Day Five at Sundance
Sadly, I only saw half of one of my most anticipated Sundance films, not because I came late or left early, but because after 45 minutes trying to get Charlie Victor Romeo (B) to play in 3D, the festival threw in the towel and showed the two-dimensional version—an acute irritation for the audience, but a true nightmare for the filmmakers, especially since the film isn’t being separately screened for press. One review opined that it was “hard to see what 3D would add,” given that the film consists of a stage play filmed on its own minimalist sets, invariably a cockpit mockup surrounded by blackness. But I submit that 1) One has no way of knowing what unseen aspects of a film might or might not add, and 2) The nature of its source material is precisely what makes the decision to use 3D so interesting. Rather than be confined by the proscenium or go the obvious route of “opening up” the play, the members of the Collective: Unconscious theater group chose to film the performance space in depth, in a manner congruent with Wim Wenders’ Pina. I can only hope some bold distributor gives people, including those who couldn’t last night, a chance to see Charlie Victor Romeo in its truest form.
The text of Charlie Victor comes, with only a few alterations, from transcripts taken from the black boxes of crashed planes. (The title is the NATO alphabet acronym for “cockpit voice recorder.”) As such, it’s almost unbearably tense, even when the anxious exchanges between pilot and copilot devolve into shouted technical jargon that starts to resemble a Firesign Theatre routine. Grappling with audience members who wanted more onscreen explication or photos of the crash site—you know, like on CNN—co-director Karlyn Michelson said they wanted to focus on “human drama” rather than mechanics, but the upshot is more unsettling and less clear-cut than that. Drama comes through to a point, but we know these planes are going down, if not when or how many will die (the death toll is revealed only after the transcripts end). The haiku-like descriptions of the crash causes—“catastrophic aft breach”; “static ports left taped over by maintenance crew”—do little to clarify why the planes crashed or why they were chosen: Only a post-film Google revealed that one is the deadliest single-aircraft accident in history. But then, the men and women in the cockpit usually don’t know what’s gone wrong either. I’m still not sure what to take away from the film, but being trapped with them in the agony of the present tense is not an experience I’ll forget before the plane ride home.
To view this article by Sam Adams in full, please visit A.V. Club’s original article Day Five at Sundance