Sundance in Review

Herein my Sundance experience:

We left Atlanta on a warm January day; as I recall, it was somewhere in the 50s-60s. Hopped a plane to Denver, had a 4 hour layover (ugh) and then boarded another plane to Salt Lake City. Brrr. There was much napping and reading on the outbound journey. By the end of the layover, I’d finished the only reading material I’d brought with me, and was already kicking myself for not bringing another book as I’d contemplated during the packing phase. Hindsight blows goat chunks.

The temperature when we arrived in Salt Lake City was somewhere in the mid-30s. Something of a shock to my Southern-softened sensibilities. But hey, I was raised to be hardy Midwestern stock, right? *snort* We hopped a shuttle bus to Park City after some confusion (fosteronfilm had neither written down the name or number of the company we’d reserved tickets on and there are something like half a dozen shuttle services between Salt Lake and Park City).

We ran into Ian, one of our condo-mates and a film EFX guy I’d met at Dragon*Con, as we waited for the shuttle and got to know him better on the hour-long ride. The mountains were beautiful, their snowy peaks looking like big piles of sugar from a distance and turning jagged and rocky up close. Our condoplex was set at the base of a range of mountains and we had a lovely view as we shuttled to and from the festival venues. The full compliment of condo denizens: Devi and Agustin, director/writer and producer (they made “Teenage Bikini Vampire” and “Confederate Zombie Massacre”); Eric, technical and EFX guru (he always carries a projector, screen, and various electronic toys around with him wherever he goes), and his wife, Jodi (trailing spouse like me); and of course, the previously mentioned Ian, and fosteronfilm and me. Also popping in for a few days were Lenora from L.A. (actress, model, producer, and staff writer for Frontiers magazine) who knows absolutely everyone, Mark from the U.K. (editor of Naked magazine), and Michael-who-was-only-there-for-a-couple-days.

Park City transportation is A-1. Sundance sets up free shuttle buses for the duration of the festival that come every 10-15 minutes or so, and take people to all the myriad venues as well as stopping at the major condo locales–including right in front of our complex. The town itself is charming and picturesque. The roads are narrow, reminding me of the ones in London, and Main street is chock full of little shops (including several ice cream parlors which made me go “huh”) selling artsy nick knacks, boutique clothing, food, and a variety of “downtown”-esque consumables. The city goes to great lengths to be delightful. The houses are painted bright colors–yellows and blues and reds–with decorative trim. I saw a vivid purple dumpster, one of those industrial construction ones, with Robert Redford’s head plastered on it. A purple garbage receptacle is a great idea. It looks festive rather than grungy. There were a lot of gingerbread awnings and elegant little sculptures and ornamental bird houses. Makes me want to paint the staid pillars in front of our house a bright turquoise instead of the white they are now. Maybe we will. That would undoubtedly give our Nazi Homeowners Association an aneurysm–which makes it worth it right there. I saw several fur shops which depressed me, but also several anti-fur protesters, which helped.

The Sundance crowd is a diverse and eclectic mix; countless accents, languages, and fashions were to be experienced in the space of a few blocks every day. And, of course, I saw a pair of obligatory Mormons in their missionary suit-tie ensembles. Didn’t see any celebrities, though, alas.

It snowed almost every day we were there, which I was not at all happy about . . . until Saturday afternoon. The temperature had warmed slightly, and Matthew and I were walking to a shuttle stop. Big, fluffy white flakes floated out of the sky to speckle our hats, coats, and eyelashes, and they created a muffling softness over everything. One flew into my mouth, melting on my tongue, and in the face of such exquisite beauty, my normal “I hate snow!” sentiments whisked away, lost in white flurries. It takes a lot, but every now and again, I will grudgingly admit that sometimes snow can be nice. We passed a young male in a train of people of assorted ages–a couple families on vacation maybe?–who was carting around a snowball bigger than my head. I do wonder what his intentions with that ginormous snowball were, but I’ll never know.

