Sundance Till We Drop
Written by Cam Christiansen
If I haven’t been returning calls or emails over the last few days you will soon know why. As the festival is winding down my wife and I are on a mission to pack in as much as we can. I have a short film in the festival this year and feel like we need to give it our all (can always sleep when we get home). It's time to take off the gloves switch off the phones and hit the streets! Here is a rundown of our last gasp trying to soak it all up. If you are in a rush power scroll / skim through this info and use the ratings system to stop as you like.
[ * ok ] , [ **good ] , [ ***very good ] , [**** amazing ]
[ *** Very good ] Tuesday Morning: Watched the Inauguration of Barack Obama. Sundance is important to us but this is history that can’t be missed. We were not alone on this and watched the event live at the filmmaker’s cafe at festival headquarters with a room full of people. I heard reports from filmmakers who had empty screenings during the Inauguration. Read my story on this here.
[**** amazing ] Tuesday Early Afternoon : Went to Prospector theatre panel discussion on “Where indie film is now" with: Steven Soderbergh, Gregg Araki, Barbara Kopple, and Tom DiCillo. This was probably the best panel discussion I have ever been to at Sundance.
This was a panel of heavy weights and they were funny and respectfully heated at times. In general, a lot of the discussion was about how making a movie is always a tough road and doesn’t always get easier even with successful films under your belt. “Indie cinema used to be about saying ‘no’ to Hollywood. My sense is that today it’s the opposite,” said DiCillo. “When you put them together, they cancel each other out.”
Soderbergh offered a spirited counterargument, pointing out that some movies need bigger budgets to be properly realized. “The real distinction isn’t indie vs. Hollywood. It’s good movie vs. bad movie,” he said. “Indie cinema doesn’t have the market cornered on quality.”
It was also wild afterwards as Soderbergh was surrounded by people offering him scripts, and books, one guy said he had 650k to invest in an Albert Einstein movie. Who knows what was real or hype but one thing for sure is everyone wanted a piece of him. He has a golden glow.
The volunteers had to intervene and steer him out the door. I spoke with director Tom DiCillo and he was a very cool guy. I mentioned that we saw John Densmore the drummer from the When They Were Strange documentary of legendary 60’s band the Doors who plays at the Sundance House. It was a live improv with folk pop violinist Lilli Hayden it was insanely good. He had mentioned getting a bad review for his movie and talked how it “still hurts” no matter how long you do this.
[**** amazing ] Tuesday, Late Afternoon: Go back to festival headquarters and run into Virginia Pearce of the Sundance Institute, she asks us what we are doing. She emphatically but politely suggests we go to the sneak peek movie at the Eccles theatre she says, “you REALLY ought to go to this one”. (Leans in with dramatic pause)......“REALLY!”
Needless to say we changed our plans and rushed off to a special sneak peek screening of Stephen Soderbergh's new film The Girlfriend Experience with Sasha Grey. This is a work in progress, and is a down sampled version without credits. We were so fired up because how often will you have this happen? Who would be in it? Brad, George? It wasn’t till we were in the line waiting to get in that we discovered that the movie is about a high class escort who juggles a steady romantic relationship and her “clients.” This all takes place with the backdrop of the current economic meltdown.
It was very a rosy eyed special atmosphere in the theatre and we felt so excited to be there. In fact I remember liking the film more at the theatre. It wasn’t till the next day after the excitement wore off that I started to thinking that the movie actually left me pretty flat. It is very slick, but bottom line I thought that the lead just wasn’t up to the job. She is an actual porn star and her acting skills were pretty one dimensional. Soderbergh plays around with a nonlinear narrative in a interesting way but it’s not enough to save the day. I will be very interested in seeing it when it is released and look forward to seeing the differences.
[ **good ] Tuesday Late Evening: Shorts Awards reception / dance party. We go to the Legacy Lodge and look forward to the awards hoping for a mention for our film (hopeful lamb to the slaughter). It just was not meant to be that night cest la vie... Anyway congratulations to Destin Danile Cretton for Short Term 12 which was the film of the night.
