The Scarves of Sundance

by Chris Lanier

Chris Lanier is a San Francisco-based animator, whose animated short, Scarf Mania, was selected for the Sundance Film Festivals' inaugural online film competition. The 17 films selected for the online competition were featured on the Sundance Festival Website and displayed at the "Digital Center" in downtown Park City, Utah, where the Sundance Festival takes place. Lanier was at the festival for six days, from January 19th to January 24th; what follows is a from-the-trenches account of an animator lost in the wilds of Hollywood, Utah, reconstructed from notes he jotted down in his journal.

Day 1
By the time we step off the plane in Salt Lake City, it's already been crazy for a month. My life has been a blur of press list scanning, press kit assembly, video dubbing, postcard designing, travel arrangement juggling -- it doesn't sound like it would be all that taxing, but in fact, when we hit the Utah tarmac, I'm more looking forward to getting a full night's sleep when Sundance is over, than I am looking forward to Sundance itself.

All illustrations by Chris Lanier.

The mountains loom huge and imposing as we head toward Park City from the airport; no matter how fast the bus might be traveling, the progress goes stately-slow, because the mountains hardly seem to budge. The trees are so dwarfed by the mountains, they register as brown-gray stubble that's been erratically shaved -- a few hangover swoops of the blade -- to make way for the snake-line descent of pinpoint skiers. Six miles out from Park City, we hit Kimball Junction, which looks like a big joke at the expense of American civilization -- there's a McDonald's, a Best Western, a Wal-Mart all huddled close together, in a wide and forbidding expanse of snowy nothingness -- a corporate wagon train circled against the wilderness. Mountains ring this scene, scaling the biggest building down to shoebox size. The impassive vastness gives me deep atavistic twitchings -- this landscape could kill you without the slightest expenditure of effort. You could be snuffed from exposure, or just plain dumb loneliness out here. The ludicrous, monstrous size of the homes one sees in the hills seem to be precisely about this -- making futile elbowings out into the clear cold air.

Someone getting off the bus is a director of a film in competition. The star of the film is also on the bus. You can feel the folks on the bus perk up at this, 'Ah! We're sharing the bus with a star!' It doesn't matter they've never heard of this star before -- the fact that she has gone through the ritual, allowed her spiritual essence to be transmuted by the camera's glass eye, is enough to bestow the halo of celebrity upon her. That's the problem, being an animation director -- you don't really have a star to pimp. Though an animated character, at least, is always at my beck and call -- so long as there's a pen and the back of an envelope or a scrap of napkin at hand.

My wife Kristin has come out with me -- she makes me look good by association -- using the opportunity to live out a vicarious parallel-universe existence as a movie star. Ralph Carney, the musician for my short, has also come along. He also provided the music for a second short in the online festival, the hilarious Great Big Cartoony Club Show. Thank God he decided to go. His sense of humor is a real anchor for my sanity.

We check into the condo we've rented in Park City. Five days previous, I'd received a call from the folks I'd booked the room through -- they told me I couldn't have it, because the water heater had blown. I had to wonder if "the water heater has blown" was Park City lingo for, "We double-booked, and the other guy can pay more than you," but with no way to verify my suspicions, I said I'd take another room at another place, further out from town. Kristin, however, got back on the phone with them, and after an hour of back-and-forth, miraculously guilted them into getting another room in the original condo complex. When Kristin relayed the room number of this "other room," I had a good laugh. It was the same room number we'd been initially booted from. Very lucky for us, to've chosen a room with a spontaneously self-repairing water heater.


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