|by Eric D. Snider
[NOTE: This is my daily account of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Days 1-5 are in a separate feature.]
Day 6 (Tuesday, Jan. 25):
The main reason I saw "Strangers with Candy" last night was that the press screening for it was at 8:30 this morning, and you know how I feel about 8:30 a.m. screenings. Plus, it conflicted with the 9 a.m. press screening of "The Squid and the Whale," which I had high hopes for. (Its writer and director is Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.") Seeing "Strangers with Candy" last night freed me up to see "The Squid and the Whale" this morning.
In theory, anyway. In practice, again not getting to bed until 3 a.m., the possibility of getting up at 7 and making it to a 9 a.m. screening was remote. And indeed, the 9 a.m. screening and I continued not to be on a friendly basis. However, there is a public screening of "The Squid and the Whale" on Friday. However, it is at 9:15 a.m. Maybe this is on purpose. You know how some movies are only funny if you watch them really late at night? Maybe "The Squid and the Whale" is only funny in the morning.
Anyway, I rolled into Park City at about 10 and went to headquarters to see about the ticket I had requested for the public screening of "The Aristocrats," a movie that is apparently SO offensive that someone who had never seen it posted a note on my Web site's message board warning people not to. This only made me more curious, of course, which may have been the guy's intention in the first place. Maybe he's a publicist.
Imagine my dismay, then, when I was told by the very helpful Bert in the press office that he could not get a ticket for me. He expressed what seemed to be genuine regret over the state of things, but he only had two press tickets available, and he had to give them to the people who had asked before me (or, possibly, who were more important than me. You accept such matters of hierarchy at Sundance). He said another press screening would probably be scheduled for tomorrow, which is all well and good, except that now my afternoon for today was all screwed up.
I considered going to the theater and simply getting in the wait-list line with the common folk. I would have to stand in line, but if I did get a ticket, it would be free with my press pass. But getting a ticket seemed unlikely; this film was a hot commodity.
Then I remembered my buddy, whose name happens to be Buddy, who is a manager at the Sundance box office and who had said he might be able to hook me up if I ever needed him to. I called, he checked, and sure enough, he was able to finagle a ticket for me. I had to pay $8 for it, but still. As Paris Hilton will tell you, a hookup is a hookup.
In the meantime, I was scheduled to have lunch with Elyssa, an old co-worker of mine from a daily newspaper I used to work for that is now owned and operated by Satan's minions from the fiery maw of hell. But Elyssa's cool. We ate Mexican food at a restaurant that is not on Main Street, which means we didn't have to wait for a table, and the food cost less than $1,000.
Then I headed to the Prospector Theatre to wait for "The Aristocrats." It turned out to be a fascinating, often hysterically funny look at the inner workings of comedy. There is an old joke called "The Aristocrats" whose middle section allows the teller to improvise and come up with the filthiest, most taboo acts imaginable. The more shocking they are, the funnier the punchline eventually is. Because of the room for improvisation, comedians like telling it in private gatherings or amongst each other. Comics like to put their own signature on it, the way a singer will make a song "hers." George Carlin's version has lots of poop in it; Bob Saget (one of the filthiest comedians alive -- I'm not kidding, either) includes a lot of sex in his. You get the idea.
The film has many clips of various comedians telling the joke, but mostly it's comedians talking about HOW to tell the joke -- what makes it funny, how it works, and so forth. This leads to a discussion of how comedy in general works, and why things are funny. It's extremely insightful, in my opinion, and the best comedians don't just throw a bunch of naughty words into it; they get descriptive and creative, and that's where the humor comes in.
The film's directors, Penn Gillette and Paul Provenza, were on hand afterward to take questions. Penn said he doesn't want anyone to see the movie who wouldn't enjoy it. He said, "Mel Gibson and Michael Moore -- who are really the same person -- they think their movies are so important, and everyone HAS to see them, and they'll save the world." But for "The Aristocrats," Penn doesn't want anyone wandering in who doesn't have a significant interest in the dynamics of comedy, or who doesn't like to see movies with dirty words.