Our condoplex was located across the street from a large grocery store and we stocked up on foodstuffs. Our condo sported a fully stocked kitchen with all major appliances: microwave, refrigerator, oven, and dishwasher, as well as pots, pans, bake-ware, glasses, plates, utensils, and minor electronic devices like a mixer, popcorn popper, blender, and electric can opener. Agustin is an amazing chef. He made omelets or scrambled eggs for breakfast every morning, and his spaghetti sauce was incredible. I offered up homemade chocolate chip cookies as my culinary contribution. The condo also had a gas fireplace that I turned on at every opportunity. It’s so decadent having a fire you can switch on. The place also had a complete entertainment system–DVD player, 5-point surround sound, TV, and CD player. The sleeping arrangements were almost-but-not-quite cramped–two bedrooms, one dayroom, a fold-out sleeper couch, and a dining room that got converted into another bedroom. It would have been perfect if they’d also had WiFi.

There were fewer guerrilla film festivals this year. Word was that Sundance was doing its best to crack down on those. I didn’t see the roving film festival-in-a-truck that Matthew experienced last year. Actually, there were only three that I saw: Sundance (duh), Slamdance, and Tromadance–not counting our own party/film festival: Condodance. There was also a split in venues with many screenings in Salt Lake City. But without complimentary shuttle service between Park City and Salt Lake, I don’t know how many people attended the Salt Lake ones. We certainly didn’t.

Total films viewed: I lost count, but I’d estimate between 30 and 40, the majority being shorts.

The best was Forgiving the Franklins, the Sundance feature I mentioned before. I also liked Puccini for Beginners, another Sundance feature which was billed as a lesbian screwball comedy, but was really simply a lesbian romantic comedy. Sweet but fluffy, with some nice writing. Matthew saw a couple films without me: Moonshine, a vampire flick, and The Descent, a spelunking horror-thriller. They screened during the midnight showings. From the sounds of it, I didn’t miss anything. He also collected quite a few DVDs from various filmmakers who he went up to talk to if he liked their work.

After the films screened, if the film makers were there, they always had a Q&A where the director talked briefly about their inspiration/experience/etc. and the audience had a chance to ask questions. That tended to break things up more often than I liked during the short film blocks, unfortunately. I found it interesting to see how varied the filmmakers were in charisma, personality, and social savvy. Some were vibrant and effusive, full of enthusiasm about their creations, while others were obviously unused to public speaking and didn’t seem to know what to say or where to look. One filmmaker, the writer/director of “40 Dollars,” a day-in-the-life of a drug addict short screened at Tromadance, mumbled and looked at her feet, obviously desperate to escape the spotlight, as the moderator kept throwing more questions at her. From her laconic comments, it was pretty obvious the desperate and despairing story was taken from firsthand experience.

There was an obvious flavor to each of the festivals. Sundance is puffed up by its own pretension, something which is especially apparent in its shorts selection–but there’s a high production value to everything they show. It also tends to favor slice-of-life dramas that may or may not have any sort of narrative structure. Slamdance tries to be edgy and actively spurns a classic narrative, e.g. storytelling structure, which frankly, I don’t like. I want a story, dammit. Esoteric imagery and unusual camera angles are all good and well, but if there isn’t a story, by the end all I’m left with is “so what?” And Tromadance is much more into the traditional narrative format, but their selection committee obviously suffers from multiple personality disorder–some of their offerings are quite good, while others are just . . . not.

