Finding the Keymaster in Myanmar

…and other stories! I only spent 4 days in Myanmar, but it was there that I collected the most and the best stories from my Asia adventure.

Bagan Myanmar Pagodas

At the airport in Mandalay, the ground crew line up in a row and wave goodbye to you when your plane is taxiing towards the runway. That’s the kind of country Myanmar is.

I had very little knowledge of Myanmar going in, which is unusual for me. If I’m being honest, I saw a cool photo of Bagan on Pinterest and decided to add it to the trip. I didn’t know it was the off season in Myanmar, which means what few tourist services they have there are shut down. There are less buses, boats, and fellow tourists — and therefore, it’s harder to get around and be sure of where you’re going in a country of limited English speakers. It was also over 100 degrees fahrenheit in some places. Bagan got up to 110°F (43°c) when I was there. It’s also a country very low on the economic success ladder. It’s very similar to Togo (West Africa), another country I’ve visited twice and love, so I wasn’t altogether unfamiliar with the vibe, but it’s certainly not a country to visit if you’re not comfortable with exposure to extreme poverty. Myanmar has one of the largest income gaps in the world, and ranks 150 out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index. It wasn’t until 2011 that the military junta controlling the country was dissolved, and before that visiting Myanmar wasn’t recommended by many. Getting into and traveling around Myanmar still isn’t easy.

Myanmar

The start of my journey there wasn’t great. I took out way more than I needed at the airport ATM accidentally, then I got ripped off by a taxi company to get a ride to the bus station. Thirty minutes later, I was dropped off at what didn’t look at all like a bus station apart from the 5 or so buses parked every which way in a dirt lot, surrounded by filthy market stalls. I couldn’t find any central terminal or check-in counter, so I went in the building in the center, where there were people sleeping on the floor, people selling sad jewelry and produce, and a horribly dingy room with an old TV hanging from the ceiling playing a subtitled TV show where there was a woman in a bikini whose body was completely blurred out (to censor it).

myanmar

I wandered around for a few minutes and found an office with really young Burmese men blasting horrible club music through cheap speakers. There was no sign anywhere except a small faded poster on the window that displayed the bus routes in Burmese, that indicated this was the right place to be. The boy inside the office insisted I was in the right place and told me to sit. I asked “why am I sitting in here if my bus isn’t leaving until 5?” (it was only 1:30pm at the time) and he had no idea what I was saying. He just laughed and shrugged. I sat for about 20 minutes before asking “is there food around here?” another shrug. I made the gesture and hand motions for eating, and a woman sitting next to me decided to help out and said something to the boy in Burmese which must have been “she’s asking about food” because when she did, his face lit up and he said “there!” and pointed through the wall to an unknown location. Helpful. I said “okay, I’m going to eat” doing my best to convey this through hand gestures as well.

I proceeded to exit the depressing, run down, unbelievably hot office (no AC) and looked out to across the dirt lot to a stall across the way that was, indeed, a restaurant of sorts. I walked over and to my delight, the owner actually knew a tiny bit of English. He asked “chicken or beef?” the base of pretty much every meal in SE Asia. I said “vegetables” and he knew what I meant, and brought me rice, cabbage and stuff in a stewy broth, and unknown fruit that tasted sort of like pear. It wasn’t terrible. There was an emaciated dog sitting at my feet. And a fish head in the sink in the bathroom.

After another 3 hours playing peek-a-boo with a kid at the bus station, I was crammed on to an ancient minibus next to 2 monks (who originally refused to sit next to me) and journeyed for 5 hours down to Bagan, where the bus driver couldn’t find my hostel, and I was the last dropped off at the end of the night. My hostel (Ostello Bello Bagan) was great through, and it was run by Italians and had Italian food which was a very refreshing departure from Burmese food.

