By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Overheard in an Afternoon
“Did you see the dog with the blue Mohawk?”
“It’s like a cross between Pulp Fiction and Napoleon Dynamite — but better than both.”
“The Darfur movie is totally like the most amazing thing ever, but kind of a downer.”
“Seriously, this is worse than Memorial Day in East Hampton.”
“Justin Timberlake is playing on Tuesday. Too many people just wanna hate on him for no reason.”
“I’m at fuckin’ Sundance, fuckin’ ridiculous, fuckin’ drinkin’, fuckin’ people everywhere, fuckin’ just, you know, watching the Bears game.”
Coin of the Realm
Supposedly, this year’s festival is the first in memory to see a wane in the opportunistic marketing and celebrity frenzy that’s turned Sundance into Hollywood’s snowbound Spring Break, Cancun. It’s hard to tell. Sundance is a victim of its own success. Another marketplace of ideas turned into a marketplace, much of it ancillary, entirely unrelated to the film business, a promotional bonanza that festival organizers publicly admit is “parasitic.” To wit: Even before arriving, I managed to RSVP to: the American Eagle White Out party with Samantha Ronson (transportation courtesy of GM is available for approved talent upon request); Aaron Eckhart’s receipt of the Ray-Ban Visionary Award; Bon Appetit’s Supper Club at Sundance; free snowboarding lessons (and gloves and goggles) from Burton; and unspecified comforts from the Entertainment Tonight, Gibson Guitar, and Getty Images Lodge (“Get Ready to Rock Main Street!”).
I will likely go to none of these events, but that’s not the point. If you can RSVP, you do, because RSVPs are the coin of the realm during the annual offensive of filmmakers and critics and actors and gawkers and parties and hangers-on and orange-vested festival volunteers and gifting salons and converted music venues and impromptu clubs and myriad clandestine house parties that occasions the opening weekend at Sundance. When Robert Redford called his own creation “Park City’s version of Pamplona and the running of the bulls,” it was to explain why he no longer visits the festival beyond opening night.
All of this is why Sundance printed a get-back-to-roots slogan, “Focus on Film,” on buttons for festivalgoers to pin to their parkas. An accompanying explainer makes the following declaration:
“Visibly wearing this button during the 2007 Sundance Film Festival means that I want to see film that I know I’ll never get to see anywhere else; My idea of ‘celebrity’ is the filmmaker who directed my favorite film at the Festival; I’m willing to wait in the cold for two hours to see a hot documentary .?.?.”
Yet it’s Sundance that again programmed many features with big stars. Nor can Sundance eschew its own approved marketing; the “Focus on Film” button also signifies that the wearer “understand[s] that without the support of the official sponsor community, I would not have the opportunity to Focus on Film at the Sundance Film Festival.” On the back are the corporate logos: Volkswagen, HP, AOL, Adobe, Delta and American Express.
The Kuleshov Effect
Thank God for those sponsors, because otherwise there wouldn’t be free booze inside the Kimball Art Center. The liquor helps grease the social wheels, but people would introduce themselves anyhow. The first thing I notice about Park City during Sundance is that almost everyone is friendly in a “we’re all in this together” kind of way. Since 99 percent of us are visitors, there’s no big-city-intruder/resentful-townie dynamic. At the press/filmmakers’ party, everyone is especially friendly. Even the purest intention of Sundance is promotion. Everyone wants to tell you about what they’re doing and they want to know what you’re doing. Most people are genuinely interested, but there is no way to erase the subtext of every conversation, which is: Perhaps this person can help me someday, hopefully starting later on tonight when I’m trying to get into that highly coveted premiere and/or party.
Kay and I ensconce ourselves as makeshift VIPs on a U of soft, comfortable red couches in the center of the room. My friends Emily and Brent come by. They are the editors of Wholphin, a quarterly DVD magazine published by McSweeney’s. They’re with David and Nathan Zellner, a team making their third Sundance appearance in the short category and whose films have appeared on Wholphin. A corrugated metal basin full of beer and ice had just fallen on Emily’s foot, but she’s still working the room, meeting potential contributors.
As the scene dies down, we’re all discussing next moves. Food, more parties, maybe some screenings. I keep hearing about Crazy Love, a documentary about a man who hired someone to throw acid on an ex-lover’s face, went to jail, and later married the woman. Chris Smith fans want to see his new feature, The Pool. Everyone’s curious about Zoo, the horse-fucker documentary.
Jessica, already on her third drink, says, “I plan to just roll out the red carpet and see where it takes me.” Kay says she’d “rather just stay on this comfortable couch forever,” and then asks: “Can you get me some more wine?”