We're All in This Thing Together
"Did you see the dog with the blue Mohawk?"
"It's like a cross between Pulp Fiction and Napoleon Dynamite -- but better than both."
"Just get the fuck down here, THEIR PEOPLE ARE WAITING FOR YOU!"
"The Darfur movie is totally like the most amazing thing ever, but kind of a downer."
"I heard there's an afty for [unintelligible] tonight and the chick from Grey's Anatomy is gonna be there."
"Seriously, this is worse than Memorial Day in East Hampton."
"Justin Timberlike is playing on Tuesday. Too many people just wanna hate on him for no reason." (True, true.)
"I'm at fuckin' Sundance, fuckin' ridiculous, fuckin' drinkin', fuckin' just, you know, watching the Bears game."
The Bears won, 39-14, and I'm following a stream of people en route to some party or gathering or meet and greet at the Kimball Art Center. Everyone with a heart was rooting for the Saints, but it was snowing on the field and the cold got the better of them. As it's getting the better of us now that the sun's gone down and Park City's temperature just sank 10 degrees.
I arrived at Sun-/Slam-/X-/Etceteradance this weekend, a last minute trip with almost no planning. I applied to late for a press pass, so I lack the all-important lanyard-suspended laminate around my neck and am therefore not just at the bottom of the totem pole, but not even on the totem poll -- status-less, with the same level of access as a refugee camp resident. My friend Jessica tells me we're headed to the Press/Filmmakers party, an event for all press and filmmakers, meaning virtually everyone in town is invited except me. Since virtually everyone in town is invited, this event is by definition not a hot ticket, with no talent, no gift bags, no celebrity chef braising beef cheeks with vine ripened tomatoes, no list or line at the door. Still, you do need that laminate, and upon arrival, it occurs to me that I may not get into a party that no one even cares about. Half way into explaining to the staffer guarding the door that I'm meeting some people inside, but don't have a credential—what I mean is, I accidentally left my credential at the condo in Deer Valley—I run into my friend Kay who recognizes my predicament and interjects, "I'm glad I found you--here, I have your pass in my purse." And with that she slips the protective amulet of a filmmaker laminate around my neck.
Now fully entitled as a producer of a documentary in competition (that will go unnamed here so as to protect my "sources"), I walk in to discover a room full of people all wearing badges printed with the name of their own project or media outlet, drinking Stella (an official Sundance sponsor) and mindlessly eating free finger foods, one of which is unidentifiable and very very deeply fried.
"So what are you doing here?" my friend Kay asks.
My honest response: "I really don't know."
It's true. Earlier, I'd been wandering aimlessly trying to get my bearings. Main Street, Park City's original axis from the silver prospecting days (I wonder how many Sundance stories have begun with some variation of 'Where they once mined silver, now they come looking for box office gold'?), runs what one cab driver called "north-ish," and can't be more than a mile long. Greater Park City, although spread out, isn't that much bigger, and the annual avalanche of people and parties and orange-vested festival volunteers and gifting salons and converted music venues and impromptu clubs and myriad clandestine house parties that occasions Sundance's opening weekend entirely overwhelms this tiny town.
Supposedly, this year's festival is the first in memory to see a wane in the opportunistic marketing and celebrity frenzy that's turned Sundance into Hollywood's snowbound Spring Break, Cancun. It's hard to tell. Sundance is a typical victim of its own success. Another marketplace of ideas turned into a marketplace. And what's strange is how much of it is an ancillary marketplace, entirely unrelated to the film business. With no contacts, I managed to RSVP to: the American Eagle White Out party with Samantha Ronson (transportation courtesy of GM is available for approved talent upon request); Aaron Eckhart's receipt of the Ray-Ban Visionary Award; Bon Appetit's Supper Club at Sundance; free snowboarding lessons (and gloves and goggles) from Burton; and unspecified comforts from the Entertainment Tonight, Gibson Guitar, and Getty Images Lodge ("Get Ready to Rock Main Street!") before I even showed up.
This is the reason Sundance printed a get-back-to-roots slogan, Focus on Film, on buttons for festival-goers to pin to their parkas. The explainer that comes with the following declaration:
"Visibly wearing this button during the 2007 Sundance Film Festival means that I want to see film that I know I'll never get to see anywhere else; My idea of 'celebrity' is the filmmaker who directed my favorite film at the Festival; I'm willing to wait in the cold for two hours to see a hot documentary; I love that for 10 days I have something in common with over 50,000 people in a small ski town."
But Sundance can't forget marketing altogether, and Sundance says the button also signifies that the wearer "understand[s] that without the support of the official sponsor community, I would not have the opportunity to Focus on Film at the Sundance Film Festival." On the back are the corporate logos of those sponsors: VW, HP, AOL, etc.
And thank god for them, because otherwise there wouldn't be free booze inside the Kimball Art Center. The liquor probably helps grease the social wheels, but people would introduce themselves anyhow. The first thing I noticed about Park City during Sundance is that almost everyone is friendly in a "we're all in this together kind of way." Since 99% of us are visitors, there's no big city intruder/resentful townie dynamic. At the Press/Filmmaker party, everyone is especially friendly, if for self-interested reasons. Sundance is about promotion. Everyone wants you to know who they are and they want to know who you are. Most people are genuinely interested in each other, but there is no way to erase the subtext of every conversation, which is: perhaps this person can help me someday, and hopefully today. But since everyone is in the same game, no one begrudges anyone else for motives.
It is here that I caught a whiff of the Napoleon Dynamite/Pulp Fiction hybrid coup. The guy had a stack of DVDs in his hand, and it was hard to tell if he was describing something he saw at the festival or peddling his own visionary cinematic concept. Either way, I couldn't resolve what such a movie could possible be, so I start conducting a survey. First up was my friend Chucky Malloy, an autodidact who has a short in the festival, and said, "I don't what that could be, but it sounds fuckin' rad."
Posted by Joshuah Bearman