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‘The Tale’: Sundance’s Most Controversial Sex Scene Is Also Its Most Powerful


Few movies at this year’s Sundance Film Festival garnered as much buzz and conversation as Jennifer Fox’s searing narrative debut “The Tale.” Laura Dern stars as a cinematic version of Fox, a documentary filmmaker forced to contend with the realization that she was abused as a child by her beloved track coach (Jason Ritter), an experience she is only able to unravel decades later. Fox utilizes her own documentary background to untangle “The Tale,” aided by a unique narrative style that toys with the very concept of memory.

It also includes some of the festival’s most controversial scenes. In order to best tell the story — again, Fox’s own story — “The Tale” doesn’t shy away from putting the most intimate details of Fox’s abuse on the screen, including the steady “grooming” behavior of Ritter’s character as he breaks down young Jenny’s (Isabelle Nélisse) in order to sexually abuse her. The effect is a powerful one, with Fox taking back her own history to make a stirring narrative.

Read More: ‘The Tale’ Review: Jennifer Fox Directs Laura Dern in an Unspeakably Powerful Story About Her Own Sexual Assault — Sundance 2018

The film’s Saturday-afternoon premiere received a standing ovation at the Eccles Theatre, the festival’s largest venue. For Fox, a longtime documentary filmmaker and journalist, the decision to use her own story as the basis for her inventive and honest narrative debut was a long time coming. It wasn’t until she started working on her 2006 docu-series “Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman” that she realized her story went far beyond her individual experience.

“I was talking to women around the world, and I started to hear my story,” Fox said. “It didn’t matter the class, the color, the nationality, anecdotally; it was like one in two women had a story [like this]. And it just blew my cover.”

She continued, “This event that I always called a relationship, all of a sudden, wasn’t personal, wasn’t individual, but was actually universal. And it was then that I thought it was time to make this film. Time to tell this story.”

It’s not just that “The Tale” includes scenes of molestation and rape; it’s that it includes scenes of molestation and rape written and directed by the very victim who endured them. While the scenes themselves are horrific and deeply uncomfortable, Fox delivers them with the maximum of both impact and care.

During the premiere’s Q&A , the audience understandably wanted to know how Fox and her team shot the scenes in order to make everyone — especially Nélisse, who was 13 at the time of shooting, just like her character — feel safe and cared for. Fox explained that her set included a variety of resources for the actress, including a studio teacher, a SAG rep, a psychiatrist, and her own mother.

The filmmaker also emphasized there was no physical contact between Nélisse and Ritter, with their scenes shot days apart. For Nélisse, that meant shooting only on a vertical bed, with the camera trained squarely on her face. Fox used a variety of cues to inspire different emotions in her star, like “act like a bee is stinging you” or “act like you’re being chased by a dog.”

When it came time for Ritter to shoot his scenes, he was paired with an adult body double. “No one wanted to create more trauma on the set, and having the body double there for me personally helped me to lean into it more,” Ritter said, stopping briefly to cry. “It was really complicated… when it was a grown woman there, it was easier for me to try to do some of those scenes.”

The weight of Fox’s story is unquestionable, but that it’s her telling it recontextualizes it in an entirely new way. Like Dern’s character, she’s taking back her own narrative, even — or perhaps especially — when it requires the inclusion of a challenging and pivotal sequence.

“I wanted to tell this story since it happened when I was 13,” Fox told the crowd on Saturday. With “The Tale,” she’s done it in the most deft and powerful way possible.

“The Tale” premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.

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‘Burden’ Review: Garrett Hedlund’s Best Performance Anchors Searing True-Life KKK Redemption Drama — Sundance 2018


If Mike Burden didn’t actually exist, and writer and director Andrew Heckler created a fictional character, it wouldn’t work. But as it happens, Mike Burden was a KKK member with a heart of gold who left the Klan because of the love of a good woman, eventually aligning himself with an African-American minister he was once prepared to assassinate, all while laboring mightily under the, get this, burden implied by his surname. It sounds too neat, too crazy, too scripted. But he is real, and so is Heckler’s decades-in-the-making biopic “Burden,” which isn’t neat, crazy, or too scripted.

Instead, what Heckler — a first-time filmmaker finally getting to make his passion project after nearly 20 years — offers is a hard-won redemption story that doesn’t cut corners and or look for easy answers. As Burden, Garrett Hedlund astonishes in a nuanced portrait of a man resistant to change, until he finally comes to understand that hatred is literally killing him. It’s a timely story, of course, but it’s also a universal one that delivers a necessary message without shirking from the realities of breaking free from a lifetime of evil indoctrination.

In 1996, a group of men set about turning a long-closed movie theater into a new business, meant to invigorate the small-town of Laurens, South Carolina. Heckler opens “Burden” in the middle of their reconstruction work, resisting the big reveal: It’s”The Redneck Shop,” filled with KKK paraphernalia and the back half occupied by the “KKK Museum.” Heckler’s choice to hold back that information as long as possible enforces a queasy but necessary twist: The Klansmen who operate the business think that creating such a horrific symbol of bigotry is just as normal as opening a restaurant, grocery store, or dry cleaners.