I ran into a videographer and was interviewed for this Sundance video check it out: shorts vs features.
One last note. I was thinking while I was there how a film festival is like the gold stars you get as a kid from a school teacher. Except instead of gold stars its Laurels. Everyone is vying for the affirmation or pat on the back that Sundance provides. I mentioned that to another filmmaker and she said that it feels so good and people strive for it because there are so many inherent nos to independent film.
[ **good ] Wed - Mid Morning - After we went straight to Eccles theatre to see Cold Souls. This is a good film by director Sophie Barthes, who had a short at last year’s festival and was developed this film through the Sundance lab. It features Paul Giamatti (from Sideways) and is a pretty oddball concept of him literally selling his soul. It is strange and if someone showed me that on paper I would never imagine it working. Somehow it does thanks largely to Paul Giamatti who is really funny and great. He is a fabulous actor.
Ok I do admit falling asleep in it but it was no reflection on the movie it had more to do with the late night before. This is important to note as when you watch four movies a day its actually unfair to the filmmakers as you are really not at your best.
[ **good ] Jumping the bus between events.
Park City has a free shuttle bus service and it is such a great idea. Personally I think all cities should make the buses free in the inner core. Good for business, social and you can have a few drinks and not worry about driving.
[**** amazing ] (Especially for Maureen) Wed - Afternoon - After lunch we finally get to the main event at the Temple Theatre, the whole reason for my wife to come to Sundance in the first place. Yes I had a short this year but lets face it she was really in Park City to see The September Issue by R.J. Cutler. My wife is a long time fashion aficionado having studied the pages of Vogue “since I was in grade 6.” (“Specifically, from Astrid Hockmiester’s mom in grade 6”).
For those of you who don’t know Anna Wintour, she is THE high priestess of fashion and Vogue's editor-in-chief. Wintour is now immortalized by the movie The Devil Wears Prada.
I have been hearing about this movie since day one of Sundance program announcement. Our problem also from day one was that is had been sold out immediately. We had planned some crash the opening scenarios, thought of buying scalped tickets at any cost etc... but in the end even the diehards realized driving to Salt Lake City without a ticket on opening night seemed like a bad plan. We gave up to much disappointment. (especially for Maureen).
Midway through the festival though we were saved by Virginia Pearce (Sundance Institute). She asked me to screen my film with a group of Park City School kids and I used this to barter for tickets. How shameless is that? Using school kids as bartering chips for tickets? I was very happy to go but it is also nice to get our hot little hands on some coveted ticks.
The September Issue follows Anna Wintour though the making of the September issue specifically the photo shoots created by Grace Coddington. Grace and Anna are opposites and are icy Ying (Anna) to warm and creative yang (Grace). Others had noted during the opening screening that Anna was know to be icy in photographs and was even icier in person at the opening. There were a few moment of a honesty but she is a very guarded person, famously hiding behind her sunglasses.
I think actually that the filmmakers realized midway through that it would be a boring movie and as a result started focusing on Grace Coddington (creative director) who essentially steals the show. She is much more open and colourful and very talented. We follow the process of selecting and creating the photos that end up in Vogue including all the exotic locations of Paris, New York and Rome. It is an entertaining doc and if you are a fashion lover you will defiantly enjoy it.
[ ***very good ] Wed – Evening
We get on the bus again to our most anticipated screening of our own short at the Egyptian Theatre in the Short Documentary Program. The Egyptian Theatre is the classic Main street theatre where the festival began and is in all the marketing materials. It has an interesting distinction of selling whiskey in the lobby, an unusual beverage for a movie theatre but after 15 movies in a week rather welcome.
In our program we had six screenings and as a result you really get to know the work of your fellow filmmakers. All in all it was an excellent program and was happy to be a part of. Here is the run down.
Steel Homes Director: Eva Weber United Kingdom - A look at storage spaces and the people that use them. It looks at the often sentimental attachments people place on there stuff contrasted with an industrial and sterile environment. It is thoughtful and surprisingly poignant.
