My 2003 Sundance Film Festival Diary


Day 1 (Thursday, Jan. 16, 2003):

It was my fourth year of full-time festival coverage — the advantage of being a member of the press in Utah — but only the first time that I’d attended the opening gala in Salt Lake City. This is where people dress up rich and snobby and act all glitzy while they watch a mediocre film. Timid woodland creature Robert Redford introduced the film’s director, who talked for about a year about the movie, which was “Levity,” a film that is remarkable for having not one bit of levity in it. It stars Billy Bob Thornton as a quiet ex-con, Holly Hunter as a sassy single mom, Morgan Freeman as a black guy, and Kirsten Dunst as a sassy teen-age girl. So it was a big stretch for everyone.

In attendance were Morgan and Holly. He is 6’2″, she is 5’2″ (as are most celebrities). To make the height difference appear even greater, Morgan wore a hat the whole time they were onstage together.

At the gala, I saw a woman whose film festival pass said her name was Princess Sharma. I didn’t know whether this meant her name was Princess, or that she WAS a princess. Either way, pretty freaky.

Day 2 (Friday, Jan. 17, 2003):

I headed to Park City, whose lack of parking facilities, movie screens and good weather make it the single worst place you could possibly hold a film festival, except maybe for the moon, although at least there is ample parking there. I met a co-worker for lunch on Main Street. She does The Daily Herald’s restaurant reviews, and we figured she should do a Park City restaurant during Sundance. Me, I got a free lunch out of it, so hooray.

I also stopped by the “Sundance House,” a new facility that replaces the old hospitality suite. The old one was better. They had juices and crackers and snacks and stuff; the new one doesn’t have anything free.

While I was there, I saw Patrick Coyle, who has a film at the festival. He didn’t seem to be doing anything special; if I’d wanted to, I could have talked to him forever about his movie. Alas, I had already seen his movie, “Detective Fiction,” at a pre-festival screening (along with eight others), and it sucked mightily. Unable to think of anything kind to say to him — he wrote, directed, produced and starred in it, so there was no one else I could blame — I simply didn’t say anything.

After lunch, I boarded a shuttle bus aimed at the Eccles Center, where there is a small press-screening room. I intended to see “Bend It Like Beckham,” a light-hearted English film about a women’s soccer team, at 2. Alas, the shuttle bus moved at a tragic pace, and I realized I was not going to make it. Not to worry, though: At 3 p.m., at the Eccles Center main theater, was a film called “thirteen,” with the “t” not capitalized because, being an independent film, the director could not afford a shift key. I decided I would just hang around for and watch that.

As luck would have it, next to me on the shuttle bus was a young fellow who was appearing in “thirteen.” His name is Brady Corbet, and he’s 14 and a polite lad. I didn’t recognize him, of course, because he’s not famous and I hadn’t seen his movie yet. But he told me he was in the film, and that Holly Hunter — who plays a sassy mom in this film, too — is shorter than he is, and that he has a pretty big role, because he plays her son.

It turns out he does play her son; however, the movie is about her daughter. Brady Corbet has about 10 lines and is in the movie for only a couple minutes. Still, he’s in a movie, which is more than I can say for me, unless you count amateur homemade porn. (Do you?)

After “thirteen,” I hung around the Eccles some more because I had obtained tickets to the 6 p.m. premiere screening of “The Singing Detective,” starring Robert Downey Jr. My friend Jamal (names have been changed) from Salt Lake City, a rabid movie fan and Sundance regular, was to join me for this movie, and then again for the 9:30 showing of “People I Know,” starring Al Pacino.

While waiting, I met Roger Ebert. Since I am a nerd, this was exciting to me. Ebert takes some heat for his TV show, which is a little superficial. But his written reviews are penned with great flair and skill, and while I believe he smokes a lot of crack, opinion-wise, there’s no question he’s a fine writer. I also like that, even at his status, he still sees pretty much every piece of crap that comes out.

He was standing behind me in line to enter the theater. I turned around and said, “I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m also a film critic, here in Utah.” He shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you,” then looked at my nametag, since I had neglected to mention my name or who I worked for. I asked if he’d seen anything yet, and he said no, he’d just arrived and had to file a story first. I said, “It’s too bad they make us work during the festival, instead of just letting us watch movies.”