I went back to headquarters after this to write and recuperate and such. They have a room with little tables set up, sort of like a coffee shop, but without all the hippies. While I was typing away on my laptop, a trio of Japanese people arrived and began occupying the other chairs at my table. It was one man and two women, and the man was clearly the leader, and he instructed the caucasian Sundance volunteer who was guiding them around to get them something. He spoke in Japanese, which the volunteer evidently understood, and the volunteer went off in search of whatever the item was.
Turns out it was coffee, and he brought back three cups of it. Or maybe he doesn't actually understand Japanese, and coffee is just what he THOUGHT they wanted. At any rate, the leader instructed the volunteer to sit down and join them, which he did, at which point the three Japanese people began to talk very excitedly amongst themselves for a few minutes, whereupon they ran out of conversation and began quietly reading magazines. The volunteer continued to sit there, as instructed, not doing anything, apparently having been given as a gift to the Japanese people. I continued to type on my laptop and pretended not to notice that three Asians and their man-slave were sharing a table with me.
After a brief visit to the HBS.com/Elizabeth Peña house, Erik the Movieman and I headed to the Yarrow for a press screening of "Between." The film guide made this movie sound very intriguing: a psychological thriller in which the heroine's memory plays tricks on her and time seems to wrap around itself. Sounds good, right?
Ah, but as it turns out, the movie sucks. It's about this boring woman who goes to Tijuana to find her missing sister, and she keeps locating all these weird clues, and a mysterious old Mexican woman offers enigmatic advice. Then the Mexican woman drops a framed photograph on the floor and says, "Lou wha' jew MADE me do!," with the emphasis on "made" rather than on "do." She sounded a lot like Al Pacino in "Scarface." In fact, she was so bizarre, she wins the Christopher Walken Award for Craziest Performance by a Supporting Actress.
Members of the press began walking out of this movie about 20 minutes into it. Before long, the film was, as Scott Renshaw put it, "hemorrhaging viewers." (Scott was responsible for yesterday's "That'll do, James" joke, too, by the way. I'm giving him credit now because he caught me stealing it.) But we stayed for the whole thing, which I'm not sure makes us better people, but at least we can say we watched it. It didn't have a single swear word in it, either, so if your only choices are this and "The Aristocrats," and you hate swearing, see this.
Next up was "Hard Candy," recently purchased by Lions Gate for eventual theatrical release. It is about a pedophile who meets a 14-year-old girl through the Internet for predatory reasons and comes to regret it, because she is hell-bent on teaching his pedophiliac booty a lesson. The star is Patrick Wilson, a Broadway actor most recently seen boring audiences as Raoul in the movie version of "The Phantom of the Opera." He is a good deal more lively in "Hard Candy," particularly in the scene where the vengeful girl states her intentions to castrate him. ("Don't mutilate me; that's all I ask of you" would be a good song lyric here.)
Tomorrow, none of the films showing at 8:30, 9 or 9:30 are even remotely attractive to me. So for the first time this week, I'm not even going to PRETEND to get up at 7. Take that, Sundance.
Day 7 (Wednesday, Jan. 26):
The day began with three movies in a row, bam, bam, bam, with almost no time between them. I felt as rushed as a one-legged man in a thing where he has to watch a bunch of movies. (No time for good metaphors; we have movies to discuss.)
First was "Reefer Madness," the film version of the recent stage musical that is a spoof of the 1938 anti-marijuana propaganda film "Tell Your Children," which was later re-titled "Reefer Madness." Got it?
Despite having no overt homosexual content, this is one of the gayest movies I've ever seen. It's campy and ironic from beginning to end, full of singing, dancing, mincing, gamboling and cavorting. I suspect the crowd that enjoys pop-cultural kitsch (i.e., gay men, and the women who hang out with them) may delight in it. But they might not, too. Irony is fun for a while, but for 108 minutes? It gets old. And the songs aren't that great, either.