Ostello Bello Bagan Hostel

In Bagan I had to rent an electric scooter (they call them ebikes) to see the famous pagodas and temples. They are too far apart to walk to, and the donkey-pulled carts are painfully slow, so it is by far the best way to see them. I’d never rented a scooter before. I’d swore to myself I would never do that in a foreign country. This was different though… there were virtually no other vehicles on the roads in Bagan. They were empty. And these ebikes topped out at 25mph. So if I did wipe out, it probably wouldn’t be more than a bad scratch on my leg. I had to do it. I rented the bike the first day and explored 4 of the bigger pagodas, and met an artist at one who was absolutely adorable. I bought one of his prints as my only souvenir the whole trip.

myanmar burma bagan

Myanmar

In all the pagodas, you have to take your shoes off to go inside or climb the outside of them. They are made of stone and brick, so its like walking on a brick oven. Your feet get calloused and you learn to just deal with it. A very interesting challenge. At the biggest pagoda, Shwesandaw, there were a lot of monks there on a pilgrimage, which was fun because they are even more excited to be there than you and they take more selfies and photos than average tourists. I met one from Vietnam who was asking me questions about America and wanted to take a photo with me 🙂

monk myanmar burma

The view on top of Shwesandaw was incredible. I must have spent 3 hours up there despite the heat.

myanmar burma
travel vacation
monk myanmar
shwe san daw pagoda
climbing pagodas

The next day, I set off at 4:30am before the sunrise to find a keymaster! In the small amount of research I did do on Myanmar, I found out that if you want to get into the pagodas for sunrise, you have to find the “keymaster” who lives somewhere close by, usually in a hut, who has the key. They are used to letting people in before sunrise, so you don’t have to wake them up, you just have to go find their little hut and call to them, and out they come with the key and lead you in.

I set off on my ebike, feeling a little wobbly but confident since there was nobody else in sight. I had my map with me, and I sort of knew how to find the pagoda I was looking for. I first found the big pagoda I’d been to the day before, after almost running over a snake… then, I asked directions from some kids. They pointed me down a small, narrow, crazy looking path behind Shwesandaw that didn’t look as safe for the ebike. I rode it as slowly as I could, and came up to a pagoda that looked right. I parked my ebike, struggling to put the stubborn kickstand down. Around the corner I spotted some huts off in the distance. It was clear the pagoda was still locked, so I was definitely the first one there. I walked up to the huts and said “hello?” and a little girl, about 13 years old, came out to greet me. She led me around to the front, unlocked the temple, and led me to the secret staircase to the top that I would have never found on my own. It was so narrow I had to crawl on all fours to get through it to the top. When I did, the girl had disappeared. I was met with a glorious view of the surrounding stupas dotting the landscape, and about a minute later, the sun came up over the horizon.

bagan myanmar stupa temple burma

On my way back to Mandalay from Bagan, I was on a proper bus, which was playing Burmese music videos on a small screen at the front. They were so wonderful. One featured a couple who’s car broke down and they went through every stage of emotion from frustration to anger to happiness that they had been stranded and they embraced at the end and then there was a random woman on a bench hugging a little girl. Highly entertaining. Some of the Burmese people were loudly singing along to the music videos too – did I mention they were sing-along videos complete with the scrolling text at the bottom? Had it not been in Burmese I may have joined in I was so bored.

In Mandalay, I stayed at the only hostel in town, the famous (literally) Yoe Yoe Lay guesthouse. “Mama”, the owner, introduced me to a few other travelers there after giving me fruit and water, and then we all went down to Mandalay Hill. I didn’t know what Mandalay Hill was, so it was quite a fun surprise. It wasn’t your average hike up a big hill with a view… I’m not even sure how to describe it, but the views on the way up are a bit obstructed… still pretty, but obstructed by the temple/market/stair structure that meanders up the hill, so you’re never sure how much further it is to the top. You keep coming up to another giant Buddha or overlook and you assume you’ve made it, only to turn another corner and find another section of stairs. It’s winding and maze-like, and a deceptively difficult climb, especially since it must be done barefoot (like every holy site in SE Asia).

