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Movieman's Sundance Diary (Day 5)
by Erik Childress

(Jan. 21, 2002) Tuesday and Wednesday was the beginning of the slow fade of Sundance. Many journalists and film people were already leaving; grabbing a couple movies or their pieces of gossip and vamoosing. We had four pretty full days by this point. I think our humble website and its reporters had covered more than any other outlet. We mingled a little and got our name out there. People were asking Carina on the street where they can get one of those nifty Angry Jew lunchboxes she was carrying around. Everything a learning experience on what to do next year, but we still had two days to go.

This was as good a day to catch up on a little sleep. I had been going non-stop averaging about five hours of sleep a night. There was nothing scheduled worth checking out until 11:30 so I slept until 10. Actually I was up earlier but I sat in bed in that half-awake mode from 9 on. I was really looking forward to seeing this movie called The Station Agent. Audiences were raving about it, it looked interesting and my friend Dan loves movies with dwarfs, so I felt an obligation. The film was screening at the Yarrow, so I got out of the condo at 10:45 and waited for the theater shuttle.

11:00 AM - Um, where is this damn thing? This may be the longest I’ve ever waited for it. Oh, here it comes. Wait, no, that’s the headquarters shuttle. I can walk to there for God’s sake. Usually the theater shuttle follows this one closely behind. Oh look, there it is. Wait a second. It’s ANOTHER HQ shuttle!

11:10 AM – Finally pulling up is my ride. This is cutting it way too close. Normally at the Yarrow I’ve already been there to sign up for the next screening or I was there 20 minutes early. That would be now. Unless I could beam over there, this could be a problem. What is taking this driver so long to close the damn doors? CLOSE ‘EM! CLOSE ‘EM! LET’S GOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

11:15 AM – The shuttle stops at its halfway stop between Lot G and the Eccles. People can’t decide whether to get on or not. “Is this the bus to the…?” You jackidiots! Look at the sign on the bus. How can you not know this by now? Get on the bus or stop bugging the driver. If you’re not part of the solution than you’re part of the fuckin’ problem. Where was Dennis Hopper when you needed him? (“If the bus goes below 50…”) LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!

11:20 AM – In-between my frustration of the slowest bus ride since John Madden made a day of the Hobbit’s meal schedule, I looked to my immediate right to see a celebrity of sorts. You don’t know his name. Honestly, I couldn’t even remember his name. But he’s got a face you recognize and you’ve seen it in numerous films. But I couldn’t remember one. At least this would curb my anger for a minute or two. Just think of one movie, Erik. You can do it. OH! OH OH OH! The janitor. The janitor in Die Hard 2 helping out Bruce Willis (“There’s your skywalk!”) For the record, his name is Tom Bower and you may have seen him in any of the following films: Beverly Hills Cop II, True Believer, Clear & Present Danger, Nixon and The Negotiator. And that’s just a sample. I would have said something, but he was in the middle of a conversation and I would have felt bad not calling him by his first name…since I couldn’t remember it. Shame on me.

11:25 AM – The sensation of getting outright screwed on this screening is starting to come into focus and I don’t like it. We’re pulling up to the Yarrow, but the driver is being Mr. Nice Guy and letting ALL the uncoming traffic through instead of taking his beast bus and completing his mission to get people here on time. Cherry-top that with now listening to an older gentleman telling another how much he enjoyed this film called The Emperor’s Club with Kevin Kline (not part of Sundance, released in theaters November 2002.) So help me God, he continued to cement my “Big Fat Greek” argument with the following comments on why he liked it so much.

“It didn’t have any swearing, no sex, no one was getting killed.”

Yet, it’s also a movie about cheating and a teacher screwing over a deserving student to help out a troublemaker he thinks has potential. This is one of many problems with the American moviegoing public. It’s a small percentage to be sure, but they would just as easily ignore performances, plot and the writing as long as it didn’t offend them. God forbid your mind and senses be challenged every once in a while. Don’t fool yourself this is a major reason why My Big Fat Greek Wedding has grossed over $240 million.

Oh, my stop. The Grand Poobah of the Emperor’s Club was in my way so I pushed him off the bus and swore at him. I ran (or walked really fast) into the Yarrow and down the hall to the screening room, but to no avail. The room was full. Even my main man at the door with the list apologetically couldn’t do anything for me. But wait a second, who the hell was THIS guy trying to get in?

