My 2004 Sundance Film Festival Diary


Day 1 (Thursday, Jan. 15, 2004):

The first day of Sundance is the big gala opening night special whoop-de-doo where Redford blabs for a few minutes about the importance of independent film, and then they show a movie. Except this year, they weren’t letting press stay for the movie. After we listened to Redford, we had to leave. So I didn’t go at all. Like I need to listen to Redford. If I wanted to hear a leathery midget yell things, I’d watch “The Wizard of Oz.”

Day 2 (Friday, Jan. 16, 2004):

I arrived in Park City around 10 a.m., eager to check in, receive my press credentials, and start being a Sundance guy. My cellphone was charged, my leather jacket was out of storage, and I was feeling pretentious as all get-out! However, Utah was experiencing unusually cold weather, even for Utah, and even for January. Today the temperature was down around Holy Crap, with a wind-chill factor of minus Oh My Hell. It was so cold, local Eskimos were lighting each other on fire to stay warm. So the leather jacket soon was abandoned in favor of my warmer, if less fashionable, Banana Republic coat.

None of the press screenings seemed interesting today, so I hit public screenings instead. This requires a bit more planning, as you have to arrive an hour early to ask for a press ticket, but it means you get to see movies with The Public, as opposed to just being surrounded by sweaty film critics.

First on the docket was “The Best Thief in the World,” a rather delightful slice of life about a kid in Manhattan who breaks into people’s apartments and doesn’t take anything. This actually makes him a rather BAD thief, of course, though I suppose from society’s standpoint he would be quite admirable.

I noticed a guy whose nametag indicated he was an official Sundance “packageholder.” I made a mental note to take advantage of his services later in the week.

Second film of the day was “Garden State,” written and directed by and starring and probably edited and scored by Zach Braff, the main guy on “Scrubs.” It was funny! Only problem was that I sat next to the world’s fattest man, who occupied both his seat and mine. He wasn’t sitting there when I arrived, having left his jacket to save the spot while he went out to consume a pig. So I thought, “Oh, good, a seat that isn’t taken.” Turns out the seat WAS taken; it was reserved as the man’s annex. So viewing “Garden State” was uncomfortable, though the film itself was good.

After the film, I located my pal Smacky, who was in town covering the festival for the newspaper I used to work for, The Daily Hasty Decision. He and I chose to see the next film at the Eccles (making three so far for me), “Iron Jawed Angels.” This is a movie about how women got the right to vote in 1920. Apparently, it is based on a true story, which means apparently, women are allowed to vote in this country! Now I’ve seen everything!

The movie was OK. Julia Ormond, one of the film’s supporting actresses, was on hand to field questions. The film’s real stars, Hilary Swank and Frances O’Connor, were nowhere to be found. Out voting, perhaps.

Then it was a quick jaunt over to Burger King before returning to the Eccles for “Employee of the Month.” This violent comedy turned out to be the first terrible movie of the festival, just a big old stinky pile of bad ideas. The director was there to take questions afterward, but we left, because all of my questions involved punching him, and I’m pretty sure Redford warned against that in his opening-night blather.

Day 3 (Saturday, Jan. 17, 2004):

The day began with a press screening of the jolly documentary “Word Wars,” about hardcore Scrabble players. You’d never guess, but a lot of them are nerds! I am grateful for informative documentaries like this.

I had some time to kill after that, so I headed up to Main Street via shuttle bus. I encountered a volunteer whose nametag said Ruth Fisher, which of course is the name of the mother on “Six Feet Under.” I pointed this out to her, and she already knew, because she LOVES “Six Feet Under.” “I heard Nate is here,” she said. I knew she spoke of Peter Krause, the actor, not Nate, the character he plays. I told her I would be on the lookout for him.

Almost immediately, I saw Mark McKinney, who is no Peter Krause, I’ll tell you that much. He was in “Kids in the Hall,” though, and he was in town for “The Saddest Music in the World,” in which he stars. When I saw him, he was having his photo taken with a fan or stalker, hard to tell which. He looked uncomfortable.

After a bit of wandering around, it was time to head for the Eccles, where I had already procured a ticket for the 3 p.m. showing of the aforementioned “The Saddest Music in the World.” This trip, which is approximately three miles, took 35 minutes on the shuttle bus today, due to the heavy traffic around Main Street, and due to the fact that the bus, even when it could go, would not go more than 2 mph. I feared perhaps Dennis Hopper had planted a bomb on it and told the driver if he went above 2 mph, it would explode. Goodness knows Dennis Hopper has time on his hands.