The main thing I noticed when I shook Ebert’s hand was that it was the softest thing I’d ever touched. It was like shaking hands with a mound of bread dough.

Anyway, I entered the theater, got seats for me and Jamal, and waited. The plan was quite simple. Jamal got off work at 5, at which point he would head directly to Park City, arriving just in time for the 6 o’clock movie. I would already be in the theater, saving us seats. Alas, this perfect plan was thwarted by Jamal’s tragic condition of being a retard. Despite our having discussed it extensively and with the aid of flowcharts, Jamal believed the film to start at 7, not 6. So when he got off work at 5, he thought, “Good, I have an hour before I have to leave.” When I called him at 6 asking how close he was to arriving, he said he was just leaving the house. Then, my head exploded.

So we missed “The Singing Detective” and went to dinner Main Street Pizza & Noodle instead, followed by a stroll along Main Street, looking for celebrities. We located none.

Then we saw “People I Know.” Al Pacino, who is 3’6″, was in attendance and took questions from the audience afterward. He was very nice, even when a dumb girl asked him whether he talked to any lawyers in preparing for the movie, a movie in which he plays someone who ALMOST became a lawyer but instead became a publicist. Me, I would have killed that girl.

Before the film started, we saw Ebert again. As he walked down the aisle, a fan walked past him and said, “Hey, Gene!” Ebert curtly replied, “Roger,” and kept walking, didn’t even break his stride. You could tell it happens a lot, people mistaking him for his dead colleague Gene Siskel. It was the funniest thing that had ever happened.

After the movie, I drove to Heber City, where The Daily Herald had been conned into paying for a hotel for seven nights. This meant my commute to the festival each day would be 20 minutes rather than 60, a savings of more than 66 percent. I slept.

Day 3 (Saturday, Jan. 18, 2003):

Rather than sleeping in, I forced myself to awake at a reasonable hour and bust out the stuff I was supposed to write. (In exchange for paying for the hotel room, The Daily Herald cruelly wanted me to actually cover the festival, if you can imagine.) Then I went to my first movie of the day, “The United States of Leland,” starring Ryan Gosling as a 16-year-boy who stabbed a retarded kid (not Jamal, a different one) to death. Kevin Spacey plays his father. Despite its premise, it’s not a very funny movie.

Thereafter, I had a few hours, so I hooked up with my HollywoodB****slap pals who were attending Sundance, all for the first time. I had lunch with The Angry Jew and Maegs at a brew pub on Main Street, then we headed back to their condo and met up with Oz and Erik the Movieman. I had never met any of them in person before, except Maegs, who happens to live in the same town I do. They’re a fun lot, and they like movies, and they swear so much they could, as the Bible says, knock a buzzard off a crap wagon.

Then I watched “The Mudge Boy.” The title character is a misfit teen whose mom died and who takes care of the chickens on the farm. He has learned that you can calm a chicken by putting its head in your mouth. I don’t know how someone discovered this — what other, less effective methods of poultry-soothing did they try first? — or why you would ever NEED to calm a chicken, but whatever.

Anyway, the Mudge boy eventually is the victim of anal rape. By the end of the festival, I would have seen three movies featuring anal rape, plus two more in which anal rape occurred but was not shown, plus two more in which regular old non-anal rape took place. 2003 was the year of the rape at Sundance, which I’m sure makes Redford feel very proud.

After “Mudge Boy” (“Fudge boy,” the other kids tauntingly called him), I saw “Party Monster.” In this movie, Macaulay Culkin plays a gay, drug-addicted murderer. It’s the part he was born to play. It is also the first time movie audiences have seen his naked butt, unless they borrowed Pete Townshend’s black-market special-edition DVD of “Uncle Buck.”

On a shuttle bus today, I saw another journalist, from China, whose name was Valentine Ding. This made me very happy.