This jackass was starting to create a scene. According to him he left his coat in the screening room to save his seat. The man with the list was explaining to him that people aren’t allowed in once the film starts to avoid disturbances. Whether or not this guy EVER signed in for the screening was up to question. He never used that simple fact to explain why he should be let in. It was just his coat was in there. He may have just left in there after the 9:00 show and figured that was his seat to save. After about five minutes of hooing and hawing this guy was left in. I didn’t catch the guy’s name, but I planned to find out.

My main man with the list rolled his eyes at this jerk and apologized to me again for not being able to get me in. As consolation he said I could go attend the Holly Hunter press conference being held upstairs. She was receiving a “tribute to independent vision” award at the fest that evening and I figured, like Doc Brown, what the hell.

The press conference was just that. The row of cameras and photographers in the back. Seats filled with reporters, publicists and assistants. Holly was joined by fest director Geoff Gilmore. I didn’t have anything to ask, except maybe to thank her for contributing to two of my favorite films of all time (Broadcast News, Raising Arizona) or how much I hated The Piano. I had nowhere else to go, so I just listened. I wanted to hear what some of these “professionals” would ask her.

There were legitimate questions. More than a few of the simple variety that have become commonplace on the interview circuit (i.e. “What was it like to work with so-and-so?” & “Which directors would you like to work with?”) Holly continually praised James L. Brooks, Steven Spielberg and the Coens and then cited many independent voices whose work she loves. She had two films at Sundance (Thirteen & Levity) and, of course, someone had to ask her about the nudity she’s done in the past as well as in Thirteen. Then there always has to be that one ass of a reporter, more interested in making a name for himself than the subject he’s covering. There’s a big difference between asking tough questions and asking a question designed to either put the person on the spot or trying to incense them.

My tape recorder still wasn’t working, but I noticed a few of the reporters/assistants/whatever had little video cameras with them. I thought this kind of thing was frowned upon if it wasn’t going to be for television; almost as bad as taking one into a movie theater. Apparently I’m wrong. They were shooting away. I had mine with me. Got it all on tape. Almost all. Missed a little at the beginning.

The conference lasted about 35 minutes so I went back downstairs to wait for the 2:00 show. I knew Eric D. Snider was going to be at The Station Agent so I figured I’d wait and see what he thought of the movie. I grabbed one of the chairs out in front of the screening room and watched as Mr. Coat Scene walked out of the film. It wasn’t over and he walked out. This guy had what would have been my spot and he just walked out. Bastard! I started talking to Listman about the walkout phenomenon. He told me this wasn’t the first time with this guy. He’s walked out before. Great, nice to know this guy walks out all the time.

“Oh not all the time that I know of. But this film a bunch of times.”
“Oh yeah, he’s left like three times to have a smoke.”

Where’s my cap gun? I was furious. Getting up to go to the bathroom is one thing. But a smoke? You can’t chew a piece of Juicy Fruit or put a nicotine patch on your scrotum for 90 minutes to give hard-working artists their due? Why aren’t people like this banned from the professional world? These are the full-of-themselves mouthpieces of shit (and likely a gossip hound) that give “critics” a bad name. And here he comes. Hope you enjoyed your smoke. With the ferocity of Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love I was tempted to scream out “WHAT’S YOUR NAME, SIR?!!!” But then I saw it. I saw the mile-long press pass. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize him.

This was Jeffrey Wells.

Formally of’s Hollywood Confidential and now writing for Kevin Smith’s Movie Poop, this guy just confirmed every nasty thing I ever heard written about him. This is the guy who called Eight Legged Freaks garbage after only seeing the first eight minutes. Can’t wait to read about the sixty minutes of The Station Agent that you saw. What a genuine fuckhead!

I saw Snider come out of The Station Agent and he confirmed what I feared. I had missed a pretty damn good movie. We grabbed a quick bite from the snack shack up the hallway and went into see Fear X (*). Our spirited discussion of how great we thought TV’s 24 is (how Dennis Haysbert deserves an Emmy for the scene where he has to decide Jack’s fate and how Jack’s daughter gets dumber every week) was far more interesting than anything in this movie. Imagine taking Memento and instead moving it forward with it ever really going anywhere. John Turturro plays a mall security guard whose wife is murdered in the parking lot. The beginning is old material but still interesting as he plays obsessive detective in his home using blurry photographs from security tapes and piecing them together to try and figure out what happened. It leads him to a small town where a detective (James Remar) may know something about the shooting that he’s not ready to admit. From here the movie teases us with secret Star Chambers and confrontations leading up to the moral of the story – “you can’t change the past.” Oh thanks for the insight you slow-moving crazy Danish bastard. You can’t get the 90 minutes of your life back after watching Fear X either.

