Park City 2014: Sundance Film Festival Diary, Entry One
by Jeff Meyers

MovieMaker correspondent Jeff Meyers brings us a behind-the-scenes look at independent film’s finest, the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

General atmosphere of Main Street in Park City, Utah during Day 3 of Sundance Film Festival 2013.

“A shuttle, a shuttle! My kingdom for a shuttle!”

Arriving at Salt Lake City Airport I need a shuttle to Park City. From my hotel to Park City central I need a shuttle. Getting from Sundance HQ to the film venue I need a shuttle. And on and on and on it goes. Welcome to the glamorous world of being a film journalist covering Sundance.

After 24 hours of trying to make it from one screening to the next (and often failing) I begin to envy those Rainman savants that can effortlessly memorize bus and train schedules. Still, there are virtues to spending time on the Sundance shuttles (sometimes more time than you actually spend in a movie theater)—namely, the random film industry folks and fans you meet along the way. Which is appropriate given the festival’s focus on networking.

Before I hit Park City I find myself seated beside a marketing exec for Honda who handles the Acura brand. The car company is a major sponsor since—as it is explained to me—“We are very successful at marketing Acuras to “independent thinkers.”” I can’t help but notice the oxymoronic irony behind that statement.

On the shuttle to my airport I meet a true-blue festival rat. He’s been attending Sundance for the last 10 years and always sees 40 films or more. I ask him is all-time record and he says that one year he hit an even 50. This year he’s worried. He has 18 tickets but the festival has instituted a new online wait-list system. Here’s how it works: You download the Sundance app, wait two hours before the film of your choice opens its wait-list (there’s a count down timer), and pray you hit the request button quickly enough to get a number. Or that the system doesn’t kick you out. Or the system doesn’t overload. Your mileage may vary. One thing is for sure, all festival long you find yourself watching people groan and moan as they desperately stab at their cellphones.

Whiplash

I had planned to catch Whiplash as my first festival film (the buzz for it hits hard)… and I am defeated by the shuttles. So, I recalibrate and grab a ticket for the Shorts Program at the storied Egyptian Theater on Main St.

It’s a full house. Five of the six filmmakers are present. Overall, a solid program. The stand out is My Sense of Modesty, a 20-minute French narrative about a Muslim art student who is forced to shed her hijab in order to present her oral examination.

Actress Rose McGowan makes her directing debut with Dawn, a slow burning early 60s period piece about a naïve teenager who decides to go for a car ride with the wrong people.

Subconscious Password is Chris Landreth’s jokey but slightly longer-than-it-needs-to-be exploration into what your brain does when you can’t remember someone’s name. Janicza Bravo’s Gregory Go Boom falls somewhere between Napoleon Dynamite deadpan and something…well… a bit more serious. It’s an intriguing (if uneven) short with strong visuals and a terrific performance by Michael Cera as a socially awkward paraplegic.

Gregory go boom

Butter Lamp finishes out the program with the kind of project you expect to screen at Sudance—a single angle Chinese short that features nomadic families as they have their portraits taken in front of photo-backdrops of places they’ve never been. It’s simple, wonderful and has a killer punchline for an ending.

My companion, who had his horror film premiere at Sundance several years ago, is uncomfortable with some of the selections, arguing that they are neither indie nor in need of further exposure—especially when you consider that the festival claims to have received over 8,000 short submissions.

The first is Untucked, directed by Community’s Danny Pudi. It’s a highly entertaining 15-minute doc (made for ESPN’s “30 for 30”) that focuses on the colorful “untucked” jerseys Marquette University’s basketball team wore to 1977 playoffs—their one and only championship win. The other is Allergy to Originality, a clever animated tirade about Hollywood’s lack of imagination. It’s part of the New York Times “Op-Doc” series.

It’s hard to argue against his point, but the fact is Sundance has evolved (or devolved depending on your POV) over the years into a festival that mixes indie-minded productions with mid-level studio premieres. The shorts program reflects that sensibility. Still, it would be nice to think of them as an early testing ground for the unproven and undiscovered.

More diary entries in the days to come…MM

Read Jeff’s second Sundance Diary entry here.

The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 16-26.  All Sundance images courtesy of the Sundance Institute.

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