When you finally reach the top, there is a large, open overlook where you can see all of Mandalay and the rest of the hill. Apparently, there is an option for a driver to take you up most the hill with an escalator to the top, but of course we didn’t even know about that, and I’m glad we didn’t. The climb was a great experience and workout. Many of the monks I met atop the hill told me they do the climb every day as a daily religious exercise. The young monks I talked to there were so sweet and bright, wanting to know all about me and my visit to Myanmar.

monks mandalay hill myanmar

burma buddhist monk

myanmar burma

Myanmar

Myanmar was one of the most untouched countries I’ve ever visited, and it was so refreshing to be in a culture devoid of pop culture and western influence. There is so little crime, you feel safe even in the most impoverished areas, and the people are so happy to help you, and actually impressed and thrilled to meet solo travelers. I’d highly recommend visiting, and if you do, stay for at least 5 days.

To see more of my photos from Myanmar, check out my Flickr album here.

Air Asia ASEAN Pass Travel Completed!

siberian tiger teeth growl yawn

Well, I used up my Air Asia travel pass, and it was an amazing adventure (and value for the money). If you haven’t heard yet, Air Asia is offering an amazing promotion right now, similar to JetBlue’s sadly discontinued All You Can Jet pass, which I bought (and loved) in 2012. For only $160, travelers are given 10 “flight credits” to any ASEAN country (Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam). Most flights are worth 1 credit (for shorter flights) or 3 credits for the longer flights. If you only book the shorter distance flights, you can book up to 10 flights with this pass. You can purchase the pass here. No telling when it will be discontinued, so snap it up while you can, you have a year to book the travel!

 

 

10 credit air asia asean pass

Unless you don’t have any time constraints and don’t mind it taking days to get from one place to another, flying is the easiest and most luxurious way to go in SE Asia. Every time I traveled to and from a city overland in SE Asia, I regretted it and wished I had flown. Bangkok to Cambodia overland was particularly bad. Fly that route if you can!

For my ASEAN pass itinerary I chose the below route. Not the most inclusive, but I loved it nonetheless.

Bangkok > Mandalay
Mandalay > Bangkok
Bangkok > Phuket
Phuket > Singapore
Singapore > Bali
Bali > Kuala Lumpur

Altogether these flights would have cost me easily double what I paid for the pass. You still have to pay taxes and fees, but they aren’t too bad. The most expensive one was $25, the cheapest was $5. All the flights have to be booked within a 30-day timeframe from the date of the first booked flight.

If you’re like me and you want to visit as many countries in SE Asia as possible in one trip, this is hands down the way to go.

Stay tuned on the new deals page and the facebook page for regularly updated fare sales and promotions like this one, and stay tuned for the individual location blogs on each place I visited for photos, stories, tips and itinerary advice!

What to do if your bag or passport is stolen (& how to prevent it)

I didn’t want to tell this story, ever. Lots of people have told me I should, since it might help save someone from the same fate… so here goes. A year ago, on a train from Paris to Lausanne, my backpack was stolen. It had my Canon 5D Mark II, 2 lenses, 6 hard drives (with all my photos from the trip and years worth of work files on them), my brand new GoPro, my Passport, my iPad, my headphones, my chargers and converters, my trip journal, my souvenirs, and more in it.

That camera had been around the world with me. It had taken almost every photo I’m proud of. I will never know the extent of all the files I lost on those hard drives. It was a lot. The good thing was, it could have been even worse. Before I put my backpack in the overhead luggage rack, I almost didn’t take my laptop out, because I was tired and knew I would probably sleep on the train anyway… but something told me to take it out just in case, so I wouldn’t have to get up during the trip to get it (laziness for the win). Also, I had my purse (with my wallet and phone) on me and not in my backpack. So my laptop, wallet and phone were not stolen. Plus, my bag with all my clothes wasn’t stolen either.