The Real Place Director: Cam Christiansen Canada – This is my animation that was created for the National Film Board of Canada and is a tribute to a Canadian playwright, author, Librettist celebrating a Governor General lifetime achievement award. It is a poetic fantastical look at his life and creative spirit. I leave it to someone else to pipe in their thoughts about the short.
One thing about being in the USA as I was reminded in the hot tub with John Maringouin, and Molly Lynch makers of the Doc, Big River Man was to be grateful. In Canada we have access to public institutions like the National Film Board of Canada that they said don’t exist in the States.
Chop Off Director: M.M. Serra U.S.A. - This is a short about body mutualisation as “art” It documents a freak show performer. This person literally chops off his fingers and toes with a chisel and saves the dead digits to show everyone in great detail. This short clearly is intended to shock and achieves this flawlessly. Personally I took a nap at this point and if I had earplugs I would have used them. Perhaps you’ll think I’m non adventurous, but I thought it was really poorly put together and thought it was a real anomaly to an otherwise good program. Seemed like a cheap way to add a little edgy cool to the shorts program for me. Mind you it did get discussed a lot.
Internet Censorship Directors: Lindsay Utz, Morgan Currie, Jason Jones U.S.A. – This is a web based video about web censorship and looks at how countries like China, Syria, etc.. filter out access to information. It was very snappy and was pure clean motion graphics. They did a good job at making dry information interesting. This was one of two motion graphic pieces that the director and producer outsourced the script to a motion graphics company. Personally I think the motion graphic artist should be at Sundance getting a pat on the back as not sure why they were not. They were mentioned and thanked but I just found it kind of odd. Good film though either way.
Utopia, Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall Directors: Sam Green, Carrie Lozano U.S.A. – This was intriguing short about “The World’s Largest Shopping Mall” in China that is currently an epic financial disaster. “It was a built it and they will come scenario. But in this case no one came.” As a result it offers some of the most surreal mall landscapes of vacant stores, Vegas style Venetian boats, empty roller coasters and store mascots wandering confused, lost and bored. Most of the shots are locked in place and has a feel of still photography. The director mentioned how it is also a comment on the current failing capitalistic ideology of globalization. This was one of my favourites.
Atomic Alert Director: Max Joseph U.S.A - This is the second motion graphic driven short that attempts to make dry information about atomic bomb alerts interesting. It is done well and is interesting though the same comments I made about the Internet Censorship short apply here.
So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away Director: Annie P. Waldman U.S.A – This is another strong short in the program and documented how one in five kids in New Orleans schools are living on there own. It was a sensitive and non cliché look at post Katrina New Orleans. It had arguably the most sensual use of cinematography and editing. In fact the more I saw it the more I appreciated the slow motion shots and use of light. For a delicate topic with lots of pitfalls I think they resolved it well.
I Knew It Was You Director: Richard Shepard U.S.A. – At festivals you tend to see shorts as being typically from emerging filmmakers. In this case Richard Shepard is a full blown seasoned director having made a number of features (ie. Matador with Pierce Brosnan, and Greg Kinnear) and numerous TV pilots like Ugly Betty etc…
This documentary is a look at the life and work of John Cazale who is know primarily for his role as Fredo from The Godfather movies. This project developed when Richard Shepard (a fan of Cazale) noticed that all five movies he was in were all nominated for Oscars. These include The Godfather, The Goddather II, Dog Day Afternoon, The Conversation, and The Deer Hunter. Get this, he interviews none other than Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, and Gene Hackman.
This short is very polished and features funny and observant anecdotes about this influential actor from a list of film heavyweights. Cazale and Meryl Streep were lovers/partners and it was touching to hear her tell the story about when he died of lung cancer. It will air on HBO eventually so the public will get a chance to see this one.
Wed – Late Evening. Go to the hotel and get ready for four more screenings starting at 7:40 am with the screening at the high school.