Fresh off of the Sundance Awards Ceremony—which he writes and produces on top of his dozens of other duties—Sundance Film Festival senior programmer David Courier is in Chicago this week to introduce Touchy Feely, a film by Lynn Shelton. The movie—which follows a massage therapist who suddenly develops an aversion to her professional duties—is premiering on Thursday at Music Box Theatre (January 31, 7:30 pm, 3733 N. Southport Ave., 773-871-6607) as part of the Sundance Film Festival USA Initiative.
The program is a ten-city tour that extends the reach of the famous film festival beyond Park City, Utah. A Q&A with Courier and Shelton will follow the screening. (For $15 tickets, visit musicboxtheatre.com.) We spoke with Courier about the 2013 festival, what makes a good film, and more.
About how many films did you watch in order to select the ones that were shown at Sundance?
DAVID COURIER: This year I probably watched about 500 films. People always say, ‘You are so lucky—you get paid to watch movies!’ and I say ‘Oh, if only you knew.’ It is so intensely grueling. [But] then you see one that makes you sit up in your chair and realize: This is why I do this. The thrill of discovery is really awesome.
Are you looking for anything in particular in the films?
DC: We don’t program with any forgone conclusion about topic, or theme, or even craft choices; [we just look for] whatever makes you say ‘wow.’ We are looking for innovation, of course, and bold, great storytelling. We’re not looking for commercial potential—it’s just about bold, independent cinema.
What types of films made a statement this year?
DC: This year was interesting because there was a particular daring and fearlessness about the films. So many dealt with sex and sexual expression. We as the public take violence for granted, but when sex is on the table it is interesting what a taboo it has been. We made history this year in our US Dramatic Feature competition: we showed 16 films and for the first time ever 50 percent were by women [filmmakers]. Many [of them] were exploring sexual expression in at least one aspect.
What might people be surprised to know about Sundance?
DC: What makes it remarkable is that it’s all about the films and filmmakers. Press on the outside make it about glitz and glamour and going to parties, but it’s all about the film. Filmmakers are shocked when they come, because it turns out not to be what they’ve read about—it’s all about them. Actors respect it in that way; they know the moment is about the director.
Do you still get star-struck?
DC: We’re so lucky with the people we get to meet. Dave Grohl was there—the drummer from Nirvana and lead singer from Foo Fighters—he’s got a film out [Sound City]. That was fun for me because I’ve been a fan of his music for so long, and I got to moderate the Q&A [after the film].