We pulled up at the Eccles at 3:08, and I dashed into the theater. This was difficult for me, as I do not normally dash. The director had just introduced the film and the lights were dimming as I entered. I nabbed a seat on the far end of the front row of the second section — a pretty good seat, really, and I noted this was the part of the audience where the cast and crew of the film being shown tend to sit. I glanced around but saw no one of interest. So I had to watch the movie instead, which turned out to be fantastic, a completely crack-smoking crazy thing that I really enjoyed watching.

It stars Isabella Rossallini, among others. When the film ended and the credits began to roll, I stood up quickly because I had more dashing ahead of me and didn’t have time to stay for the Q-and-A. As soon as I stood up, a woman took my seat. I do believe it was Isabella Rossellini herself. It was hard to be sure in the dark, but it looked like her, and she had a handler with her, a woman fussing around her and acting all personal-assistant-y. So I think I kept Isabella Rossellini’s seat warm for her.

I had to dash, as I mentioned, but it was only downstairs to the Eccles Black Box theater, where press screenings are held. I was there for “D.E.B.S.,” a cheesy pseudo-spoof, “Charlie’s Angels”-style, about a top-secret academy for girl spies, and one of them falls in love with the (female) bad guy they’re chasing, and so on. The only thing it was lacking, as a comedy, was funny stuff. Apart from that, it was a great comedy. I was sorry I dashed, just to see “D.E.B.S.” If I wanted unfunny comedy, I could stay home and watch UPN.

Post-“D.E.B.S.,” I went with my friends to their apartment to hang out for a few minutes and mooch some food off them. What a jocular bunch of foul-mouthed movie buffs they are! I just love ’em to effing pieces.

I stayed too long, though, and the shuttle bus was late, so there was more dashing! Yeesh. I made it to the Yarrow Hotel for the press screening of “Harry and Max” just in time to slip into a seat next to Smacky and my friend Scott Renshaw, movie critic for Salt Lake City Weekly.

The Sundance film guide suggests “Harry and Max” is about two brothers, one 23 and one 16, one an aging boy-band pop idol and the other just beginning to follow in his footsteps. This much is true. What the film guide neglects to mention is that these two brothers HAVE SEX WITH EACH OTHER! This is the sort of thing that ought to be mentioned in large letters in the film guide. If technology will allow it, the film guide should actually vocally YELL it at readers. Of course, the film guide should have also mentioned that the movie is pretty crappy, full of soap opera-quality dialogue and poor acting, but if the Sundance programmers refrained from scheduling bad movies, the festival would only last five days instead of 10. But anyway.

It was after 9 p.m. now, so I headed back up to Main Street, where I’d received an invitation to the party for “Second Best,” a film starring Jennifer Tilly and Joe Pantoliano. I’m pretty sure EVERYONE was invited to this party; I assume this because I was invited, and I only get invited to the sort of parties that everyone gets invited to.

There was a long line to be admitted, and a guy was checking to see if people were on The List. While waiting, I made friends with the two guys behind me, who indicated they were certainly NOT on The List, but they hoped to weasel their way in anyway. I told them that if they would allow friends of List people to enter the party, then I would gladly claim them as my friends. Sundance, you see, is all about making connections and telling lies to help total strangers.

When it was my turn, the man asked if I was on The List, and I told him I was. I told him my name. He did not find my name on The List. He said, “Did you RSVP?” I had not RSVP’ed, for the e-mail invitation I’d received had not indicated RSVP’ing was necessary. I could tell, however, that to vocalize this response would result in my not being admitted to the party, and a similar fate for my two total-stranger friends. So I said, “Yes, I RSVP’ed.” He asked who I was working for, and I told him Salt Lake City Weekly (which was at least partially true, as I had done some pre-festival coverage for them, and it’s what my press badge said). He told me I could come in.

“Well, I actually RSVP’ed for myself and two guests, these two guys here,” I said. “Is that all right?” And he let them in, too, and two strangers now idolized me.

Like most Sundance parties, this party was divided into two parties. One, for the stars of “Second Best” and their friends, was indoors with free drinks. The other, for people like me and the people I help get in, was in a large tent with drinks that cost money. Still, even without the celebrities, it was fun, as far as these things go. People drank and danced and smoked pot, so it was pretty much like high school.