From there it was off to the Racquet Club, a new festival venue this year, for a public screening of "Brick." I had heard many good things about this film from some friends who caught the press screening earlier in the week, and I'd requested a ticket so I could see for myself. It's basically a film noir set in a modern high school -- "Maltese Falcon" and "Chinatown" meet "Saved by the Bell" (or something). The dialogue is arch and peppered with 1930s slang, and all the noir prototypes are there: the reluctant anti-hero, the femme fatale, the bad guy, the hired thug, etc. Unlike "Reefer Madness," "Brick" is able to sustain its concept for its entire running time. So hooray for "Brick," and boo for "Reefer Madness."
Before the film, I went outside to the waiting area to buy a Three Musketeers at the snack bar. (Does anyone else eat Three Musketeers? Someone told me I'm the only one he knows.) I assumed the price would be a dollar -- ridiculously marked-up, of course, but common for vendors who are selling food to people who have no alternatives. But then the guy told me it was TWO dollars. I was so stunned, I didn't have the presence of mind to do what I should have done, which would have been to say, "Two dollars? Eff that!" and walk away without buying anything. Instead, I got another dollar out of my wallet and, observing the tip jar on the counter, said, "Now I don't have any money left to leave a tip." I'm sure that showed him!
(In truth, I did have plenty of money left, and also in truth, I wouldn't have left a tip anyway. I don't buy into the notion that putting a jar on the counter with the word "TIPS" on it means that what you're doing actually merits tipping. Bring food to my table or deliver something to my house, and then you've got grounds for a gratuity. But dispensing a cup of hot chocolate or handing me a piece of coffee cake from the cooler? Forget it, Hector.)
After "Brick," I had to hustle back to the Yarrow for a press screening of "Hustle & Flow," which, despite its title, is not a 1970s police drama. It is instead a "gritty" (i.e., the F-word is spoken 2,389 times) "urban" (i.e., it's about black people) "drama" (i.e., it's not a comedy) about a pimp who wants to be a rapper. Which to me is like a cockroach who wants to be a dung beetle, but whatever. As it turns out, this pimp who wants out of the pimping business and into the rapping business pretty much only raps about his days as a pimp, which makes me think, if he misses it so much, why did he want out?
"Hustle & Flow" was a hot ticket because just a few days ago, it was purchased by Paramount for $9 million -- a record for a Sundance purchase, if I'm not mistaken. (I do know that last year's $5 million for "Napoleon Dynamite" was considered huge.) In addition, Paramount also paid the producer, John Singleton, $7 million extra to do two more, unspecified films for them. So $16 million for "Hustle & Flow," basically, which is a ton of money for a movie that's only sorta good.
When the pimp-rap movie was over, I went up to Main Street to meet a couple friends for dinner. Well, one friend, Chris, and his friend who I don't know but whose name turned out to be Greg (I think). We ate at Burgie's, a hamburger joint right there on the main drag that was inexplicably uncrowded. Our waiter told us, unbidden, that he made a film that he's been showing around town, and that he doesn't even work at Burgie's anymore, he just came in to pick up a couple shifts while he's in town pimping his film. I was apathetic and ordered a bacon cheeseburger.
It was about 8:30 when we were done eating, and Chris and Greg(?) scampered off to another film. I was thus left alone with my thoughts, and it was here that I reached the point in the festival -- it happens every year -- where it starts to feel like a JOB, and not the fun kind of job. I began to feel like my job is that every day I drive to Park City, watch four movies, then drive home and write about it -- which, if that were actually a person's year-round occupation, would get very old, very fast. It's only been seven days and already my shoulder is sore from carrying my laptop-laden backpack, my butt is sore from sitting in uncomfortable screening-room chairs for hours on end, and my mind is sore from ingesting so many disparate ideas, images and words in such a short space of time.