The day had hardly been productive. There were some documentaries at 5:00, a screening of Bookies at 7:45 which I had already seen. I was hearing some solid talk about this film called American Splendor also playing at 7:45, but it was a film for HBO which means I would see it soon enough. Despite the hype that they may send it to theaters, its going to HBO. Oz had two invites (with “plus-ones”) for the big Variety party this evening. The catch? Someone has to pretend to be David Keeps.

Oz was on the list. Scott was his plus-one. Carina does not look like a David. She’s my plus-one and for a brief moment in time, I had to be David Keeps. The Variety party was way, way, way up in the mountains. It was pretty cool actually. Just don’t think about heights, tiny winding roads or the air getting thinner as you go. Carina drove us all to the top of Old Smokey to one of the most expensive ski lodges in Park City. Oz thought the party started at 5 when it actually didn’t until 7 so we were a wee-bit early. The four of us hung out for more than a while and then showed up fashionably late to the party we were six hours early for. Thin air also affects your math skills.

Moment of truth. Either I get Carina and I in or I don’t. If I don’t, we all leave. Oz has no problems giving his name. I’m paranoid inside. Will they ask for I.D.? Will they know David? He claims to know everyone so it stands to reason that everyone would know him. Just play it cool, Erik. They’re gonna notice you, cause they’re watching.

“Name, please?”
“David Keeps. Plus one.”

(as the lady at the table checks off the name)
“OK. Where is David?”
As I turn my head around to look:
“Um. I don’t know. Where is he?”
“That’s OK. You can go in. I’m sure he’s around somewhere.”
“Thank you.”

So I motioned to Carina and she followed me in. Even Oz was surprised at how smoothly I pulled that one off. We walked past an actual paparazzi line of photographers. Odds are some celebrities would be here tonight. George Clooney is on Variety’s list of “10 Directors To Watch” which is the blown-up front page they were proudly publicizing this evening. Who knows where the evening would take us?

Well, it’s a party with a lot of people we don’t know. The first person we spotted was actually a woman named Azita Zendel. She was an assistant to Oliver Stone for several years and had made a Swimming with Sharks-like movie playing at Sundance called Controlled Chaos ( Scott had seen the film and then subsequently saw Azita every place he went. We saw her in the halls of the press office. She was at the Dopamine party. Was she following us? Whatever. It was nice to see a friendly face.

Man was the food good here. Nothing better than glazed chicken on sticks coupled with free drinks. We walked around the party starting to play a game invented by Oz. The goal was to find women in the room who could be the next big thing. We saw a few. Argued the merits of a few others. Celebrities we saw at the party included Beck, Forest Whitaker and Karen Black. Scott swore he saw Gabrielle Union out in the hallway. We didn’t but we trusted his DeNiro-like senses. Clooney was a no-show.

I saw Chicago Tribune critic Mark Caro at the party and it was nice to see a face from back home. I introduced him to the HBS gang and we talked for a few minutes. We talked about our favorite films in the fest and I asked if he saw Dopamine. He was a huge fan of Sports Night and said it was great to see Sabrina again whom he called “charming.” He liked the movie but not nearly as much as I did. I saw Jeffrey Wells there and hoped he would choke on a kabob.

The party was dying down rather quickly after a spokesperson introduced the “10 Directors To Watch”. (Only 6 were there.) Oz started telling me about the Showtime party from the night before and said I should have been there.

“Why’s that?”
“Sabrina was there.”
“Yeah, she was there. Seemed to be all alone and not having a very good time either.”

Maybe Oz was confusing Sabrina with someone else. Maybe he wasn’t. But, DAMMIT ALL TO HELL ANYWAY! It was the same day as the interview. She would have remembered me. I could have gone over and talked with her some more. We could have chatted about Ed and joked about life and all that good stuff. It could have been really cool, but woulda shoulda coulda yeah yeah yeah. I blew it. To give you the full lowdown on what a colossal mistake it was not going to this party – I later found a copy of the invitation. The following was written under the “WHO” section:

“Those scheduled to attend include Showtime President of Programming Jerry Offsay, CEO Matthew Blank and celebrity guests Salma Hayek, Ruben Blades, Peter Fonda, Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Troy Garity, Daryl Hannah, Nick Nolte, Anthony Edwards, Frank Pierson, Shawn Hatosy, Ed Burns, Matt Dillon, Kirsten Dunst, Lee Pace, Mare Winningham, Morgan Freeman, Holly Hunter, Val Kilmer, Chris Klein, Anna Paquin, Kip Pardue, Paul Rudd, Bryan Singer, Amy Redford, Kevin Spacey, Olympia Dukakis, Pauly Shore, The Polish Brothers, Peter Coyote, Bobby Cannavale, Patricia Clarkson, and Forest Whitaker, Mike Figgis and many others.”