Day 4 (Sunday, Jan. 19, 2003):

I couldn’t attend church due to having to cover the festival, but I did start my Sunday being bored: “Rhythm of the Saints” is about a teen-age girl in New York, and about how man it sure sucks to be a teen-age girl, and man it sure was boring.

Then: “The Cooler,” starring the wonderful William H. Macy as a guy so unlucky that a Las Vegas casino pays him to walk around the floor and touch people, thus instantly ending their winning streaks. Why don’t they just nail him over the front door and stop anyone from ever winning to begin with? Discuss.

Have you always wanted to see William H. Macy naked? Then you should see “The Cooler,” and a therapist.

Then: “Camp,” a rather funny movie set at a summer camp for theater nerds. Instead of canoeing and making baskets, they rehearse and produce musicals. Stephen Sondheim has a cameo in this movie. I was giddy with excitement, since I’m a theater nerd my own self.

After “Camp,” Jamal showed up again, this time because I’d been invited to a party and was allowed to bring a guest. The party was sponsored by Stuff magazine, which as you know is the same as Maxim magazine. When the publicist called and invited me to it, I asked if any celebrities would be there. He said, “Anyone from Britney to J-Lo could show up.” I suppose this was technically true — technically, Jesus Christ COULD show up — but despite my skepticism, I decided to go.

You see, I don’t get invited to cool parties very often at Sundance. Basically, if I’m on the guest list, you can assume, almost by definition, that it will not be a very cool party. Still, we gave it a shot.

The Stuff party was in a big tent on Main Street, with an open bar and a million TV screens, all watching the big football game between, I don’t know, a couple of football teams. There were about 150 people there, 140 of them male, and the sort of males who read Stuff magazine and watch football. There were two celebrities, both from “That ’70s Show”; one of them, Wilmer Valderrama (who plays the foreign exchange student on the show), was in town because he’s in “Party Monster,” in which he plays Macaulay Culkin’s boyfriend. We said hello to Wilmer, and a couple of hoochy girls who were hitting on Jamal had their picture taken with him (Wilmer, that is, not Jamal). The Stuff party was then over, as far as we were concerned, since we don’t drink, don’t watch football, and don’t like parties where the only celebrities are from “That ’70s Show.”

On Main Street, we saw Pauly Shore. He was in town to pimp his Slamdance film, and from what I gather, he was omnipresent.

We also saw two of the stars of “Camp,” neither of whom is famous yet but both of whom are very talented. I told them I liked their movie.

We also thought we saw Paul Sorvino. He was in “The Cooler,” so I could envision him being in town. But I wasn’t sure it was him, and I didn’t want to ask. We think maybe it wasn’t him after all, because what we saw him doing was not being able to get a table at a restaurant, and we think the real Paul Sorvino probably could. I mean, we did.

We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant and then got in the wait-list line for a midnight screening of “Nightstalker,” at the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street. I had heard earlier that “Nightstalker” was a dreadful piece of crap, but I hid this fact from Jamal because it was the only screening available to us. Besides, I had never wait-listed a movie before, and never seen a midnight screening at all, and it sounded fun. (With my press pass, I didn’t have to pay for the ticket — but I did still have to wait in the wait-list line with the common folk.)

We got in, barely, and had to sit in the very front row. This was good for the movie, because it meant it could assault us more directly and painfully. This is an extremely poor excuse for a film, based on the real-life “Nightstalker” murders of Los Angeles of the 1980s, but with all the real-life excitement taken out of it. Not a single character is likable, and the heroine — the cop who catches him — never does anything heroic, or even competent. Also, the film has a thrash-metal soundtrack. Jamal, suddenly becoming his father, plugged his ears during several scenes.

Day 5 (Monday, Jan. 20, 2003):

First up, at 11:30 a.m. — I didn’t catch a 9 a.m. press screening the entire festival — was “Die Mommie Die,” a very campy gay comedy parodying the women’s films of the ’40s through ’60s, the things that would star Bette Davis or Susan Hayward or whoever. This would have been very funny as a series of 5-minute “SNL” sketches; as an entire movie, it got old.