Watching movies is great, of course; it's one of my two favorite things to do with other people in the dark. (The other is telling ghost stories.) But Sundance always induces a sort of sensory overload, the result of seeing a wacky comedy immediately after enduring a grueling tragedy, for example. The range of emotions inspired by good films -- joy, sadness, disgust, horror, pleasure, anger -- is considerable. Sometimes there are movies at Sundance that are so powerful (or so funny, or so sad, or so whatever) that they would be enough for one day by themselves. And then to go watch something else afterward, to force your mind to reset so that you can go into the next one with a clean slate -- it's work! Honest-to-goodness actual WORK!
I was tired now, and I decided to go home and call it a day a little earlier than usual. But I have this odd work ethic with Sundance. For some reason, I feel like anything less than four movies a day is a sign that I am slacking off. I only watched three yesterday, and I didn't want a repeat of that lazy performance today. So as I sat on the shuttle bus, I decided that if it happened to stop at the Eccles Theatre before 9:30, I would get off there and watch "The Girl from Monday," which was to commence at that time. And if we stopped at the Eccles after 9:30, I would stay onboard and go home instead. I left my fate up to the bus driver.
And damn him, he made it to the Eccles at 9:20. The one time this week that the shuttle moves with any degree of speed, and it forces me to watch "The Girl from Monday." This is a bad quasi-science-fiction movie about a girl from another planet who shows up in New York in the future, when America has been taken over by some kind of corporation. The film was written and directed by Hal Hartley, which would mean something to you if you were an independent-film geek, which maybe you are. If so, then be aware that one of your heroes has made a very dull, very flat movie. But he shot it on digital video, so at least he didn't waste any precious film on it.
When it was over, then, finally, I was allowed to go home. I had seen my quota of four movies, only one of which I especially enjoyed. It was time to punch my time card and hope tomorrow is a little better. I gladly accept gratuities, by the way.
Day 8 (Thursday, Jan. 27):
I woke up this morning feeling woozy and inordinately tired. This continued through my drive to Park City, and it was joined by a bit of nausea. I felt like I was pregnant, though I wasn't sure how that could have happened. I do know a few people who are pregnant right now. Had I caught it from them? Is that even possible? How do you get pregnant, anyway?
I figured the best cure for feeling out-of-sorts was to watch a movie. The movie in question was "Nine Lives," a collection of vignettes about various women's lives. How many women? Why, nine, actually.
The film guide says this movie is 153 minutes long, which you'll agree is far, far too long for any film that does not have hobbits in it. Plus, at this point in the festival, people are generally choosing their movies based on how short they are. I was seeing "Nine Lives" only because it was the only option in that time slot. Believe me, if another movie had been available that was shorter, I'd have gone there, even if it had starred Carrot Top.
So imagine my Christmas-like surprise when "Nine Lives" turned out to be only 105 minutes! It was a small miracle that made me realize, despite my low day yesterday, that Sundance is still worth going to, and life is still worth living. And I was feeling better now, too. If I had been pregnant before, it had gone away. Thank goodness!
I had to rush back to Salt Lake City after "Nine Lives" to take care of some business and sign a bunch of papers. I won't bore you with details, but I will offer this advice: Never buy a condo. And if you do buy one, don't ever try to sell it.
Anyway, that ate up much of the afternoon, but don't worry! I still got my requisite four movies in today. At 4:30, I was back in Park City and watching "The Puffy Chair," which I keep thinking is called "The Comfy Chair," which of course was a torture device in one of the old Monty Python "Spanish Inquisition" sketches.
