audience Award for U.S. Drama. The U. S. Grand Prize for the category documentary went to Rich Hill, a film about a small town in Missouri; however, the Audience Award for U.S. documentary went to Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory.
Begun in 1981 by actor Robert Redford, the Sundance Festival, located in Utah, promotes independent artists and audiences. As a non-profit venue offering support and cultivation of artists, the festival’s yearly selection represents a great honor to those chosen and celebrates the artistic community.
First and foremost on the organization’s list is to offer an ear to what they call risk-taking storytellers. Often films, typically documentaries, selected by the Sundance Festival are also nominated for more mainstream award shows such as the Oscars. The hype about the new dramatic film about a 19-year-old drummer may mean that in future not only the Sundance Festival will be rocked by Whiplash.
By Persephone Abbott