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The Power of Story Watchlist Curated by Richard Linklater, Dawn Porter, Christine Vachon, and Miguel Arteta

Richard Linklater, Dawn Porter, Christine Vachon and Miguel Arteta (photo by Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock for Sundance)

By Bailey Pennick

As the surprisingly warm afternoon in Park City transitioned into a chilly evening, four mainstays of the Sundance Institute and Film Festival were sitting together and talking about movies. The atmosphere for the 2024 Power of Story talk was casual, and why wouldn’t it be considering all of the participants have been on the Egyptian Theatre stage many times before.

In a conversation moderated by the Festival’s director, Eugene Hernandez, Richard Linklater (Hit Man, God Save Texas), Dawn Porter (Luther: Never Too Much), Christine Vachon (A Different Man), and Miguel Arteta (Beatriz at Dinner) took on the daunting task of discussing the future of independent cinema. When first asked if there were any hurdles that the medium was facing, Linklater refuted the idea that independent film was going away. 

“I don’t have a concern about people making films,” he says. “I first came here in 1991 and I remember them telling me that there were 212 films that were submitted to the Festival. And at that time, I remember saying ‘Wow! That’s so many!’ Now I hear that this year had something like 4,400 features submitted, so it’s really your problem.” He gestures to Hernandez with a wry smile.

As the conversation continues, it twists and turns into an appreciation for the cinematic moments that define each of the artists. Through film clips shown and sharing memories, the foursome threw out a good number of titles that should be on everyone’s film queue. Below, take in the complete list of films referenced within the hour-and-a-half conversation that never got around to deciding what the future of independent cinema was — or even truly agreeing on a definition of independent cinema in the first place.

Past Lives (2023)

Earlier this morning, Vachon was nominated for her first Oscar as a producer on Celine Song’s feature, which debuted at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. When Hernandez asked about her day so far, Vachon first joked that it was “nice to get this encouragement when you’re so young.” After explaining that her phone has been buzzing with messages, she continued. “Everyone up here doesn’t do this for awards, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good. Mostly, though, it’s wonderful for Celine because it means her film will reach a much larger audience.”

sex, lies and videotape (1989)

Arteta: “Sex, lies and videotape had a big effect on me. I remember when I saw it in a theater, I thought, ‘What is this doing in a theater?’ OK, maybe there is a place to do things that interest me and that they will go to a theater… It was so personally and weirdly kinky, and I knew my parents wouldn’t like it.”

Safe (1995)

Arteta: Safe is another one that just blew me away. It felt like something that could only be communicated in independent film form. I couldn’t believe that somebody was making a period piece that was happening seven years ago.”

Slacker (1990)

Arteta: “When you’re starting out, you’re like, what’s my currency and my ammunition to contribute to cinema, and Slacker made me realize it’s my love of people and the weird things I notice about people that is my ammunition, and I can take to the bank.”

Linklater (who directed the film): “There’s the kind of film you go see and you say ‘Oh, that feels close to me,’ and I grew up watching big movies and then you see an indie film and you realize you can go out there with a camera and contribute to cinema. At least that’s how it felt to me growing up, but you’re encouraged by those films that are low budget, and I think Slacker fell into that category for a lot of people.”

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) [Bonus movie: Oliver! (1968)]

Arteta: “2001. My sister brought me to the movie theater, and when we came out, I said ‘I don’t know what that was, but you need to bring me back.’”

Vachon: That also happened to me! My older sister was supposed to take me to see Oliver! And she said, ‘You don’t really want to see that stupid movie, do you?’ and I said, ‘Yeah,’ but I went to see 2001 instead. 

Linklater: First generation 2001, just like you guys. Seven years old. Mind blown. What amazed me about that movie was that I felt I understood it, that it could communicate to a kid, it was such a nonverbal communication. It was so powerful, like being on another planet, literally.

Cries and Whispers (1972)

Vachon: “One day when I was 12, my best friend and I wanted to see a horror movie, so we walked up and down the street and went into the one that sounded the most like a horror movie and it was Cries and Whispers. It was horrifying, but not in the way you’d expect!”

Das Boot (1981)

Porter: “My friends and I would cut school to go to the history museum because the films were free, and I have a vivid memory of seeing Das Boot — I frickin’ love that movie!”

Eugene Hernandez and Richard Linklater (photo by Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock for Sundance)

The Breakfast Club (1985)
Pretty in Pink (1986)

Porter: “This is going to sound strange considering the types of films I make, about social justice, but I’m also very influenced by John Hughes movies — The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink — and what I liked about them was that they were always in on the joke. They weren’t taking themselves so seriously, and now even when I’m dealing with serious subjects, I always like finding humor.”

Eraserhead (1977)

Linklater: “I wandered into that on a double date and, not too far into it, I was alone, they left, but I was like ‘I’m not leaving!’”

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Linklater: “It sort of rocked the ’80s indie world. Its minimalism — let’s think about the ’80s culture, MTV was starting to take over, flashy, shiny things — if you were a punky underground person something like Stranger Than Paradise, to see it in a theater, it was hip, it was speaking to myself and my friends. It was an American indie that people were watching. It wasn’t obscure, it felt like a film you could make. Beautiful.”

Vachon: I think Jim [Jarmusch], confirmed to me this rumor, that it was all short on short ends.

Parting Glances (1986)

Vachon: “This was the first film I worked on… and Bill [Sherwood] really wanted to make a movie about people he never saw represented, and that was kind of mind-blowing to me. Parting Glances is essentially a very conventional film, but its content was not… It was the first film to teach me that if your community showed up, it didn’t matter if it crossed over.”

Linklater: “That’s the youngest you’ll ever see Steve Buscemi on screen!”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Arteta: “This is a movie that speaks to what it means to be human. It’s a real trick to bring a stage show to the screen, and I know John [Cameron Mitchell] brought it to the [Sundance] Labs to work it out.”

The Interrupters (2011)

Porter: “Steve James’ filmmaking was very influential for me, Hoop Dreams, that kind of intimacy and honesty, I think in Steve’s films, there’s a real respect for his characters. There’s nothing salacious, they get to be full human beings… I think Steve is the master of the quiet moments that are so important in documentaries.”