But no, this was a puffy chair (though it was probably comfy, too, I guess). The film is an easy-going little comedy about a slacker 30-year-old who still calls everyone "dude" and "man" (including his girlfriend) and who recently quit his rock band to become a rock band promoter. He finds this old chair on eBay that is an exact replica of the chair his dad used to lounge on, so he buys it as a birthday present for the old man. He has to drive from New York to North Carolina to pick it up, and then on to Atlanta to deliver it, and his girlfriend and his pseudo-hippie brother come along, and it's a big road trip full of awkward confrontations and emotional maturation.
I liked the movie. It made me laugh and smile, and the performances are very good-natured and likable. It was shot documentary-style, which means it is non-traditional and might not get picked up, and if it does, it might not make any money. But it's the sort of "independent film" that normal folks would like, too.
Shortly after this film was a press screening for "What Is It?," the writing/directing debut of Mr. Crispin Glover, who is the craziest person I have ever met. The film confirms it. It's not so much a movie as a cry for help. Most of the cast are people with Down syndrome, I kid you not. Glover himself plays a kingly underworld sort of guy who seems to be afraid that one of the Down syndrome guys thinks he (the Down syndrome guy) is Glover. I don't know why Glover thinks the kid thinks that, but he does. The Down syndrome kid himself, meanwhile, is fond of tormenting snails. Also, there is a man in blackface who wants to be an invertebrate. Also, there is a scene where a naked woman with a monkey mask on brings a watermelon to a naked middle-aged retarded man who is reclining on a giant clam shell. All of this is joined together by absolutely no plot, at least not that I could discern. It is probably the strangest movie I ever seen. I kinda liked it.
This was only three movies for the day, but I was feeling very tired and there was nothing else showing in Park City that I felt like seeing. Just like last night, I decided to call it an early night. This time, I actually made it to my car and drove home to Salt Lake City.
As I got into town, though, it occurred to me that there are Sundance Film Festival venues IN Salt Lake City, where I live! I had never taken advantage of that fact before, because prior to this year, I lived 40 minutes away in Orem, so driving to The SLC wasn't much better than driving to Park City. But now I live in The SLC, and in fact I live within walking distance of the Broadway Centre, where Sundance occupies as many as three screens during the festival. (Please do not take the term "walking distance" to mean that I actually walked there.)
It was 9:15, and I saw in the schedule (which I looked at while I was driving) that "The Chumscrubber" was to commence at 9:45. This film stars Jamie Bell, who I've always thought was a good young actor, and there have been no press screenings at all and only two public screenings in Park City. This would be my only chance to see it.
So once again, my plans to have an early night were thwarted when I accidentally watched a movie. But unlike last night, I'm glad it happened. "The Chumscrubber" is a very good movie set in sunny suburbia, and detailing the oddness of adults and the unsupervised mayhem of teenagers. It reminded me a bit of "Donnie Darko," but in a good way: the surreal middle-class characters, the hallucinatory protagonist, the deeper themes of angst and death. It's a comedy, more or less, but it's also a satire and a mystery. I hope it gets picked up for release, because I would like to see it again.
Oh, and it has Ralph Fiennes in it, except the whole time I thought he was Liam Neeson. It wasn't until I looked at the cast list that I realized it was Fiennes. Ditto Carrie-Anne Moss, who I thought was Sarah Clarke (Nina Myers from "24"). Maybe it didn't even star Jamie Bell. Obviously my eyes aren't to be trusted.
Day 9 (Friday, January 28):
After a brief burst of icky weather yesterday, the skies were clear again today as I headed to Park City for my last full day of the festival. Sundance definitely winds down around this time. Many members of the press have headed home, most of the celebrities (except for those with films yet to premiere) are gone, and the crowds are smaller. The people who remain are noticeably tired and less chatty on the shuttle buses, like survivors of a holocaust.
I stopped by headquarters first to pick up the ticket I had requested for a public screening of "Murderball." This documentary was the belle of the ball, buzz-wise, and was considered a "must-see." There was to be a press screening tonight at 5, but that conflicted with the public screening of another must-see, "MirrorMask," that I wanted to attend. So I'd requested this public-screening ticket of "Murderball."
