This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
"Sophie and the Rising Sun," a gentle-hearted, beautiful film about an improbable love affair and a small town's bigotry against the backdrop of war, served as a poignant Salt Lake City opening to the annual Sundance Film Festival.
Director Maggie Greenwald and the cast, led by Julianne Nicholson and Margo Martindale, were greeted with enthusiastic applause Friday night at the annual Salt Lake Gala screening in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. "The themes of the film resonate very strongly with what is going on today," said Greenwald, who also wrote the screen adaptation, in the press line before the screening.
The film's themes are "prescient," said Sundance programmer Hussain Currimbhoy, who underscored the story's beautiful cinematography and "cast to die for."
Continuing his annual tradition, Gov. Gary Herbert welcomed ticketholders, a quieter affair than last year's, which featured Robert Redford on the red carpet, promoting his role in "A Walk in the Woods." This year, Herbert labeled Redford "as a great Utahn" while also praising the actor's artistic and entrepreneurial vision. Herbert recalled growing up in the shadow of Timp Haven, which Redford transformed into Sundance, the resort that shares its name with the foundation that produces the indie film festival, now in its 38th year.
Art shouldn't always be reduced to its monetary value, the governor said, before running down the festival's estimated $78 million annual contribution to the Utah economy. Sundance attracts about 270,000 attendees, who pay $32.5 million in state and local tax revenues.
Utah would be looking forward to the festival's continuing evolution over the next 38 years, the governor said to a theater packed with a gala's worth of state legislators, powerbrokers and political leaders, including Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. "I bought my own ticket," emphasized Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, as she introduced a handful of legislative colleagues, including Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, seated nearby.
The film stars Nicholson, a six-time Sundance visitor, as Sophie, a quirky single woman and artist in a small town that's dedicated to its segregationist culture. As Hitler's troops advance across Europe, Sophie's friend Anne, the town's matriarch, played by Martindale, is charged with caring for an mysterious injured man, a "foreigner" who is pushed out of a bus.
Against the backdrop of the shocking news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two women and Anne's tough-minded housekeeper, played by Lorraine Toussaint, find out the mysterious Mr. Ohta, played by Takashi Yamaguchi, isn't Chinese, but Japanese. He's also a skilled gardener and painter, "a real gentleman," who small-town Southerners simply won't believe is California born.
Greenwald also underscored the power of female storytellers, in a year when questions of diversity and equity imbalances in Hollywood have made headlines.
Scores of female filmmakers have the experience and collective energy to challenge the status quo, she said, and are showing that audiences will turn out to see stories featuring women. "I hope my film proves that," Greenwald said, adding that the cast spotlights four female actors over the age of 40 "and a gorgeous Asian man."
Yamaguchi's embodiment of his gentle, sincere character serves as an underpinning for the quietly spun movie. On the press line before the movie, the Kyoto-born actor making his English-language debut recounted his own Sundance storyline, in that he received an audition for the role just six days after he had received his U.S. visa.