I did see Jennifer Tilly and Joe Pantoliano, though, as they passed by the commoners on their way to the real party. I like Joe from his roles in “Memento” and “The Sopranos.” Jennifer, I couldn’t tell you thing one about. I guess she’s an actress or something. Whatever.

After the party I headed home to write. On the way, I stopped at 7-Eleven and bought a bag of Chex Mix, which I intended to share. Instead, I ate the whole damn thing while I wrote, like some kind of Chex Mix pig. I shall have to do more dashing tomorrow, to compensate.

Day 4 (Sunday, Jan. 18, 2004):

The weather was less arctic today, still cold but meliorated by sunny, clear skies. As long as you were wearing a heavy jacket and didn’t stay outside too long and moved around a lot, it was almost even pleasant (also if you were an Eskimo).

I stopped at Sundance headquarters at the Park City Marriott for a moment and whom should I see in the lobby but Peter Krause, aka Nate from “Six Feet Under”! Looking scruffy and bedecked in ski garb, he was standing around yammering with some friends, apparently about to head out to the slopes. If he hadn’t been in mid-conversation, I might have said hello and told him about the girl I’d met named Ruth Fisher. But he was busy, which is good, because that would have been a stupid thing to say.

First on the docket today was “In the Realms of the Unreal,” a documentary about an old man who painted and wrote weird stories then died. (The film elaborated a bit more than I have done.) It was one of the better surprises of the festival for me, a lovely, lyrical movie about a man whose imagination never captivated anyone until it was too late. But then, many geniuses were never appreciated until after their deaths, like Van Gogh, and Corey Haim.

The next press screening slot, 2 p.m., was a no-brainer: At the Yarrow was showing “CSA: The Confederate States of America,” a mock documentary/satire about life in modern America if the South had won the Civil War. The conflicting film, at the Eccles Black Box, was “Open Water,” something I knew nothing about, and didn’t care, because “CSA” sounded interesting.

Then, alas, I began hearing about “Open Water.” People were saying it was suspenseful and scary, about a pair of scuba divers who were inadvertently left in the water by their boatmates, and who subsequently encountered sharks and whatnot. My no-brainer scheduling choice now was a brainer, and I had to choose. Still, I chose “CSA.”

It turned out to be the wrong choice. “CSA” is a fine idea for a film, but it isn’t executed especially well. The production values are too low in many instances, making the modern-day TV commercials and other elements in this alternate reality appear unconvincing and thus less funny.

“Open Water,” meanwhile, continued to generate buzz, and was bought by Lions Gate. I held out hope that one of the still-TBA press screening slots would be filled with another showing of it.

Next: “November,” starring Courteney Cox, looking a good deal like Margot Kidder circa 1978 (not circa today, as Margot Kidder circa today looks like Courteney Cox circa 2025). It’s a psychological thriller about a woman whose boyfriend was killed in a convenience store robbery … OR WAS HE?!?!?!?!??!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!??!! (Answer: Yes.) (Or is it NO?!?!??!?!??!) I liked it a lot, and it was only 70 minutes, which is always a plus.

We had to hustle (but not dash, thank goodness) after that back to the Yarrow to sign in for the 7:45 press screening of “Napoleon Dynamite.” This film had generated HUGE buzz, with talk of sold-out public screenings from which hundreds of screaming audiences members were turned away. So we wanted to be there early, to ensure we got a seat, to avoid being one of the screaming turned-away-ees.

“Napoleon Dynamite,” it happens, was made by Jared Hess, a fellow BYU alumnus. It is the first time Sundance had presented a film by an LDS director other than Neil LaBute (who doesn’t really toe the line, LDS-wise) (whatever “toe the line” means). Furthermore, it’s the feature version of a short called “Peluca” that I saw last year when I sat on the jury for the LDS Film Festival, not to brag or anything, and the short was hysterical. So I was looking forward to seeing the feature.

Aaaand… it’s great. it’s really, really funny, about a nerdy high school guy in Preston, Idaho, and the odd townsfolk. It’s a movie where nothing really happens, no one really learns anything, and you laugh all the way through. Even when I wasn’t laughing, I was amused, contented, enjoying myself. Quite a fun movie.