Here are the lessons I learned from this experience, that will hopefully help other travelers:

busy train station

1. Never, ever, ever let your guard down on your bags whilst in transit.

This may seem obvious, but it’s so easy to forget on long trips. I could see my bag from where I was sitting. The reason I didn’t notice the thief steal it is because I wasn’t paying attention. Most people don’t keep an eagle eye on their bags. In fact, many even put their bags in the luggage racks at the end of trains, where you can’t even see them. As uncomfortable and inconvenient as it may be, always be watching your bag if it’s not right at your feet or you are not in direct physical contact with it. Thieves are everywhere travelers are, and they are waiting for you to be distracted or not on your guard for just a few seconds. That’s all they need. I have a friend whose bag was stolen by a man pretending to be a valet/bag boy at a hotel once. You can’t be too careful, but it’s easy to be too trusting. If you don’t want to be as vigilant or you want to sleep, keep your bags next to you on trains or buses (even if it annoys other passengers) or tie a rope or a bag lock around them and attach it to you.

2. If your bag is stolen, report it right away AND get confirmation you did.

If you have travel insurance (or even if you don’t) it’s important to notify the “common carrier” involved (bus, train, taxi, tour company, hotel, etc) and/or the police ASAP. This can be very difficult when the police don’t speak English. Also, in some foreign countries, the police station hours are extremely limited, and they are only open select days for a few hours (this is common in Switzerland, where I had to file a report) and if you need a translator, you need to book an appointment that can be days later. After I sent my police report to my insurance company, Allianz, SIX MONTHS LATER they determined that “I did not report the theft within 24 hours” so they would not honor my claim. Find SOME way, ANY way, to get in writing that you reported the theft within 24 hours. If you are on a tour, the tour company can provide this. If it was on a train, report it to the train company and get them to produce some kind of physical report or letter confirming you did. If the police don’t speak English, try to find someone who can translate for you and offer to pay them. This will make your life a lot easier later on, and will insure that if they do find your stolen bag, there is a better chance of getting your stuff back to you.

This is one of the pages from my stolen passport.

This is one of the pages from my stolen passport.

3. If your passport is stolen, it’s not the end of the world. Really.

After telling a few people about what happened to me, I was shocked at how many thought the biggest headache was my passport being stolen. Not all the gear, or the years of work, but that tiny little booklet. I learned that the process for getting a replacement passport abroad is not nearly as scary as people think, if you do one crucial thing, which thankfully I had done: Take photos/scans of your passport. Even photos on your iPhone will work (which is what I had). Or you can entrust the photos/scanned version to a friend back home to email you if you need them.

If you lose your passport:

  1. Lookup where the nearest US embassy is, DO NOT BOOK AN APPOINTMENT (they will almost never be available until weeks later)
  2. Make sure you have either a “copy” of your birth certificate or a “copy” of your passport (all I had was a picture of my ID page in my passport on my iPhone and that worked for them) and another form of ID (drivers license)
  3. Bring a copy of your travel itinerary (all I had was my outgoing flight confirmation email, that was enough)
  4. Bring a police report, if you made one.
  5. Make sure you have a credit or debit card to pay the $130 fee

US embassies will usually let you in for a walk-in appointment if you go early enough in the day and claim it is urgent. A few hours later, you should be able to walk out with a replacement passport.

 

bag camera travel

4. To prevent theft, don’t use a “gear” bag.

My backpack was nice looking black “camera bag”. It looked shiny and new and full of expensive stuff. By contrast, the suitcase my clothes were in (which wasn’t stolen) looked like a bag that clothes were in. Had the contents been swapped, the thief would have only gotten away with some very cheap clothes and toiletries. If you want to really increase your odds of not being a target, don’t look like one. Have a bag that’s beat up and green or red or canvas, and put pins and scarves and stickers and stuff all over it. Now I have a bag that people don’t suspect. I pull my camera out and they see the nice separators and padding inside and they say “wow, that’s a camera bag?” That’s the kind of bag you want.

5. Don’t use Allianz travel insurance.

Unless you want the worst customer service experience ever and a guarantee that they will find some excuse not to honor your claim. I’ve heard World Nomads is good and I’m using PPA for my photo gear now, and I’m really happy with them so far.

6. Shop around for replacement stuff where you’re at.

I assumed that it would be cheaper to order a replacement camera in America and have it shipped to me in Switzerland. Then I found my same camera, much cheaper, in a used camera store in Lausanne. It may have even been my own stolen camera (hah). Don’t assume your stolen stuff is too expensive to replace abroad. Shop around. I also bought all the Apple chargers and converters I needed from an electronics store in Lausanne for the same amount I would have paid in the states.

