Day 1 (Thursday, Jan. 19):
For some people, Sundance begins on a Thursday. Those people are called suckas. Day 1′s activities are limited to one (1) screening of a specially selected “opening night” movie, in a big gala whoop-de-doo usually hosted by leathery Sundance founder Robert Redford. It’s an ordeal to get into the event, and the movie is seldom one of the fest’s better offerings. So why bother?
I couldn’t have attended the opening-night festivities this year even if I’d wanted to, because my presence was required for a meeting of Salt Lake City Weekly’s festival coverage team. For the first time, City Weekly is printing three special editions during the festival, and they’ve asked me to provide some content, mostly in the form of these daily diary things. (You may know that I always come to Sundance and do these diaries anyway, for free. So whatever City Weekly is paying me, it’s a waste of money.)
City Weekly has put us up in a charming condo near The Canyons ski resort. It has four beds, which is only two less than the number of people staying there. “Roughing it” is always part of the Sundance experience, though. Many Hollywood bigwigs spend the entire week in Park City without once snorting cocaine off a hooker’s chest. (OK, that’s not true.)
The necessary introductions were made, and the full-time staffers accepted me and the other freelancers with far more graciousness than freelancers usually get, considering most of us want to steal their jobs. Once we were settled, everyone retired to bed (or couch) before midnight. We had a big day ahead of us. It was literally the earliest I have gone to bed since I had the flu.
Day 2 (Friday, Jan. 20):
Contrary to my usual modus operandi, I not only intended to get up early this morning and catch a 9 a.m. screening, but I actually did it. Park City was beginning to buzz with activity as I shuttled to the Yarrow Hotel for the first press screening of the day. People’s eyes were bright, and their tails, as far as I could discern, were bushy. It was the first real day of Sundance! The air was cold, but the skies were blue and clear. Everywhere you turned, you could smell independent film. (It smells like Steve Buscemi.)
The driver on this shuttle bus had a serious case of the perkies. She chattered nonstop throughout the 10 minutes I was aboard her vehicle, giving a running commentary on traffic conditions, on the difficulty of a particular turn, on the proximity of the festival venues to each other. She did this regardless of whether anyone was sitting close enough to be listening to her.
The Yarrow Hotel is home to two venues, both of which are used almost exclusively for press screenings. In the lobby this morning was a sign that said “CONCESSION’S,” pointing to a maintenance closet that magically becomes a snack bar when Sundance is in town. Yes, “CONCESSION’S.” As a writer, I am more offended by the misuse of apostrophes than I am by reports of genocide in faraway lands. Unable to bear seeing this sign every day for the next week, I peeled off the errant punctuation mark and kept it as a trophy.
The 9 a.m. film was “Lucky Number Slevin,” a stylish gangster flick about a man mistaken by two different bosses for the guy who owes them money. It’s put together well, and it has a cast that includes Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Sir Ben Kingsley — the “Sir” is right there in the onscreen credits — but it doesn’t add up to much. I think it’s too impressed with its own cleverness. But I guess we’ve all been there.
After “Lucky Number Slevin,” I had just enough time to grab a slice of pizza from the concession’s stand before the next film. I asked the woman for a receipt, and she acted like it was the most bizarre suggestion anyone had ever made to her, like I had asked her to give me the receipt in the form of an interpretive dance. Now, I agree it’s silly to get a receipt for a slice of pizza. But when it costs $2.50, and when you’re being reimbursed for your expenses, you have to admit there’s a certain logic to it.
Anyway, the next film, in the same venue as the last one, was “Kinky Boots.” It’s about a guy whose father dies, leaving him to try to save the family’s factory — so it’s a total rip-off of “Tommy Boy,” only with shoes instead of auto parts. They wind up specializing in thigh-high boots designed for drag queens and transvestites, which is fairly unusual, I’ll grant you. But the movie is still one clichÃ© after another, culminating in (of course) a fashion show/performance that aaaaalmost doesn’t happen, and then the star performer arrives at the last minute and saves the day!!!!!!!! I liked it better the first time I saw it, when it was called “Every Movie I’ve Ever Seen.”
