The Scarves of Sundance
(continued from page 1)

We walk down to main street at night, just to get a sense of place. The commercial part of Park City is basically one street, muffled on either side by steeply rising hillsides. It has the brittle, gingerbread feel common to all towns that rely on outsiders for their livelihood, whether they be tourists, skiers or filmgoers. The architecture seems to ingratiate itself somehow. There are shop windows full of upscale ski-town kitsch -- oil paintings of skiers in gilt frames, expensive rugs with mountain scenes woven in, that sort of thing. Even poor Kokopeli has been forced into service, press ganged from the petroglyphs of the southwest in order to lug snowboards across the front of innumerable sweatshirts. One ski lift springs up into the mountains directly from main street -- a black net stretches over the adjacent street, to stop anyone who might slide off their seat from dropping directly into traffic.

Any available kiosks have been wrapped in layers of posters for films attached to Sundance, or the various offshoots -- Slamdance, Lapdance, Nodance, Scamdance. The surfaces are already at least three layers thick, posters and flyers drooping off other posters and flyers: publicity as an endlessly self-regenerating eczema.

The strangest thing about Park City during Sundance is something invisible -- the negotiation of eye contact. There's no such thing as a casual glance here. Eye contact is one long stuttering of checking and double-checking; furtive shopliftings of recognition. The double-take is de rigeur, the quadruple-take not unheard of. Anyone walking up the street has the potential to be a star, so they have to be measured against screen-memories. A hairstyle, an expression in the eyes, can set off shockingly immediate recollections -- these strangers' faces we've spent so much time with. We're all caught in a Web of helpless rubbernecking.

Day 2
Park City is far more lively this morning -- main street is a constant stream of models, producers, actors, gawkers, wanna-bes, imposters, freaks, human billboards, masochists and martyrs. Over it all hangs the scent of brains marinating in cel-phone radiation.

We all show up at the Park City location of the online festival, and it's something of a disappointment. Evidently, last year, when the dot-coms were flush and sloppy with money, they raised a big stink in Park City, setting up camp along main street, raising a ruckus, bloviating through bullhorns, demanding Sundance get with the program, and take notice of the digital "revolution." I get the sense that Sundance is of two minds about the online aspect of the festival: while they've made a sincere effort to acknowledge the world of online filmmaking, there is a sense that their hand was, to some degree, forced. Through the selection process, there was a feeling that Sundance wanted to keep the online festival at arm's length -- most likely to diminish the repercussions if it ended up a bust. Understandably (and I think sensibly) they've been careful to avoid the egregious hype that swirls around the Internet as a matter of course.

However, I was disappointed that the online selections were not going to be judged by a jury -- the winner will be chosen by online voting, which is prey to all sorts of distortions (all selection systems are, but the Web magnifies them). Also, arriving at Sundance I've found the online festival has been segregated from the main festival in terms of publicity -- instead of being a part of the main festival brochure, the online festival has its own, separate brochure. And the exhibition choices were a little flat-footed -- for instance, on their site, all the films are shown in RealPlayer format, regardless of their original Web format. Perhaps they wanted to standardize the exhibition, and not force the viewers to juggle a number of different players, but for the films made in Flash, it makes no sense. It's like shoving steak through a meat grinder.

The digital center, where the online festival is located, takes up the lower floor of a mall on main street. There are a handful of monitors, tuned to the festival Website, each outfitted with a set of headphones. The headphones are a sensible way to deal with potential distractions, to help the viewer focus in on the work, but ultimately it feels anti-social. Kristin and I can't really watch the films together; one of us has to wait around while the other finishes up, which is rather boring. This is less problematic than the fact that the monitors are completely overwhelmed by the exhibits of the digital sponsors. The festival monitors seem like an afterthought between the giant HDTV displays, which show loops of contentless content -- montages of slo-mo football passes, rodeo riders disaligning their spinal columns on horseback, see-sawing, circus acrobats throwing highlights off their spangles in trapezial revolutions, kids "adorably" playing on the beach in fast motion -- and the arrays of high-end digital cameras. Instead of looking like a festival, the lower level of the mall looks like a trade show.


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