7. If you travel a lot, budget for your stuff getting stolen/lost, and don’t get discouraged if it happens to you. 

It’s easy to get super depressed and discouraged “when it happens to you” but this mindset will only hurt you and hinder you from bouncing back as quickly as possible. Theft has happened to billions of people. This is the third theft I’ve dealt with in my life. It’s one of those things you just have to account for, like parking tickets when you live in Los Angeles, you have to actually budget for these things sometimes. When you don’t, it’s heartbreaking and can disrupt your entire career and your life, but don’t let it; take immediate action to recover. Tell your friends and family. Seek help and assistance. People can be very compassionate when you’re a victim to a crime. Even strangers. Set up a charity campaign or a PayPal donation fund if you need to. Don’t let the thief steal your joy, confidence and happiness in addition to your stuff.

8. Don’t keep your backed up files anywhere near your original files.

Thankfully, I’m really good about keeping backups. Out of the 6 hard drives that were in my stolen bag, only 2 of them had contents that were not backed up to anywhere else, and that’s because one of them was a backup drive for the other drive. Don’t keep your original files anywhere near your backed up files. If they are both in the same bag, and that bag get’s stolen, the backup wasn’t of much use, was it? When traveling the best practice is to keep your drives in 2 separate bags. If you want to be super protected, mail a drive home every few days/weeks. I now use the backup service Backblaze too, to put all my files on the cloud as well. Again, you can’t ever be too careful. You’ll be so happy you were if anything ever happens.

9. Write your name and email address on everything you own, and take down the serial #s for expensive electronics

I never wrote my name or email on any of my electronics, because I like the idea of being able to resell them used when I upgrade. Thing is, this might be the best thing you can possibly do to get your stuff back if it’s stolen. A thief is not going to want to sell a camera if it’s got a name on it. Laser etching can be a cool option. However you choose to do it, put your name on everything. Sew your name into your bag. Put an “if this bag is lost/stolen” letter in there for good measure.

10. If an electronic device with some kind of theft protection is stolen, don’t count on it working. Buy additional theft recovery software if you actually want a real chance at getting your stuff back.

My iPad was among the items stolen, and I had “find my iPad” enabled via iCloud. I turned on all the theft recovery options such as locking, sending a message with a loud sound when the device connected to the internet, etc.

Thing is, those things don’t bring back your iPad and actually increase your odds of never seeing it again. This is a great article for advice on this topic: http://tomahaiku.com/what-not-to-do-if-your-iphone-or-ipad-lost-or-stolen/

If you want real theft recovery options, use a service like Gadget Trak – for less than $20 this is a major bargain.

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In conclusion, please don’t ever feel like this won’t happen to you. I don’t know a single avid traveler who hasn’t had something stolen or lost while traveling, and this advice can also help a lot even for a lost bag, device or passport! So please share it with your loved ones who travel. I offer this advice solely out of revenge against thieves—hoping to make their lives harder—I have nothing to gain monetarily from this post or this website. Sharing is caring!

Sundance Film Festival 2015

For the second year in a row I had the good fortune of attending the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT. It was another incredible year. Through the good films and the bad, a lot was learned. Tears were shed. Notes were taken. Lines were stood in. Free yoghurt was eaten. (Thanks, Chobani!)

I saw 9 films in 10 days — which is a lot more than some and a lot less than others. I met a few people who were seeing 4-5 films a day 10 days in a row. I’m really not sure how these people are still alive, to be honest. I had tickets to 10 films, but skipped one because I was so tired that night and heard the film wasn’t great (The Visit).

It’s very difficult to make the initial selection of what you’re going to see, for a few reasons. The first is there are almost 200 films, and the only thing that helps you distinguish one from another is the category they are in (US Dramatic, US Documentary, World Dramatic, World Documentary, New Frontier, etc) the title of the movie, the marketing image, and a short summary. No trailer. No reviews. All the films that show at Sundance are premiers, so the Sundance audience is the very first public audience. Later on during the festival, word starts to spread amongst festival attendees which films are the best and which you should trade your tickets in for.