Total parties attended: Three.
1. The Film Association party on Wednesday. Eric’s a mover and shaker in those circles and invited us along. Pros: the open bar and the networking. Cons: the loud music that made it impossible to talk to anyone. What is it about people who think that it’s a good thing to crank up the sound system at a party? No one was dancing, and everyone was there to schmooze, network, and socialize. Loud was bad. But the drinks were free. And fosteronfilm was able to hook up with a contact.
2. Condodance on Thursday, hosted by us condo folks. Did I mention that Eric carries a projector and screen everywhere he goes? Last year, they had an impromptu film festival and dubbed it Condodance, offering free spaghetti and good movies, and through word of mouth, gobs of people wandered in just off the street to partake of the fun. So this year they made up cards to publicize it and made it a tradition. Much fun, but also the time when I realized that the higher altitude–something I’d been joking with fosteronfilm about on the plane–did in fact have a real effect. Even on 20mg of Adderall, a paltry amount of alcohol (even for me) totally laid me out. I stumbled upstairs to our room at around 11:30, unable to keep my eyes open, although other folks stayed up late into the night screening movies and talking film. Matthew hooked up with many film folks and pimped the Dragon*Con Film Festival.
3. Tromadance on Saturday. Another loud party at the Tromadance site–Rum Bunnies bar. The music was too loud, the drinks were expensive, and there wasn’t much in the way of networking to be had. We didn’t stay long.

Then there was the impromptu dance party Devi, in a fit of tipsy ebullience, started at our condo before Tromadance’s party. It was much better. I met Devi at Dragon*Con last year, and she’s absolutely lovely, full of bubbly energy and laughter. She teaches at Notre Dame and writes, edits and directs indie movies. She introduced me to a game called “Exquisite Corpse” where a group of people (here fosteronfilm, me, her, and Agustin) write a story together. Each person takes a turn and folds down what they’ve written just showing the last four or so words before handing it off to the next person. The end results were surprisingly good. She promised to transcribe and post them online. I shall link to our collaboration when she does. Devi also writes short fiction but doesn’t know what to do with it next, publication-wise. And as a corollary, I’ve become intrigued by the notion of turning some of my short stories into screenplays and seeing if I can’t get something done with them. But, of course, I don’t know where to start on the marketing equation. Serendipity. So Devi and I are going to swap our industry expertise and connections and see if we can’t get each other pointed at the right people.

I had much fun, even got words out on a new story, met some great people, and saw some excellent movies. Rah.

Now I’m ear-tip deep playing catch-up.


Writing Stuff

Doing the ad hoc research on the Japanese Demon Hunter story that I wasn’t able to in Utah. How did people get anything done without the Internet? Oh, yeah, they lived in libraries . . . which is what I used to do, come to think of it.

Club 100 For Writers

Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Sundance in Review

  1. time_shark says:

    I’m envious. Sounds like an awesome time.

  2. yukinooruoni says:

    It looks like you had an wonderous time!

    Reading through your description of the area though, made me think of the South Park episode where the Film Festival moves to South Park. I had visions of South-Park-like Eugie and Matt’s running around, interacting with Kyle, Kenny, Chef, Cartman, Stan, etc *lol*

  3. mtfay says:

    I am compelled to point out that I am pretty much hip deep in the screen writers life, as I edit screen plays for about 4 on a regular basis;). And occasionally work on my own. So, while my contacts suck as they all work for lawyered up production companies that require agent submissions, I do, in fact, know something about the obtuse business of screenwriting, even if I’m not successful in it. And I have a contact at Filmjack, a small prouduction company that makes cheap horror films (Well, Saw II wasn’t all that cheap, but it wasn’t terribly expensive either), and they aren’t all lawyered up, but they pay for crap.

  4. melonaise says:

    My friend was at Sundance, too, but he spent most of his time as an official photographer. He spent a lot of time standing about in the cold, waiting for photo-ops. He got to have some fun, but even then he had his camera, just in case.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like an awesome trip, Eugie! 😀

    P.S. I may have to steal that ‘snowy mountain peaks looking like big piles of sugar’ line. I loved it! 😉

  6. Oops, I’m not anonymous. It’s me, Eugie. I’m just on my laptop. 🙂

  7. What a great time you had in Utah. My recollection of the landscape is that the place is eerily beautiful and you got to see lots of good cinema, too. I’m experiencing acute movie envy.

  8. keesa_renee says:

    Sounds like fun, Eugie! Hopefully you came back inspired, and ready to churn out masterpieces by the dozens… 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *