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Sundance: Prime Time

Set in Poland on New Year’s Eve 1999, Prime Time stars Bartosz Bielenia as Sebastian, a troubled young man who breaks into a major Polish television studio. He takes a security guard and on air hostess hostage and demands that he be broadcast live to the nation. With gun in hand and a note in his pocket, he  battles with the television producers and the hostage negotiators who will do anything to prevent him from reading his message. The situation gets more volatile as the night progresses, leaving Sebastian in a bind.

Directed by Jakub Piątek, Prime Time seems to have an important message to offer but ultimately fails to deliver. It eschews the conventional approach to a hostage thriller. Tension is palpable yet muted and the film moves along at a steady rather than frenzied pace. Bartosz Bielenia, who starred in the excellent Polish drama Corpus Christi, is magnificent as the disturbed Sebastian who is anything but a villain. However, the viewer never really gets to know his character. We’re left wondering about his motivation. Ultimately he is a relatable character whom we empathize with but the impetus for his actions are unclear. It leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.

Prime Time had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival as part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition.

Sundance: CODA

What a way to kick off my very first Sundance Film Festival! The first feature film I had the pleasure to see, CODA, is a new favorite and one I’ll be recommending for months to come.

Set in Gloucester, Massachusetts, CODA (an acronym for Children of Deaf Adults) stars Emilia Jones as Ruby, the only hearing member of a deaf family. Her father Frank (Troy Kotsur) manages a struggling fishing business which is bolstered by the help of his wife Jackie (Marlee Matlin), his deaf son Leo (Daniel Durant) and his hearing daughter. The family depends on Ruby to interpret on their behalf, causing her to bear more burden on the high school teenager. But Ruby is on her own journey.  Ruby joins the high school choir where she must overcome her shyness, accept the tough-love tutoring of her singing coach Bernardo (Eugenio Derbez) and expose her vulnerability to her crush and duet partner Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). Can Ruby find her voice or will she have to sacrifice it to help her family survive their current hardship?

Director Siân Heder absolutely delivers with this feel-good drama that offers moments of joy, sadness and hope. CODA is funny and charming and sends its viewers on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. It’s effective not only as a coming-of-age story but an exploration of a unique family dynamic. Heder cast deaf actors Matlin, Kotsur, and Durant in the roles of the deaf family members. Potential caricature is avoided with authentic and multi-dimensional characters performed by  talented actors. Representation matters and Heder clearly demonstrates that with this thoughtfully crafted film. Another way CODA is effective is in evoking empathy for the plight of the characters and not for their disability. These are fiercely independent individuals who face a battle to thrive in a society of people who do not or chose not to understand. It’s beautiful to see the way they support each other especially as their youngest, who they’ve depended on for so long, is ready to spread her wings and fly.

CODA premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

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