AMCi: The Sundance Diaries - Day One

By Alicia Malone January 25, 2015

Opening my eyes in the darkness, it took me a second to remember where I was. Then it hit me, Sundance! I tried to stifle my squeal of excitement as I thought about two things - one, the movies start today, and… two, this is probably the only day we’ll be able to sleep in.

Day one of Sundance starts slowly, with the two opening films not scheduled until the evening. After spending the day getting ourselves ready, checking over the schedule and organizing our tickets, we headed to the Eccles Theatre, where all the big premieres are held.

The first film on opening night was ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’, a documentary about the life of jazz goddess Nina Simone, directed by Liz Garbus. To open the festival, Chairman Robert Redford (the Sundance Kid himself!) came out on stage to say a few words, speaking about his love for documentaries and Sundance’s never-ending support for independent film. Liz Garbus came out next, to introduce her film, and it was easy to see how full of emotion she was. She spoke about how the project came about, the passion all of her team had putting this all together, and she thanked Sundance for choosing her movie for opening night.

The documentary itself was quite fascinating to watch. Having not known anything about Nina Simone’s life, I was intrigued to learn about all she went through - from her start as a classical pianist, to her rise to fame, to her abusive marriage, her involvement in the civil rights movement, and her struggles with depression. The structure of the film was very conventional, but the footage Garbus had access to was what made it impressive. And that voice, Nina’s voice, heard throughout the film, beautiful but haunting once you learnt what kind of pain lurked behind it.

As the credits rolled the audience erupted into loud applause and a standing ovation. Liz Garbus came back on stage, and spoke about how relevant Nina’s words about civil rights are today. Then, she promised a surprise. The curtains opened and behind them… Oscar nominee John Legend on a piano. "I'm so grateful to be here today honoring the legacy of the wonderful, powerful, dynamic, super-talented Nina Simone,” Legend said, before singing three of Simone’s songs as a tribute. His rendition of her 1964 single ‘Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood’ was particularly powerful.

Afterwards, Amirose and I lined up for the second opening night premiere, ‘The Bronze’. Produced by the Duplass brothers, ‘The Bronze’ is a raunchy, dark comedy about a former Olympic gymnast (Melissa Rauch) who is bitter when a new gymnastics star threatens to take her fame. Rauch, who co-wrote the film with her husband, is hilarious - mean-spirited, inappropriate, and features in a very athletic and fairly graphic sex scene with Sebastian Stan.

Heading out into the freezing cold, we caught the shuttle bus back to our apartment, and attempted to get some rest before day two. It’s only going to get busier from here!

Have you been to Sundance? Let us know in the comments below!

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