At the screening, there was a bit of serendipity among critics. Greg Dean Schmitz, of Yahoo’s movie site, and Sperling Reich of had both suffered injuries the day before, had lain next to each other at the hospital … and were now reunited at the screening, sitting one behind the other! It was quite a tearful reunion. Greg, it seems, had had his fingered fractured when a shuttle bus door closed on it. Sperling, meanwhile, had collapsed at the Eccles due to some mysterious illness that, among other things, gave him a temperature of 105 degrees. They are both fine now, and will continue to grace the Internet with their prose.

Oh, and at some point I saw Wallace Shawn (the guy who says “Inconceivable!” in “Princess Bride”) in the Yarrow Hotel lobby. He co-wrote “Marie and Bruce,” playing here at the festival.

Day 5 (Monday, Jan. 19, 2004):

Everyone kept going on about how I needed to see “The Motorcycle Diaries,” a film based on the writings of revolutionary Che Guevara, recounting his motorcycle trip through South America in 1952 with his friend Alberto Granado. EVERYONE kept talking about it. Unfortunately, the press screening was at 8:30 a.m. today, the time slot that, traditionally, I plan on attending, but in actuality never do, what with it being at 8:30 and all. I forced myself, though (and took a Vivarin pill for the caffeine effect), made it to the screening, and enjoyed the film, though I didn’t find it as life-changing as EVERYONE had led me to believe. I do like the name “Che,” though.

On the way out, I saw James McDaniel, who I know as Lt. Fancy on “NYPD Blue,” but who is at Sundance in his capacity as star of “Edge of America,” which I’ve heard mixed reviews of.

I had requested a press ticket to the noon screening of “The Machinist” at the Egyptian Theatre, but was denied. “There’s a press screening tomorrow,” I was told by way of explanation. “Yes, but it’s at EIGHT-THIRTY IN THE MORNING!!” I pointed out. My assertion did not fall on sympathetic ears.

Still, I had hope of arriving at the theater an hour early and picking up a press ticket that way — that is, until I got there and found out the Egyptian doesn’t do hour-early press tickets, don’t ask me why. Perhaps hour-early press tickets run contrary to Egyptian customs.

Anyway, with nothing else to do for a while, I looked for a place to sit down and write and wound up taking in a press conference. An upcoming film called “Latter Days,” about a Mormon missionary who realizes he’s gay and falls in love with a local gay fellow, was scheduled to open Jan. 30 in New York, L.A. and Salt Lake City. Now, however, the theater that was to show it in SLC had chickened out. So some of the gay activist groups had called this press conference to decry the film’s “suppression” and “censorship,” neither of which term really applies, but they’re activists, not vocabularians, so I cut them some slack.

(I’m told the Tower Theatre and Broadway Centre, the other arthouse options in SLC, will also not run it — not because of the feared controversy, but because the film is “embarrassing” in its badness. Having seen the trailer, this does not surprise me.)

At the press conference, which was open to the public, I met three BYU ladies who claimed to be fans of mine. Two of the girls were from England, one from northern Idaho, all of them YUMMY!!!! I hope they’re reading this, because otherwise I’ve called them YUMMY!!!! for nothing.

Then it was back to headquarters for a few minutes, where I saw Laura Dern, looking lovely and standing in the exact same spot where I’d seen Peter Krause before. Apparently this is the celebrity spot. Then it was back to the Yarrow for “Maria Full of Grace,” about a Colombian girl who becomes a drug mule; hilarity ensues.

At 5 p.m., I saw “The Woodsman,” in which Kevin Bacon plays a recently paroled child molestor. The movie isn’t as funny as you’d think it would be, though Kevin does get to have onscreen sex with his real-life wife, Kyra Sedgwick, which is just WEIRD.

After “The Woodsman,” I jaunted back to headquarters with my colleagues Erik and Scott to mooch some more food off them and use their Internet connection. I had a ticket to the public screening of “Never Die Alone” at 9:30, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. For one thing, it stars DMX, who violates my No. 1 rule of celebrityhood, which is that in order to be in movies, you need to AT LEAST have a name, and “DMX” clearly is not a name. (“The Woodsman” co-stars Mos Def, which also isn’t a name. I’m not completely sold on “Kyra Sedgwick,” either, for that matter.)

For another thing, my friend The Flake was working at the Sundance box office and had been saying all week that we should hang out some night, yet he kept blowing me off in favor of other endeavors. Tonight, though, he insisted we would actually hang out. He had been invited to a party for the Silver Lake Film Festival, as had I, so he said he would meet me there around 7:30.