When I arrived at the table where Bert the helpful ticket guy works, he told me there was no need to attend the public screening at 11:15, because there was a press screening at 5. "Yes," I said, "but that conflicts with the public screening of another must-see, 'MirrorMask,' that I wanted to attend." He saw my dilemma and quickly issued me a "Murderball" ticket. Bert is the only guy I've ever known who was actually named "Bert," but even if I knew many Berts, I'm sure he'd still be my favorite.
My friend Scott Renshaw of Salt Lake City Weekly has been taunting me all week for my dependency on the shuttle buses while he, being manly, often walks from Sundance headquarters to the Yarrow, a hike of about 10 minutes. I am not opposed to walking in general, but when it's cold out, and there's ice on the sidewalks, and the buses are warm and due to arrive, I'm sure, ANY time now -- well, why walk? Besides, the buses are often the site of events which later make for amusing anecdotes. No amusing anecdotes ever happen when you're walking, that's for sure.
But it was now 10:50, and I believed "Murderball" to be starting at 11:15. The shuttle often takes 20 minutes to get to the Yarrow from headquarters due to the circuitous route it takes and due to many people believing the bus drivers to be their personal chauffeurs and insisting they stop at random intersections or in front of random condominiums. Not wanting to push my luck, I opted to walk instead, partly because it was faster and partly because I wanted Renshaw to respect me. On the way, a driver who was stopped at an intersection failed to look at the curb before turning right and therefore did not see me entering the crosswalk and therefore almost hit me. He missed me by mere inches, and I and thought, "Well, that would have been an amusing anecdote, for sure. And it would have gotten Renshaw off my back for never walking anywhere." I sort of regretted not being struck by the car.
Turns out "Murderball" wasn't scheduled to start until 11:30 and didn't actually start until 11:45, but no matter. It's a fantastic documentary, quite worthy of all the buzz that's been circulating. It's about the U.S. Paralympics Quadriplegic Rugby team, in which men with varying degrees of limitations upon their four limbs play rugby in souped-up, reinforced wheelchairs. "Murderball" is the colloquial name of the sport, and it's apt. If you know how violent regular rugby can be, imagine it when steel and wheels have been added to the equation.
The sport itself is fascinating to watch, but even more compelling are the stories of the athletes. Some became paralyzed in extremely horrific ways -- one was thrown from the bed of a pickup truck into a canal, where he clung to a branch for 14 hours before being discovered; another was tossed off a balcony during a fistfight -- and all are candid about their injuries and their disabilities. The film even addresses the question on everyone's mind when they meet someone in a wheelchair: Can you still have sex? (Answer: yes!) "Murderball" is among my two or three favorite films of the festival.
After this I stuck around for a press screening of "212," a little comedy about post-college New Yorkers making connections and falling in love in the Big City. I lasted about 20 minutes before I realized the film had failed to engage me in any way, and I left. By the end of the festival, my patience for mediocre films runs thin, and it's not very thick to begin with.
So I walked -- walked, Renshaw! In your face! -- back to the press office to write and whatnot. The atmosphere had become more relaxed in this usually hectic place, too. While I was there, some of the volunteers and employees began playing a guitar and singing a song about pirates. This struck me as a perfectly reasonable thing to do, given all the stress they'd been under all week.
In the press lounge I saw a man who was associated with the film "Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School." Film-related people have nametags like the rest of us, except instead of their actual names, it just says the name of their film. So instead of saying "Eric Snider," your nametag would say "Murderball" or "212" or whatever. I guess the people's names don't matter; all anyone wants to know is what movie they're with. This guy's tag said "Marilyn Hotchkiss," as the full title was too long to include. Under "Marilyn Hotchkiss," he had written his own name, apparently having gotten tired of people thinking his name was Marilyn. I thought that was funny. (Did you? Please check yes or no.)