Then: “Soldier’s Girl,” a sober film based on a true story in which an army guy falls in love with a woman who used to be a man and who in fact still is a man from the waist down. Again, despite the premise, not very funny. A rather good film, though, with good performances from Troy Garity as the guy and Lee Pace as his special, special friend.

Then: “Buffalo Soldiers,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and some other people who are soldiers in West Germany in 1989, when things were very boring, and it’s kind of cynical about the military, and then it develops about a hundred subplots and gets bogged down. Not a bad movie, but not a great one, either. Miramax bought it on Sept. 10, 2001; 24 hours later, they decided not to release a movie that made fun of the military at that time. It will finally hit theaters this year, now that Americans are back to being cynical and hating everything.

I took a dinner break then, after watching three consecutive movies, and did some writing. But I was back for more at a 10:30 press screening of “28 Days Later.” I had heard nothing but fantastic things about this film, and so had a lot of other people: Due to popular demand, Sundance had scheduled this press screening for us. It’s a sci-fi film about a guy who wakes up from a coma to find all of London — and perhaps all the world — wiped out by a virus that turns people into murderous zombie-like creatures. They’re fast-moving zombies, too, which makes them scarier. I saw this with a colleague and friend of mine, Salt Lake City Weekly’s Scott Renshaw, and when the film let out after midnight and we walked through the deserted parking lot, we heard someone running up behind us and both turned to look, just to make sure it wasn’t a zombie. (It wasn’t.)

Day 6 (Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2003):

I had to see “The Station Agent.” Everyone had been raving about it; Scott had said it was favorite of the festival so far. There was a press screening, and I wasn’t the only one who had heard the buzz; the place was packed.

Sitting behind me were Entertainment Weekly critics Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwartzbaum, along with EW features writer Chris Nashawaty. Again, being a geek, I was thrilled. I eavesdropped on their conversation, which was very eloquent. Owen was pointing out that with the exception of a music award for “Frida,” every single Golden Globe winner had been released in December. I told the three that EW was my Bible (and that the Bible is like my Reader’s Digest), to which Chris responded, “That’s very cool, and also a little scary.”

“Station Agent” turned out to be a fine film indeed. It’s about a dwarf who wants society to leave him alone, so he starts living in an abandoned railroad depot in New Jersey. But in the tiny town, he meets a couple other lonely souls, and they all wind up being lonely friends together. Pretty funny and sweet, and the guy who plays the dwarf — who, at 4’5″ is still taller than Dustin Hoffman — was excellent.

Then: “Fear X,” a Danish film, but shot in English and in America, I think. So I’m not sure what makes it Danish, except that the director is Danish and perhaps craft services provides danishes at breakfast. Anyway, John Turturro plays a guy whose wife got killed and he’s trying to find the killer, but it’s hard, because he has no short-term memory. No, that’s “Memento.” What the hell was “Fear X,” then? It was dull, I remember that.

Then: “Capturing the Friedmans.” I had been avoiding documentaries this year, I don’t know why. Last year, some of the best films in the fest had been docs, but for some reason this year it seemed like a chore to watch something non-fictional. Documentaries can bite me, that was my philosophy. But I had heard amazing things about “Capturing the Friedmans,” so I gave it a chance.

I’m glad I did. It’s an extraordinary story about a family that was torn apart in the 1980s when the father and one of the sons were charged with multiple counts of molesting neighborhood boys. Without being manipulative, the movie keeps us guessing about whether they were actually guilty or not — strong evidence exists both ways — and reveals information to us in a savvy way, slowly but surely. It’s a great movie, a harrowing story, and extremely well told. Being a documentary, no one in the world will ever see it again.

Being night time, it was time for more hanging out and celebrity-spotting. Jamal and I found ourselves once more on Main Street, this time eating at an outrageously over-priced French bistro (“bistro” is French for “bastard”) and then checking out the Slamdance scene. We caught the second half of “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” a documentary about the films of the 1970s, which a couple of nerds like us were very excited about. Film was good; we wished we’d seen the first half, too.

Also in attendance was the tiny star of “Station Agent.” I told him I liked his movie, which happened to be true.