Coincidentally, my old friend Jamal also called and said he would be at the Silver Lake party, so I told him we could hang out until The Flake showed up, because for some reason I thought The Flake actually WOULD show up at some point. (I knew it wouldn’t be 7:30.) Jamal and I sat around, shot the breeze, went to another party, and walked along Main Street for a while before he had to go home and get some sleep. I went back to the first party, determined from The Flake’s bartender friend that The Flake had not, in fact, ever shown up, and went home, stopping at 7-Eleven for some more Chex Mix first, to help ease the pain.

Day 6 (Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2004):

It was my plan to attend the 8:30 a.m. screening of “The Machinist.” Unsurprisingly, however, when the wakeup call came at 6:45, I told the wakeup call to bite me. Instead, I aimed for the 11:30 a.m. screening of a documentary called “Super Size Me,” about a man who lives on fast food. It sounded like a great idea for a film, though I wondered whether they could legally make a movie about me without my permission.

I wasn’t the only one who was intrigued by the premise. The press screening was a madhouse, a MADHOUSE, I tells ya, with a good deal of clamoring and commotion going on. It was a brouhaha, I’d say, and a fracas almost broke out. Even being there 20 minutes early, which is usually plenty of time, I wound up not getting in. About 50 others were in the same boat. Fortunately, word on the street is that another press screening will be scheduled, so I will hopefully still have a chance to see it.

With a window of time suddenly having opened, I went to headquarters to write for a while. While there, I tried the new Diet Coke with lime, making its debut at the festival. I must say, I’m not a fan. I’ll take my Diet Coke fruit-free, thank you.

So my first movie of the day was at 2 p.m.: “Open Water,” previously mentioned as a much-recommended thriller just purchased by Lions Gate. It’s about a couple of scuba divers who get left behind by their boat (whoops!) and drift in shark-infested waters in the middle of the ocean. It has a “Blair Witch” feel to it, in that it’s shot on video rather than film, focuses on characters who are alone and terrorized, and takes place in the woods, except in this case by “woods” I mean “ocean.” It’s not a great film, but it’s OK. If the acting were better, it would be fantastic. But that’s true of so many things in life.

At the screening was Lisa Schwartzbaum, film critic for Entertainment Weekly. If you’re a nerd like me, she counts as a celebrity. I introduced myself and told her I love her writing; I didn’t mention that I still think she smokes crack, all these years later, for giving “Fight Club” a D+. She was gracious and charming and I want to have her babies, or perhaps vice versa.

Next up was “Eulogy,” a comedy having a public screening at the Eccles. Stars Ray Romano and Jesse Bradford (“Bring It on,” “Clockstoppers”) were on hand, as were others, probably, though those were the only two I picked out of the crowd. (Other stars of the film include Piper Laurie, Hank Azaria, Zooey Deschanel and Rip Torn.) The movie’s a pretty ordinary, commercial comedy about a dysfunctional familiy gathering for the father’s funeral. Why it’s at Sundance, I don’t know. The most interesting thing about it was the guy I sat next to, a civilian dumb guy who literally slapped his knee whenever he laughed hard. I didn’t realize anyone actually did that.

This was the third film I’d seen at the festival, by the way, in which a character sings an inappropriate song at a funeral: “Three Times a Lady” in “Garden State,” “Skip to My Lou” in “The Saddest Music in the World,” and now “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” in “Eulogy.”

Mere moments after “Eulogy” ended, a press screening of “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” began in the Eccles Black Box downstairs. This is a British film about a man seeking revenge for his dead brother. If it sounds generic, it is. It has a character saying, “I want to kill you so bad, I can taste it.” Well, what does wanting to kill someone taste like? And how would you know that’s what you were tasting? Would you be like, “Huh, there’s a weird metallic taste in my mouth. Oh…! That must be me wanting to kill you that I’m tasting”?

Thereafter, I headed up to Main Street to go to a party for “Yes Men,” a documentary I’ve not yet seen, that for some reason I was invited to. (I mean I was invited to the party, not the movie. I don’t need no stinking invitation to watch a movie.) What a swanky party this was! There was food — actual food! — and free beverages. There were also women walking around carrying platters of things, including escargot, which I tried for the first time. (Verdict: Not a fan. I’ll have my appetizers deep-fried and containing chicken, thank you.) No famous people were in attendance, at least not that I could discern.