That being said, I heard nothing about Me, Earl & the Dying Girl (The film that won the Grand Jury & Audience US Dramatic Award) while at Sundance. It wasn’t a “buzz” movie. Even though I didn’t see it, I’m shocked that it won and Brooklyn didn’t. Everyone I spoke with said Brooklyn was one of the best films they had ever seen at Sundance. I’m looking forward to it’s distribution with Fox Searchlight and also to seeing Me, Earl & the Dying Girl when it’s released, to see if it truly deserved it’s win.

Without further ado… here are my film reviews, from best to worst, of the films I screened at Sundance:

brooklyn sundance 2015

1. Brooklyn

Set between Ireland and Brooklyn in the early 1950’s, the story follows an Irish immigrant named Eilis (pronounced Ay-lish) played by Saoirse Ronan. It’s a fresh, realistic take on the classic tale of seeking a better life in the new world. It’s a story of love, loss, perseverance and finding yourself. The cinematography is breathtaking and the effortless transitions between heartbreak and laughter, depression and triumph leave you feeling like you truly glimpsed into the life of a 1950’s immigrant. During the Q&A with Saoirse and the director at the end, more than one person used their question to instead tearfully thank the filmmakers for creating the story of their mother, or grandmother, or them. Saoirse herself started crying and accounted how she herself just moved from Ireland to England and has also lived in America, so she connects with the immigration story as well. It’s a story connected to so many of our lives — the tale of our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents that took an enormous leap of faith and left everything behind for the chance of a better life in a different country. And finally, there is a historically accurate film to experience it.

 

Umrika Sundance 2015

2. Umrika (Winner of the World Dramatic Audience Award)

Going into this film I admit I didn’t make the connection that “Umrika” is the Indian word for “America”. This was a foreign language Indian film, starring Suraj Sharma (who starred in “Life of Pi”). Set in the 1970’s, a village boy in rural India named Ramakant has a much older brother who is the favorite of their mother, to the point that she tells her younger son that he will never amount to anything compared to his brother. When the eldest son moves to America, for years the entire village becomes obsessed with the letters he sends back, detailing his adventures, where he lives, the size of the bathrooms, American customs and holidays, and everything about the far away land, seemingly forever out of grasp for all of the villagers. One day when tragedy strikes, Ramakant decides to go find his brother in America, and his journey to get there uncovers shocking revelations and strength he didn’t know he had.

*Sidenote: I found it amusing that my 2 favorite Sundance films this year starred Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) & Tony Revolori (Umrika), who starred together in the wonderful Grand Budapest Hotel.

 

advantageous film movie sundance 2015

3. Advantageous (Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Dramatic Collaborative Vision)

I give this film lots of credit for it’s ambition and use of concepts stemming from future tech & medical predictions, including some dialogue that I swear was borrowed verbatim from Ray Kurzweil’s lectures. Also there was strong character development of the main character and her daughter. It needs a lot more work to be a successful wide-release though. There were some very rough moments and iffy CGI (no doubt an issue because this film was converted from a low-budget short) and the future world the filmmakers created at times felt like 2010 and other times felt like 2150. It was all over the map. The premise was a mother that works as a high-profile spokeswoman for a controversial advanced cosmetic technology company that has developed a medical procedure where they can transfer your memories, personality, likes & dislikes and basically everything about your conscience into a genetically engineered body — thereby introducing the possibility of not only customizing your body and appearance to your exact specifications — but jumping back however many years you desire in age as well. A 90 year old could wake up as an 18 year old, after a painless 1 hour procedure. In this future world, jobs are incredibly difficult to get, and when facing the possibility of being replaced by a younger woman, the main character fears for the future of her gifted young daughter if she were to have to pull her out of the best academy in the city, which is the only guarantee her daughter has to get a job and have a good life as an adult. Because of this dilema, she contemplates undergoing the procedure she has long been the spokeswoman of, but is secretly warned by the scientist behind the procedure that there are worse side-effects than what they let on.