I asked everyone to smack me in my Day 4 piece. Just drop an anvil on my crotch now. Oz said Edward Norton was there with Salma in the VVVVVIP area. He talked with Peter Fonda and Troy Garity, not to mention Anna Paquin whom he claims is super-hot in person and even still had her X-Men rogue hair-streak going for her – although it was dyed pink. Many others! Many others like Sabrina Lloyd. Where’s the bar?

As this haunting menace of a lost opportunity plagued my very being, I tried to go on with life that evening. Some flamboyant dude came over to us and started talking. I forgot what and why about, but Carina, Oz and Scott were humoring him while I looked around the room for some girl with a backpack to make me feel all happy. (Obscure reference #37) But there was a familiar face. A couple of them actually. It was Mark Decena, the director of Dopamine, whom I never got a chance to meet.

I walked over and introduced myself and told him how much I loved his film. Tim Breitbach was also there with a producer of the film whom I also met. I could only be direct and honest with everything I loved about the film and they all seemed really humbled by my talk. We talked for a good half-hour. I asked if Sabrina and anyone else from the cast was around. They told me she had to fly out earlier that day to get back to Ed. Dammit. It would have been nice to tell her as I did Mark and Tim that I had seen Dopamine twice in one day. I’m sure she would have appreciated that fact more than if I had shown up at the party Monday night.

Scott came over and I introduced him. He reconfirmed everything I told them by explaining how much I’ve been talking about the film and coated it all by assuring them that I can be a tough-ass guy to please movie-wise, so my thoughts aren’t the rumblings of some whorish fanboy. One of their wives asked me if the film helped me out with my girlfriend in anyway. Did I have any new insights into the concept of love? I told her that I like to think that I already knew what the film was preaching and that it wouldn’t exactly help with my girlfriend, since I was currently single. At which point I added…

“…but if Sabrina is available.”
“You like her, huh?
“How can you not?”

But I digress and there’s a cat I have to catch with this bag. Anyway, I regret not going to that party, but not for a second in seeing Dopamine twice. Tim said he thinks I’m the only one outside of the filmmakers who had actually seen the film twice in one day. I’m glad I did. And I’m glad I got to meet all these guys. It’s reaffirming in a way and I want to help them in any way I can.

And speaking of reaffirming – God was at the party. No, not THE God. Spielberg doesn’t need to enter a film at Sundance. Wokka Wokka Wokka! No, this was an actor who played God in a hilarious little film playing at Slamdance called The Real Old Testament Imagine the history of the Bible played out as if it were MTV’s The Real World. The serpent tells us how he tricked Adam & Eve. Cain bitches about goody-two-shoes Abel. Abraham admits that hooking up with a slave girl is a good deal if you can swing it. HA-larious! And I only got to see 45 minutes of the tape that Scott and Carina brought back with them to the condo. Scott saw the actor on Main street days earlier and was yelling “GOD!” Now he was here at the party with a couple other people from the film. We introduced ourselves and talked up the film, so he went and found everyone else and brought them over to us. One of the actresses actually knew me without actually ever knowing it. We both shared a fondness for former Chicago radio personality, Jonathon Brandmeier, where I first got my start. One of her relatives actually worked with him on a TV movie. When I announced the title “Thanksgiving Day” she high-fived that I actually knew it and then recognized me as “Erik the Movieman” from Brandmeier’s show (which was also broadcast in LA on 97.1 FM.)

Another great group of people here at the fest with a film that few people may never get the chance to see. We’re giving live reports from the festival on both the radio and through the website. We will continue to dish out coverage after this is all over. Yes, we have a responsibility to report on the big movies here, but an even greater responsibility to use our outlet to spread the word on the Dopamines and Real Old Testaments of the world. Scratch that. It’s not a responsibility. It’s a privilege. And one worth dedicating our time too.

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originally posted: 02/12/03 05:44:44
last updated: 12/31/03 08:08:45
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