At 6:00 I attended the aforementioned public screening of "MirrorMask" at the Eccles Theatre. This was a much-ballyhooed film boasting jaw-dropping visual imagery and creativity, in a "Wizard of Oz"/"Alice in Wonderland"-type fantasy story about a young girl who has to stop the Dark Queen from taking over the world, or something. I enjoyed the visual aspect of the film immensely, but the story itself (written by noted author Neil Gaiman) is somewhat lacking. Still, I would recommend it, especially on the big screen.
I saw Paul Provenza, director of "The Aristocrats," in the lobby and engaged him in conversation for a moment so I could compliment his film and wish him well with it. I said I looked forward to the DVD, to see the comedians who got cut out; he said there were about six of them. No huge names among them, but he did say that Jerry Seinfeld was willing to do the project and simply hadn't been able to arrange his schedule. Considering Jerry's act is generally very clean and profanity-free, it would have been interesting to hear him tell a dirty joke. Alas, it was not to be.
I had half-hoped to make it back to the Yarrow for a press screening of "On a Clear Day" at 8:00, but I didn't get out of "MirrorMask" until 7:50, and even Scott Renshaw couldn't walk it in 10 minutes, and I knew a bus was hopeless. So I went to Plan B, which was to eat dinner with my friend Chris and his friend Greg, whose name turns out to be Craig. Seeking to take full advantage of the star-studded Sundance atmosphere, we went to Pizza Hut.
There was one more movie in store for me: a 10:00 press screening of "New York Doll." This film was talked about a lot this week, which is why another press screening of it was added for tonight. It's about Arthur "Killer" Kane, bass player for the early-'70s pre-punk group New York Dolls, a band I'd never heard of but which apparently laid the groundwork for later bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols. This means the New York Dolls were indirectly responsible for Green Day, too, so I don't know how proud of themselves they should be.
Anyway, Arthur Kane was an alcoholic who had hit rock bottom when, in 1989, he joined the Mormon Church. He cleaned his life up completely and became a fairly ordinary Mormon middle-aged man, all the while wishing for a reunion with his old bandmates. The film shows them reuniting for a concert in London in 2004, and the entire experience is very sweet and inspiring. This is a wonderful film about a genuinely nice man who found God and changed his life because of it. It, too, becomes one of my festival favorites this year.
Day 10 (Saturday, Jan. 29):
Today Park City was almost like the ghost town it is for 51 weeks out of the year. Everyone connected with Sundance was finishing up last-minute business or in hiding somewhere, resting up for the big end-of-festival party tonight.
I saw two movies. Both were public screenings. Only one of the three press-screening venues was still in operation today, and it was only showing films I'd already seen. Over 120 press-screening slots over the course of the festival, and some movies get shown three times while others get none. It's not fair, I tells you.
At noon I saw "Protocols of Zion," a fascinating documentary by Jewish filmmaker Marc Levin in which he examines the current state of anti-Semitism in America. There has been an upswing since 9/11, with some conspiracy theorists saying the Jews were responsible for those attacks, pointing to the fact that no Jews were killed, and that 4,000 Jews who worked in the Twin Towers did not show up to work that day.
Of course, these "facts" are completely bogus -- just look at the wall listing the names of the dead and you can pick out hundreds of Jewish names -- but facts seldom get in the way of people hating each other. The film takes its title from a book published a century ago that purported to be the minutes from a meeting of Judaism's top elders as they discussed their insidious plans for world domination. Problem is, the meeting never took place, and the book is a 100-percent fraud. Yet to this day, some people still believe its talk of the Jews wanting to take over the world and exterminate all gentiles.
The documentary was interesting to me because, not being Jewish and not living in an area where many people are Jewish, I do not witness anti-Semitism on a regular basis. I wasn't aware of its prevalence. How many other people are hating each other without me knowing it?