Sitting behind me for this film was Roger “Three Stars” Ebert, the dean of modern film criticism and bestower of more thumbs up than a Palm Beach proctologist. (Thank you! I’ll be here all week.) I always enjoy listening to Ebert, a world-class raconteur, regale his seatmates with stories before screenings. Unfortunately, when the film began and everyone was quiet, Ebert said something out loud in regards to one of the characters onscreen: “She was in ‘Lovely & Amazing’!” And I thought: Am I going to have to shush Roger Ebert?! Because that would be awesome. I would regale listeners with THAT story for years to come. Alas, he was well-behaved for the rest of the film.
After “Kinky Boots,” I hopped over to the Holiday Village Cinemas, where the third press-screening venue is. In the doorway to the facility was a melee, an absolute brouhaha, a veritable donnybrook. You see, members of the press are supposed to sign in at these press screenings so that the films’ publicists know who saw their film, so they can track you down later and try to extract positive feedback from you. But instead of having a festival volunteer jot down your name and affiliation as you enter the theater single-file (as they do at the Yarrow), they were making everyone sign the list themselves, which led to this massive group of journalists clamoring around the table, scribbling their signatures illegibly. Some people were just skipping the sign-in process and walking in. Apparently the volunteers had held a meeting and had chosen the most inefficient means for sign-in that they could conceive.
Once we were signed in, we still couldn’t enter the theater because a movie was still playing there. Someone had scheduled a 164-minute film for a slot that only had 150 minutes in it, and now those additional 14 minutes were spilling over into our film’s slot. So we loitered in the hall, grumbling and swearing like an angry mob. Then, finally, we were allowed to watch the documentary about “Sesame Street.”
“The World According to Sesame Street” sure sounds nice, but it sure is too long and kind of boring. It should actually be called “Sesame Street According to the World,” because it’s about how “Sesame Street” is altered when other nations produce their local versions of it, like having a drug-lord Muppet in the Colombian edition, or whatever.
Now, I’m not usually in favor of teaching foreign children to read, but the “Sesame Street” people have their hearts in the right place. I just wish the film had focused less on the boring producers who conceive the shows and more on the local performers who spend their days with their arms up the plush backsides of monsters (which reminds me of another Palm Beach joke, but never mind).
I had some time before my next film, so I went to festival headquarters for the first time this year. I recognized many staff members from previous years, and even some publicists, with whom I generally try not to make eye contact. I bought a deli sandwich for $4.50 — a ridiculous price given its teeny size, but one doesn’t worry about such trivial matters when one’s expenses are being reimbursed.
Then it was up to Main Street for me, to get a taste of festival flavor amid the throngs of gawkers, onlookers and posers. I saw a man whose festival badge indicated his name was Ham Tram, and another whose first name was allegedly “Stash,” though I am skeptical of that one.
I stopped in at the Sundance House, which is a place for passholders to lounge, relax and revitalize. While I was clacking away on my laptop (which technically is neither lounging, relaxing nor revitalizing), I was accosted by my old friend Jamal, who has somehow risen to a level of some responsibility on the Sundance Film Festival staff and was helping to oversee the goings-on at the Sundance House. He indicated that boozemaker Stella Artois was hosting a party where I could find free food and drink; alas, Jamal’s intel proved faulty as ever. There was no food, and the only beverage was, um, Stella Artois beer. So it was Burger King for me!
My last film of the day was back at the Holiday Village, where they’d seen the error of their ways and had a much smoother sign-in process in place. The movie was “Wide Awake,” a rather fascinating documentary about a guy who can’t sleep for crap. I mean he’s actually a bad sleeper. You’d think it would come naturally, but apparently not. Anyway, it’s dangerous to show a movie about sleep deprivation to a theater full of people who are sleep-deprived, but this guy pulled it off, so my figurative hat is off to him. And speaking of sleep, it was now time to return to the condo and get me some o’ that.
[Portions of this diary also appeared in the Jan. 21 special edition of Salt Lake City Weekly.]