Sundance Diary: Day 1


Day 1 (Thursday, January 17):

Have 12 months really elapsed since the last time we cavorted in Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival? A look at the calendar confirms the answer to my rhetorical question. And here we are again, movie critics, journalists, filmmakers, showbiz honchos, and regular ol’ movie lovers, all crammed into an affluent mountain town that is currently colder than the frozen tundras of hell.

Why do we do it? Because we love movies. Also, at least in my case, because someone is paying us. This year I’ve endeavored to spread myself as thin as possible by offering coverage to both of the major outlets I write for, and Cinematical. Officially I’m here on’s dime — that’s what it says on my press badge — so I guess it’s like I’m married to but openly cheating with Cinematical. Luckily, my spouse and mistress are both very understanding, and neither is particularly concerned about the quality of my performance. I’m sorry, I believe this metaphor has gotten away from me.

The first day of the festival consists only of a premiere screening in the evening, and so usually I ignore “Day 1” altogether. But this year they offered a press screening of the opening-night film to be held at the same time that the flick was unspooling at the public gala event across town. (Actually, I’m told they’ve been doing this opening-night press screening for several years and I just haven’t ever gone to it. WHATEVER.)

And so I arrived in Park City at around 5 p.m., with time enough to collect my press pass from festival headquarters, drop my stuff off at the condo, and complain bitterly that it is colder than usual. I think I make this observation every year, but I really do think the temperature is lower than it has been in years past. Are you a weather historian with access to hard data that can prove me wrong? Then shut up.

The Yarrow Hotel’s conference rooms constitute two of the three press-screening venues (and the third is just across the parking lot), so members of the press spend a lot of time there. To achieve maximum efficiency (read: laziness), several people I know are actually lodging in Yarrow hotel rooms. These include the Cinematical gang (of which my old pal Scott “The Angry Jew” Weinberg is one) and WGN Radio’s Erik Childress, with whom I also go way back. Staying at the Yarrow means almost never having the leave the hotel for any reason other than to acquire food.

[How the Yarrow Hotel is becoming more useful.]

The opening film was “In Bruges,” a dark, violent comedy from Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, whose work I love. This was probably the reason I took note of the previously ignored opening-night press screening; usually the opening-night film is something I’m at best marginally interested in. “In Bruges” stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as hitmen who’ve been sent to the titular Belgian city to hide out after a whacking goes awry (and I think we’ve all been there); audacious, vulgar, un-P.C. hijinks ensue.

Afterward Erik, Scott, and I walked across the parking lot to the Albertsons supermarket, where the aisles were filled with festival-goers buying supplies for their hotel rooms like Floridians stocking up before a hurricane. They were dazed, disoriented (no one’s ever shopped in this particular store before), and confused by the local customs. “They don’t sell liquor here?” I heard one woman ask her companion, as if the idea of a grocery store not selling vodka was the very height of provincialism, and the idea of enduring a liquor-free film festival the height of absurdity.

I eventually made it back to the condo, just up the street from the Yarrow. It’s a pleasant three-bedroom rental being shared by me, fellow writer Amanda, and overlord Laremy and his wife. Having arrived last, I naturally was assigned the room containing not one sizable bed, but three very narrow beds. The others tried to make it sound like this was a positive thing, like maybe I could have slumber parties or something. I’ve slept in twin beds before, but these were smaller than twins. Were they triplets? Is there such a thing? Maybe they were European. Everything is smaller in Europe.

At any rate, after much jovial and good-natured conversation with my housemates, I retired for the night. I chose a bed at random but found it very uncomfortable. I wound up trying them all, Goldilocks-style: One was too lumpy, one was too lopsided, and one was juuuuust tolerable.