From the start, Heckler is compelled by the gray areas of his story, seeking shreds of humanity in despicable characters. An average afternoon cookout transforms into a full-scale KKK rally, complete with burning crosses and white hoods. The effect is chilling, but it also plunges the audience into the reality of Burden (Hedlund), who has known no other life, and no other people.

Loose-limbed and hangdog, Mike’s quiet nature hides some huge secrets, like his propensity for horrific violence and his high-ranking place in the Klan, which he believes is the only family who could ever love him. Heckler’s script lightly doles out key knowledge, like Mike’s abusive father and his time served in the Army, but it also doesn’t let Mike off the hook. He’s a bad man who does bad things.

Elsewhere in Laurens, there’s Reverend David Kennedy (Forrest Whitaker), Mike’s opposite in every way: a family man dedicated to his faith, one who is always committed to doing the right thing and stopping every injustice in its tracks, and who truly believes in the power of redemption. If Mike Burden is a man driven by hatred, Reverend Kennedy lives in love, and walks the walk.

It’s a woman who initially turns Mike’s head and heart. Powerhouse Andrea Riseborough plays Judy Harbeson, another Laurens local who managed to escape the cycle of hatred that consumed her community and even members of her own family. Steely-eyed and soft-hearted, Mike connects with Judy instantly – he also happens to be attempted to be repossessing her TV at the time, just one of the odd jobs his de facto father, Klan boss Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson) provides for him – his first experience feeling any kind of connection with a woman.

Judy’s love that begins to push Mike into new places – he’s attentive and sweet to her, and he just loves her young son – and “Burden” makes a graceful move towards showing Mike’s real humanity, even as he also continues to give himself over to the violence of the Klan. As the Redneck Shop continues its mission – even serving as a recruitment ground for scores of wannabe Klansmen – Mike has to make a choice. When he does, the Klan rejects him fully. He and Judy lose everything, from their home to their jobs, and Mike’s rage only continues to grow.

It would be easy to put a story like this into soft focus, letting him have a couple of slip-ups on his way to redemption — just enough to show he’s worked to become a good person. Heckler isn’t interested in that; he and Hedlund dig deeply to chronicle the true price of Mike’s journey.

Hedlund responds with the kind of truly conflicted performance often missing from the genre. This is a man in pain, but he’s also a man who has caused tremendous pain. The magic of “Burden” is that it marries those ideas, with Hedlund providing his most nuanced, lived-in performance yet. It’s also his best.

Production design from Stephanie Hamilton is another highlight, and the film feels pulled directly out of a very specific time and place; Jeremy Rouse’s cinematography is gorgeous without being at all showy.

There are a few rough spots: Heckler tosses in a pair of scenes meant to approximate Mike’s mental and emotional state during the roughest of times, but the gauzy fever dreams feel far removed froma deeply grounded movie. The film doesn’t need them; “Burden” feels much richer when it returns to its reality, where the gray spaces live, where a man can be redeemed, and where love is the only answer to hate.

Grade: A-

“Burden” premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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‘Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns Home’ Trailer: Danny McBride & Chris Hemsworth Star in Secret Sequel — Watch


There’s a new “Crocodile Dundee” movie, and it stars…Danny McBride and Chris Hemsworth? The secretive new project, which some still have a hard time believing is an actual movie, now has a trailer to go along with the rumors. Watch below.

This look at “Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns Home” opens somewhere in the Outback, where a tour bus carrying McBride lets him off next to a sign-carrying Hemsworth. “Yo, where the kangaroos at?” asks McBride, who’s playing the child of the original Crocodile Dundee; Hemsworth has a hard time believing he’s related to the character made famous by Paul Hogan. “Brian Dundee? Really?” he keeps asking.

The first three comedies — “Crocodile Dundee,” “Crocodile Dundee II,” and “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles” — were released in 1986, 1988, and 2001, respectively. Steve Rogers directed “Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns home,” which is due in theaters on June 1.

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Ethan Hawke on Directing His New Film ‘Blaze’: ‘It’s What I Want to Be Alive For’ — Sundance


Ethan Hawke didn’t want his latest film to feel like something made on a whim. Making “Blaze,” a biopic of the late country singer Blaze Foley, Hawke realized that directing a movie is only worthwhile if it feels like it’s something you need to do.

“It means so much to me. A ‘labor of love’ sounds like something you do as a hobby to me,” Hawke said, speaking at the IndieWire Sundance Studio presented by Dropbox. Of making films (of which this is his fourth) he added, “It’s what I want to be alive for.”

As an artist, Foley (played in the film by Benjamin Dickey) has gained a growing amount of respect and fame since his untimely passing in 1989. “Blaze” looks to tell the full story of the “Clay Pigeons” singer’s love and heartbreak in a trio of key moments before and after his death.

“The whole idea of the movie is centered around Ben Dickey and the love of Blaze Foley’s music. That’s like the start of the snowball,” Hawke said.

If this film isn’t quite a “labor of love,” then what is it for the people involved in helping bring it to life?

“A labor of hope,” Dickey offered.

“Blaze,” which also stars, Alia Shawkat, Josh Hamilton, and Charlie Sexton, is one of the 16 films in Sundance 2018’s U.S. Dramatic Competition.

IndieWire will be speaking with creators at our studio throughout the opening weekend of Sundance 2018. For more of our coverage of this year’s festival, see our annual Sundance Bible

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