Thence, I went to an 11:30 p.m. public screening of “Saw,” a midnight-horror-creepy sort of movie starring Cary Elwes, of “Princess Bride” fame, making him the second “Princess Bride” star I’ve seen this week. The movie is quite effectively scary and whatnot, with obvious homages to “Seven,” among other films. Cary was on hand to take questions afterward, and I even snapped a photo with him. He was nice and friendly and stuff.

Day 7 (Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2004):

I had to return home last night to check the mail, make sure TiVo was operating properly, and see whether my newest housemate had set anything afire. (Lots of mail, TiVo was fine, nothing on fire.) There was nothing too compelling to see this morning, so I slept in and returned to Park City in time for a 2 p.m. press screening of “Home of Phobia,” a rather funny, raucous, if uneven comedy about a college freshman who pretends to be gay in order to get a girl to like him. John Goodman plays a gay bartender. Is there anything funnier than a gay John Goodman? I don’t think so.

While traipsing through headquarters not long after, I saw the four lovely stars of “D.E.B.S.” conducting a TV interview of some kind. They were radiant and beautiful and dumb as four posts.

I attended a public screening at the Eccles of “Sky Blue,” an anime film — yes, an actual cartoon. At Sundance. It was stunning to look at, but I can’t say I was ever interested in what was going on.

Immediately thereafter was a press screening of “Garden,” a documentary about gay teen prostitutes on the mean streets of Tel Aviv. A laugh a minute, I tell you…!

It was a tired day for me. By this point in the festival, you start to feel fatigued and lonely. Even though you see movies with other people, often sitting next to people you even know, movie-watching is still a solitary experience. Your reaction to the movie is between you and it, and no one else. So if you spend a week watching four movies a day, you start to feel like you haven’t interacted with another non-filmed human being in decades.

So I hung out with my pals for a while, watching a “Mystery Science Theater” DVD on someone’s laptop (we ARE nerds) and shooting the proverbial breeze. It was a relaxing way to end the day, and to help me get my second wind (hopefully) for tomorrow.

Day 8 (Thursday, Jan. 22, 2004):

My second wind arrived as scheduled, accompanied by some slightly less-arctic weather and a nagging ache in my lower back from sitting all day. But I was refreshed and revved up and I hadn’t had any Chex Mix in a few days, so I was feeling good.

First up was the long-awaited second press screening of “Super Size Me,” the documentary about a guy who lives on McDonald’s food for a month as an experiment. What a fantastically entertaining and interesting movie this is! Thus far, it is my favorite film of the festival.

I thought it would have the opposite of its desired effect, and make me want to go eat at McDonald’s, but it actually didn’t. It made me wary of fast food, and more concerned about my health in general. So this is pretty potent filmmaking we’re talking about here, if it made me consider changing my lifestyle. (Note: This feeling wore off.)

After as healthy a lunch as I could muster — animal crackers — I saw “Primer,” a low-budget flick about two engineers who create time travel in their garage. Not many Sundance films deal with time travel, unless there are also lesbians involved, so it was fun to see such a commercial, mass-appeal subject being used.

Next I met up with my friend Smacky, ace reporter for my former employer The Daily Poor Upper Management. We went to a public screening of “Tiptoes,” in which Gary Oldman, who is not a dwarf, plays a dwarf. This is accomplished through the magic of filmmaking, i.e., Gary Oldman walks around on his knees. It’s just another product of liberal Hollywood, always pushing the “dwarf agenda,” trying to convince us it’s “normal” to live a dwarf lifestyle. I don’t care if people want to be dwarfs in the privacy of their own homes, but that doesn’t mean I want to see a movie about it.

It’s a pretty dopey movie, and it made me sleepy and grumpy. (Bang bang!) To be honest, I really don’t like short films. (Bang bang BANG!)

We stayed for the Q-and-A, in which director Matthew Bright told us he was thrown off the film by the producers right after shooting, that he hasn’t watched their cut of it, and that he wishes them death. (I’m not exaggerating: He said that.) He said none of the producers named in the credits actually did any work, other than getting in the way and screwing things up. It was by far the best Q-and-A ever.