Speaking of hating, I next saw "Dirty Love," a despicable and unfunny film starring former celebrity Jenny McCarthy, who also wrote the screenplay. It resembles "Sex and the City," except it is set in Los Angeles and is not the least bit funny. McCarthy apparently believes that if she makes goofy faces all the time, that is the same thing as being funny. In fact, I wanted nothing more than to smack her, savagely and repeatedly, until she quit making those effing faces.
It was a terrible film to end the festival with, but it does allow me to quote the greatest example of hyperbole in this year's Sundance film guide. John Cooper writes, "'Dirty Love' could well establish (McCarthy) as the Lucille Ball of the new millennium." I'm not even a huge Lucille Ball fan, but I think this statement offends me.
It was only 5 p.m. when "Dirty Love" was over, but I had some non-festival obligations to attend to. And so the festival is over for me now. There are more screenings tomorrow, but mostly of the films that won awards (most of which I've seen). Besides, TiVo has a lot of things waiting for me that I simply must catch up on.
Ah yes, the awards. There is a jury who sees all the films in the competition categories and chooses winners, and then there are winners chosen by audience voting, too. Think of the Academy Awards vs. the People's Choice Awards. In the American documentary category, the jury chose the somber "Why We Fight" (no surprise; it's a Very Important film), while the audience selected the superior "Murderball." In the world documentary contest, the jury went with "Shape of the Moon," and the audience chose "Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire." So far, I am two-for-two in agreeing with the audience rather than the jury.
In the American dramatic competition ("dramatic" simply meaning non-documentary, not necessarily that the films are dramas), the jury prize went to "Forty Shades of Blue," which astounds me, because I wasn't aware of anyone really liking that film all that much. The audience, on the other hand, chose "Hustle & Flow," perhaps because Paramount bought it for $9 million and everyone therefore assumed it must be really good.
In the area of foreign films, the jury chose "The Hero," while the audience voted for "Brothers." I didn't see either film, but I suspect I would like "Brothers" more, given that so far I have not been thrilled with the jury's choices.
There were a few "Special Jury Prizes" for some films, but since I don't really understand the criteria -- if you liked the film so much, why didn't it win the REAL prize instead of some "special" prize? -- I'm not going to get into it.
This was my sixth year covering the festival, but the first time that it has ended without me being ready for it to. Usually by now I'm burnt-out and somewhat relieved that it's over. But this year is different. Today I wanted to cancel my other obligations and see something else after "Dirty Love." I wanted to cancel the things I'm supposed to do tomorrow and catch whatever remaining screenings there are. I want the festival to go on for another week, so I can see "The Squid and the Whale" (I never did make those 9 a.m. screenings...) and "Grizzly Man" and "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" and "Twist of Faith" and all the others that I heard good things about that I was unable to see.
Kudos are in order to Geoffrey Gilmore and the others who program the festival, their pro-"Dirty Love" exaggeration notwithstanding. The festival continues to grow and improve, and it is largely due to their selection of diverse, interesting films. My thanks also to Patrick Hubley, Sundance's head of media relations who oversees everything pertaining to the hundreds of members of the press who attend the festival, and who does so with grace and good humor; and to Sarah George in the materials office for handling all the press kits and screener tapes and whatnot; and to Bert Hall, who has the awesome responsibility of granting or not granting public-screening tickets to members of the press who request them, and who only denied one of my requests this year.
The shuttle buses were screwy, and the documentaries far exceeded the narrative films in terms of quality, and Paris Hilton was permitted to enter the boundaries of Park City ... but still, Sundance 2005 was a fantastic, enriching experience for me. I feel like the woman I talked to who is from Colorado and who decided on a whim to attend the festival, who was having such a great time that she said, "Now I can't imagine not coming back every year." I can't imagine it, either.
(Days 1-5 are in a separate feature.)
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1319
originally posted: 01/29/05 03:54:13
last updated: 01/21/06 18:25:01