 

strangerland sundance

4. Strangerland

Set in a remote desert town in modern-day Australia, Nicole Kidman stars in this bizarre epic about a family torn apart by the quirks and mental instability of the parents and children which ultimately leads to the disappearance of their young son and teenage daughter right before a major dust storm rolls through the town. Worried their kids were out in it, the parents start to unravel as days pass without the kids being found, and the darker puzzle pieces that led to their disappearances are slowly uncovered. I really enjoyed this film despite it being a bit too long and seeing it at 8am.

 

 

experimenter film movie sundance 2015

5. Experimenter

This film had amazing potential, but not enough substantial character development to make it truly enjoyable. The director took a huge risk switching from a normal film narrative to a self-aware narrative, where at many points in the film the main character looks directly into the camera and talks to the audience about himself. There was also an awkward 5 minute sequence where illustration was used in place of the set for a house, but it just didn’t work at all and felt incredibly out of whack. Diary of a Teenage Girl also employed a lot of illustration blended with the live action, and it worked well because the context of the film is based on the inter workings of a teenage girl’s mind… Experimenter was based on the important historical biography of Stanley Milgram, who created one of the most important psychological experiments of the 20th century. Too much time was spent on the experiments, whilst too little time was spent on really getting to know Stanley and feeling the pain of the backlash from his seminal work. Also, the fake beard that Peter Sarsgaard wore for 1/2 the film looked like it was rented from a discount halloween store.

 

most likely to succeed movie film sundance 2015

6. Most Likely to Succeed

At times brilliant, but a mostly contrived and under-researched documentary about drastically changing the education system in America. They only focus on one school in San Diego that has abolished standardized testing and textbook learning, and repeatedly claim that there is no way to prove that this method won’t be a total disaster until the “graduates” of this school make it to the workforce and we can then study how well they perform and if they are more likely to succeed than children educated the traditional way. This movie needs to be re-made 10 years from now with real facts and data.

 

last-days-in-the-desert

7. Last Days in the Desert

If you like “Biblical” stories that don’t even remotely adhere to the actual story in the Bible but instead just borrow the names of the characters and the settings, and you also like movies that are compromised of at least 20 minutes of nothing but footage of the desert, and you also like Ewan McGregor playing Jesus with his full Scottish accent intact, you might actually enjoy this film. I didn’t dislike it. I just wish I had watched it with friends, in my living room, on Netflix. That way I could of fast-forwarded through the long, drawn out nature sequences and just watched the 10 minutes of actual action the film had instead. It’s an interesting film, but it’s hard to get past Jesus with a Scottish accent.

 

Things of the aimless wanderer film sundance 2015

8. Things of the Aimless Wanderer

I’m not sure what to say about this film besides it was incredibly thought provoking. It was part of the “New Frontier” category which I’d like Sundance to rename to the “what the actual hell is going on in these films” category. I guess New Frontier has a better ring to it. The Q&A after this movie really helped me out a lot. I was totally lost. Then the actor and producer really helped clear it up for me and make all the connections for me. I even asked a question during this Q&A I was so confused. I never ask questions at Sundance Q&A’s! I think my question was about one of the editing techniques used in the film that was wonderfully jarring and creative.

 

 

diary-of-a-teenage-girl-Sundance-stark-insider9. Diary of a Teenage Girl

This was one of the most hyped films of the festival, and the most disappointing, to me. Kristin Wiig was incredible, all the actors were… but the content and the premise of this film just left me feeling so disgusted it negated all other good qualities. You’d have to be a special kind of person to highly enjoy a film about a 15 year-old sex addict who seduces her mom’s boyfriend and then gets into prostitution, all while whimsically doodling away her fantasies in her diary to the cute backdrop of 1970s San Francisco. I understand the desire to tell stories with dark undertones and content, but in my opinion, they need to be done in a way that puts crime, sexual abuse, drug use, prostitution, underage relationships, etc in a negative light — not in a positive, or laissez-faire “thats the way it was” light.