A bit later, Smacky, the friends and I saw “Trauma,” starring Colin Firth as a man whose wife has died and who now has a tenuous grip on reality. It’s approximately the one-millionth movie I’ve seen dealing with that theme, and the second at this very festival (the first being “November”). I say, if your spouse dies, see a therapist immediately, before you go completely insane. Head that one off at the pass.

Day 9 (Friday, Jan. 23, 2004):

My last day at the festival was a good one, marked by tolerable weather (somewhere around minus-5,000 degrees) and getting home at a reasonable hour. In between were four films, including two horror flicks and a porn.

First was a press screening of “Mean Creek,” which I hadn’t paid much attention to but which someone whose opinion I trust recommended to me. It’s about some teens plotting revenge against a bully, because no one’s ever made a movie like that before. One of the kids is Rory Culkin, and one of them is the kid on “Smallville” who can read minds and knows Clark’s secret (the secret about having super powers, not the one about being gay). A pretty solid movie, I daresay. Joining me for the viewing of it was my old friend Jamal, who was doing some kind of Sundance-related work this year and therefore could weasel himself into press screenings, though from what I understand he spent most of the week weaseling himself into parties where there was free liquor instead, not that I am one to spread gossip.

I obtained some quick Burger King lunch after “Mean Creek” and proceeded to “Haute Tension,” a French slasher film about some teen girls in a remote cabin in the woods who get pursued by a homicidal maniac, because no one’s ever made a movie like that before. It has a twist at the end that makes it different from most movies … except that the twist doesn’t work, and requires a lot of cheating, and so it just makes the film worse. Plus, it’s French, and who cares if French girls get axed?

After that film, I had to take a couple of friends to the airport. They, like most festival-goers, were leaving before the thing officially ended. By this point in the week, the press screenings are a lot less crowded, and even public screenings are extremely easy to get into. Eleven days doesn’t sound like a long time for a festival to last, but it sure feels long when you’re in the middle of it. So it’s not surprising that people start to trickle away by Friday.

I made it back to Park City just in time to catch “The Park,” a Hong Kong horror film in 3D! Well, some scenes are in 3D, anyway. Trouble is, they’re not very good scenes, and the 3-D doesn’t add much to them, and the non-3D scenes are downright boring. I’ve never seen such a dull horror film. The 3D glasses did give me a headache, though, which is the purpose of 3D glasses. So I guess the film met that particular goal.

I don’t know where Smacky was today. I never saw him. I didn’t see any of my other Sundance friends, either. As I said, Park City starts reverting to its normal, 50-week-a-year ghost town status right about now. I had some dinner at Pier 49 Pizza and read a couple chapters in “Mr. Timothy,” a dark new novel about Tiny Tim, of “A Christmas Carol” fame, who is now all grown up and fighting crime, or something. Fantastic stuff.

My last film of the day, and of the festival, was from the “Park City at Midnight” category. These tend to be movies that appeal especially to 20-somethings, and they are often horror films; “Blair Witch Project” premiered here, and it’s where “Saw,” “Haute Tension” and “The Park” all went, too. “Super Troopers,” which you may have seen a couple years ago, also debuted in this spot. You get the idea.

Anyway, this final film was “Raspberry Reich.” The Sundance film guide blurb says it makes fun of “terrorist chic,” the trend of people emulating terrorists without understanding what terrorism really is, or the issues behind it. What the film ACTUALLY is, is pornography. Flat-out, unadulterated, hardcore pornography. I mean the kind of pornography so explicit that it is not legal to broadcast it in many areas, the kind where it is apparent even to a casual viewer that the sex acts are NOT being faked. The film was shot on cheap video, features astoundingly bad acting and dialogue, and has only a thin strand of a plot — all additional hallmarks of porn, as you know, or as you may have heard from the kids on the playground.

I am not intimately familiar with Utah’s decency laws, but I suspect this film violates them. I watched enough of it to get the idea, to grasp that the film really WAS going to be nothing more than a cycle of boring dialogue, skanky sex, boring dialogue, etc., and then I left. Since I’m not really in the practice of reviewing porn titles, I don’t think I’ll be reviewing this one. It’s not likely to be released to theaters, anyway, what with being against the law in a lot of places.

So there you go. I saw 40 films this year, including a few that were available for screening before the festival. Most of them were good, or at least passable; only a few were downright bad. That makes a good festival, and if the programmers make some questionable choices now and then, what with all the crack they smoke, the outstanding films make up for it.