SUNDANCE STAYS COOL
At minus four degrees, Park City can be a little frigid around Sundance time. But the excitement is enough to warm up festivalgoers hell-bent on finding the next Little Miss Sunshine. In the last week of January every year, there is an electrifying buzz in this ski resort town, with deals being made and careers getting started, or, in some cases, jump-started.
This year when the festival began, folks were talking about the controversy surrounding Deborah Kampmeier’s Hounddog starring pre-teen bonafide movie star Dakota Fanning. Before leaving Atlanta for Salt Lake City, I talked about this film on the radio and all anyone wanted to know about was the alleged rape scene. Radio conservative pundit Sean Hannity was screaming about the film on his show, denouncing it without having even seen the movie.
But this kind of thing isn’t new to the Sundance Film Festival, which has featured films that dealt with child abuse and controversial subjects before. Telling difficult stories is the hallmark of independent filmmaking. And as an example, Gregg Araki brought his much more edgy Mysterious Skin to the festival in 2005. That film still makes me uncomfortable.
You might be able to ski, snowboard, and even go on a snow mobile ride in and around Park City, but the mass of visitors elect to stand in long lines for sometimes as long as two hours before start time in order to watch movies. It’s all about the art here, but festival programmers aren’t a bunch of film snobs. In 2007, sandwiched in between painfully bleak features such as David Gordon Green’s serious Snow Angels, we got the surprisingly great-looking satirical zombie movie Fido and the terrifying midnight film The Signal made in Atlanta.
The streets of Park City are dotted with filmmakers and actors stretching their legs from venue to venue. Around the same place I saw Jennifer Anniston mobbed in a little restaurant last year, my brother nearly knocked Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman down as he made his way from an event. One can really rub elbows with the stars here, if you’re willing to hike up and down Main Street. Hoffman politely made room for my brother to move his video camera and stumble uncomfortably down the slick stairs.
For a film critic, Sundance takes place in one location where the press screenings are held. This hasn’t always been the case; I remember in previous years taking in films at several different places, but it was refreshing to discover that I had the option this year of never leaving the Yarrow Hotel where full-blown theaters are set up in large ballrooms.
Still, it is always good to take in a public screening, especially because that is where the talent makes an appearance. Red carpet affairs are often followed by parties throughout the town, but the most entertaining screenings have to be the midnight ones at the Egyptian Theater located near the top of Main Street.
But the dry frozen air that makes your lungs ache and your toes numb is tempered by the tingle of being a part of the magic, touching a little piece of the process. Making the movie is a large part of the process, showing the film to people and braving their reactions is another.
Sir Anthony Hopkins made his directorial debut this year with a David Lynch inspired experiment entitled Slipstream. At the press conference for the film attended by Hopkins, I sat in the front row and studied the actor-cum-director. I’ve been in a room with the great thespian before, but this time he was clearly irritated. Slipstream wasn’t getting a good reception, and from Hopkins’ body language, you could tell he was prepared for tough questions.
As he talked about his movie, you could see how passionate he was about the movie, and that passion could easily be mistaken for bitterness. There is an audience for the visually assaultive Slipstream, just the same as Terry Gilliam’s positively daunting Tideland finally made its way into theaters. Hopkins told us that he spent something like 13 weeks editing the project, and the over-produced nature is evident. Sundance is a good place to try things out.
The festival progressed, and word spread that Garth Jennings’ Son of Rambow made festival history by being purchased for something like $8 million by Paramount Vantage. The extremely moving and possibly commercial John Cusack film Grace is Gone was smartly picked up by the Weinstein Company for $4 million, while Hounddog went without a distributor.
Maybe it’s the cold that kept distributors away.