On Main Street, we saw Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein. He was the worst-dressed person at the entire festival, just ahead of Roger Ebert. Which means my theory holds true: The people who dress up the fanciest and glitziest at Sundance are the ones who have the least clue what’s going on. The people who are actually important don’t care what they look like.

We also encountered the HollywoodB****slap crew and wished them well. What a hearty bunch of merry-makers they are! I regret that our friendship exists primarily in imaginary form, over the Internet.

Day 7 (Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003):

Traditionally, this is the point in the festival when I hit the wall, max out, burn up, get tired. I expected it all day to hit me, but it didn’t. I think seeing only three or four films a day, rather than five, helped, as did being more social than I usually am.

Also helping was that I started the day with a very good movie: “Raising Victor Vargas.” It’s about a Hispanic kid in New York who fancies himself quite a ladies man, but of course he’s insecure and clueless like all teen-age boys. The film doesn’t have any setups or punchlines, but it’s still very funny, because real life is funny. It’s one of the most authentic films I’ve ever seen, and thoroughly enjoyable to watch. It turned out to be the best thing I saw at the festival.

Then came “The Singing Detective,” which you’ll recall I’d missed the public screening of due to Jamal’s tragic retardation. I’d heard from no one who liked it, so I was eager to see it. I enjoy a good trainwreck as much as the next guy.

Turns out yeah, it’s fairly bad. Robert Downey Jr. plays a novelist with crippling psoriasis, and he’s covered in pustules and whatnot. Then there are weird musical numbers, where characters lip-sync ’50s rock ‘n’ roll tunes. There’s also Mel Gibson in a bald wig. This goes on for nearly two hours.

Then yet another drag comedy, “Girls Will Be Girls,” which is distinguishable from “Die Mommie Die” only in that it’s not as funny. (It does, however, contain this amusing line, spoken by a woman in reference to her many abortions: “I’ve had more kids pulled out of me than a burning orphanage.” For my money, there aren’t enough abortion jokes in films today.)

I ate dinner at Burgie’s on Main Street, a great hamburger place that serves big, thick Butterfinger shakes. Seated at the counter talking to someone was a famous guy. I can’t remember his name, but he’s been in stuff. You’d know him if you saw him. Good-looking, maybe 24 years old, been in some movies. I’d know his name if I heard it.

At 9 p.m., I attended a public screening of a French film called “Irreversible,” again at the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street. I had heard notorious things about this movie, about how two-thirds of the audience walked out during its initial festival screening. In the first scene, a guy’s arm gets nastily broken; seconds later, his attacker is beaten nigh unto death with a fire extinguisher to the head.

But that’s not what made people walk out. The exodus was caused by a nine-minute graphic rape scene, shot in one continuous take, with no cutting away or condensing of time. After the rape, the woman is beaten senseless by the rapist.

Did I “want” to see this movie? Not really, no. I was curious about the craft of it — shooting anything in a nine-minute take is pretty impressive, especially something as grueling as this — and I was doubly curious to see an audience’s reaction to it.

Listening to the crowd before it started, I sensed most of them were already aware of its infamy. Like me, some of them had probably shown up because of what they’d heard, to see for themselves. (Sundance, for its part, had signs posted warning patrons that the film contains an extremely graphic scene of sexual violence.)

Artistically speaking, it’s a reasonably good movie. It’s not brilliant, but it’s technically superior, and its story and acting are OK. Does it need to be as graphic as it is? Definitely not. The film clearly wants to assault the audience. The opening sequence has a throbbing underscore that, coupled with the constantly moving camera, literally almost made me nauseous. The film ends with about 30 seconds of a very strong, very bright strobe light effect on a blank screen. (“OK,” I remember thinking. “You’re weird. We get it.”) Take all that and add to it the graphic violence, and you have to wonder why, exactly, someone would want to watch this. I think you shoot yourself in the foot when you take an otherwise pretty respectable artistic endeavor and make it painful for an audience to watch.

After exiting the theater, I ran into an old acquaintance whom I see maybe once a year at parties or events or whatever. We grabbed a snack on Main Street and chatted a while. Once again, it was nice to be social, rather than just watching movies and eating Wheat Thins in my hotel room.

Oh, and we saw Rachel Dratsch from “Saturday Night Live.” She looked very cold.

Day 8 (Thursday, Jan. 23, 2003):

It finally happened today. It was a day late, but I hit the wall. Today, I hated all movies and the people who make them.

Naturally, the day started with a bad film. It was “Good Fences,” a premiere starring Danny Glover (the poor man’s Morgan Freeman) and Whoopi Goldberg (the poor man’s kick to the groin). I chose it over my other press-screening option because the guide said it was only 78 minutes long, and at this point in the festival, I choose movies based on how short they are.

Well, it turns out “Good Fences” is about 120 minutes long, and pretty amateurish to boot. I left at the 90-minute mark because I was hungry and couldn’t take anymore. I ate at possibly the world’s worst Chinese buffet and then headed to the other press screening room, at the Eccles, to watch “It’s All About Love.” I have retitled this “It’s All About … What?,” because I didn’t understand what was going on for most of the film. It takes place in the future, and there’s another ice age, and Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes are both Polish, and she’s a skater, and there are clones. Really, clones. I don’t know why. The movie confused and bothered me.

I had a few hours to kill, so I wandered Main Street and wound up eating at Burgie’s again. Burgie’s menu says, “We put the ‘urge’ in ‘burger,” which means they’re either pronouncing “urge” as “urgg,” or else they’re pronouncing “burger” as “burj-er.” Because really, there ISN’T an “urge” in “burger.” But why quibble, when the shakes are so big and thick?

I saw another Egyptian public screening at 9, this time of “AKA,” a British film about a guy who pulls a Talented Mr. Ripley with an associate’s identity in Paris. It’s a decent story, but too long. The film’s gimmick, which works pretty well, is that it’s told in a three-panel split screen, with all three panels usually showing different angles of the same scene. Sometimes they match up, like they shot the scene with multiple cameras; other times, it’s obviously different takes, and someone holds his hand up when he says his line in the middle panel, but not when he says it simultaneously in the right-hand panel, for example. It probably sounds annoying, but it’s actually a captivating way to tell the story. Again, too bad the film was too long and the story not that great.

But guess who I saw on the street? Beck! Pop superstar Beck! Since I have friends who love Beck and would never forgive me if I didn’t say hello to him, I said hello to him. I said, “Excuse me, are you Beck?” He said, “Yeah, man.” I said, “Oh, cool, that’s awesome, I love you!” He said, “Thanks, man.” This was the extent of our relationship, regardless of what you may have read in the tabloids.

Day 9 (Friday, Jan. 24, 2003):

My second wind arrived, though I was still feeling weary. This happens every year. By this point in the festival, people on the shuttle buses between venues are not nearly as chatty, the press screenings are less crowded (the press has either gone home or, like me, are burnt out), and things are just generally winding down. If you’re a civilian, this is surely the best time to come get wait-list tickets at sold-out screenings.

I should mention that up to this point, the weather had been fantastic. It hadn’t snowed or rained once, and while it was cold, it wasn’t arctic, unbearable, Alaska. Today, though, it turned rainy. Perhaps the heavens were crying because the festival was almost over, or perhaps it was just raining. I’ll leave such matters to the theologians.

At noon, I attended a public screening of “Owning Mahowny,” in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays — get this — a loser. I know, it’s amazing what actors will do to stretch themselves in a small independent film. He’s a gambling addict and, worse, a Canadian. Minnie Driver plays his nerdy little Canadian girlfriend.

As the final credits rolled and I was exiting the Egyptian Theatre, Minnie Driver herself was standing in the lobby, good-naturedly imploring people, “Don’t leave! There’s going to be a Q-and-A afterward!” It seemed sad to me that she had to shill for her own Q-and-A, that in addition to starring in the film, she also had to act as press agent for it, but I guess it’s a tough business. The striking thing about her was that in her movies, I have always thought she was rather unattractive, her eyes too close together, her face too dog-like. But here in person, standing three feet away from me, she was very lovely. Good for her.

With time to kill, I opted to do some writing and have some lunch. Due to a bank screw-up, my debit card had stopped working, and I had only five dollars cash on me. So I would have to write a check. The place I was eating at did not take checks, however, not even local ones, so the waitress had to buy my lunch and I wrote HER a check. Surely you can imagine the humiliation in all this.

At 5 p.m., I saw a press screening of “Confidence,” a good old-fashioned heist caper shenanigan film about guys pulling off a job and getting away with it, where everyone’s double-crossing everyone else and saying the F word a lot. It was OK.

Evening having arrived, and Jamal having shown up once again — seriously, this guy runs a serious risk of losing his job every year, because he’s a Sundance junkie — we headed to Main Street. It was much calmer than it had been during the week. We ate at a Thai place whose menu items including the following: phuket chicken, gang deang, pad khing (“I am the pad khing”), chiang mai noodles (“Oh, I’ll chiang your noodles all right”), and pad him. It was the most entertaining menu I’d ever read, and in fact it was more enjoyable than several of the films I’d seen.

We planned to attend a 11:30 p.m. showing of the documentary “A Decade Under the Influence,” which, like the Slamdance entry “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” covers the films of the 1970s. We were going to wait-list it, but as we strolled through the Yarrow Hotel lobby, a man approached us and asked if we wanted to buy tickets to it. We did, but we had no cash on us. Jamal said he would dash over to the Albertson’s next door and get some, but the man said, “No, here, just take them.” He was very nice and middle-aged and probably couldn’t stay up that late. So we had free tickets, and we didn’t have to wait in line.

It also meant we had time, so we played chess in the lobby of the hotel. Neither of us had played in some years, and we both played very badly. Both our kingdoms quickly deteriorated to where it was basically a king who was governing a nation of pawns and maybe one stray bishop, who was no doubt drunk and morally unsound. I won the game, though a victory over such a kingdom seems pyrrhic at best.

“A Decade Under the Influence” was a highly enjoyable documentary. While “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” had focused on the gossip and very little on the actual films, “Decade” did the opposite, dealing just with the movies and their impact. In the Q-and-A afterward, in fact, a rather argumentative audience member asked the director, Richard LaGravenese, why he didn’t talk about the drug scene at all — especially since the co-director, Ted Demme, died in the middle of making the film of a heart attack that coroners said may have been caused by cocaine. LaGravenese said he simply didn’t want the film to deal with that part of it, and he would leave it to other people to tell that angle of the story. Personally, I enjoy the gossip almost as much as the discussion of the films themselves; together, “Decade” and “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” make a fantastic exploration into the films of the 1970s.

Day 10 (Saturday, Jan. 25, 2003):

The festival was basically over now. All of the films showing were ones I’d already seen or had no interest in seeing, bizarre films from foreign countries or other planets with running times of more than 120 minutes. I took in a shorts program that was diverting, then headed to the Park City Racquet Club for the awards ceremony. This is typically a low-key, raucous affair, sort of the anti-Oscars, held in a gym that’s been prettied up. It’s televised on the Sundance Channel, which I’m pretty sure no one actually gets on their cable system. This year, the hosts were Steve Zahn and Maggie Gyllenhaal, with celebrity presenters including Stanley Tucci, Matt Dillon, Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Patricia Clarkson, Steve Buscemi, Forest Whitaker and Tilda Swinton. It lasted about 90 minutes.

Does it matter who won? Yeah, I guess. “American Splendor” (biopic of cartoonist Harvey Pekar) took home the Grand Jury Prize in the dramatic category, while “Capturing the Friedmans” got the documentary honor. The audience awards went to “The Station Agent” for dramatic, “My Flesh and Blood” (about a woman who cares for 11 special-needs children) for documentary, and “The Whale Rider” (about a remote New Zealand village) for world cinema. Various other films won various other awards. A party ensued, but I had to write the story for The Daily Herald, once again being forced to work rather than play.

Day 11 (Sunday, Jan. 26, 2003):

Today there are a few miscellaneous screenings, plus encore screenings of all the award winners. I wanted to see “American Splendor,” but instead I slept all day. After seeing more than 30 movies in 10 days, some of which did not feature any rapes or Culkin nudity, closing my eyes and letting my brain rest was the best way to end things.