The Scarves of Sundance
(continued from page 2)

Way at the back of the sponsor exhibits, there's a small room set specially aside for the online festival. It's not very inviting, and seems hastily improvised -- black curtains are drawn over all the walls, and there's one table with four monitors set up on it. It looks like some goth teenager's multimedia den, inexplicably fitted with fluorescent lights. It's very off-putting to the casual viewer -- the first thing you see, on entering, are four people sitting at monitors, with their backs turned to you -- while we're there, we see several people look in, then hastily beat a retreat.

We're supposed to be doing a Q&A, but only the other filmmakers show up -- so we ask each other questions. There's Obie Scott Wade, who directed Julius and Friends, a great animation taking place in a planned community for cartoon characters (perfect entertainment for kids; it's smart and fun and doesn't talk down to them at all) and Jenni Olson, who directed the live-action short Meep! Meep!, which sets a voice-over narration about a doomed lesbian relationship against calm, fixed shots of an urban landscape (this urban landscape happens to be San Francisco -- as it turns out, I've come out to Utah to meet a lot of people in my back yard; 8 of the 17 online films were produced in the Bay Area). Jenni suggests we at least get our shorts running on the monitors that are available. In a little comedic touch, I can't get into the Sundance Website. Some anti-porn software has been installed on the machine, and the Sundance site is verboten, as it doesn't have a rating.

This is all very frustrating for Angela Teran, who's been my liaison with the digital festival for the past month. It's a pleasure to meet her finally, after innumerable email exchanges and phone calls. She's extremely warm, and has been a great help through the pre-festival process. She's bent over backwards to get me set up for any opportunities the festival might offer and I certainly don't envy her, having to guide the first online festival through its initial baby steps. Any festival is a logistical nightmare -- adding technological problems on top of it all must be a prime recipe for sleepless nights and daytime migraines. She takes her job very seriously; it's obvious she sincerely wants to provide the best possible experience for the filmmakers.

Before we take off, Ralph cracks me up by taking a picture of me, and then one of the "online festival." The flash gets absorbed in the black curtains, and bounces off the four screens -- we both know how spectacular the shot is going to look -- like the storage room assigned to an MIS department.

Tonight we finally catch a movie: The American Astronaut, a very pleasingly bizarre sci-fi musical western. It's preceded by an animated short, Infection, by James Cunningham. It's a 3D CGI cartoon -- Cunningham explained before the screening -- that was made partly in reaction to a newly-elected right-wing government in his native New Zealand, which revoked the right to free higher education, and saddled the current generation of students with sizable loans. The hero of Infection is a three-fingered hand that sneaks into a government data center, and deletes students' outstanding debt. He has to fight off the guardians of the data center -- gruesome giant eyeballs, with hands and ears growing out of them. Some robotic hypodermic needles get mixed up in the action...and let's just say that there hasn't been a better film for connoisseurs of punctured-eyeball anxiety since Un Chien Andalou.

I see Cunningham in the hallway after the screening, and tell him I liked his short:
"The hand is actually my hand," he announces.
"You mean you actually traced it as the model?"
"No, I took a series of photographs of it, from different angles, that I used to map on the surfaces..." he pauses. "And the eye is from an actual eye -- the textures are taken from an eyeball I borrowed from an eye bank."
"They let you have an eye?"
"Well, I returned it to them."
"So the eye..."
"Right, the cornea I used to get the texture, somebody back in New Zealand is probably walking around, looking through it, right now as we speak..."

Ralph comes back from an evening walk clutching a brown paper bag. A crinkle of brown paper, and he shows us the label -- Jack Daniels. It takes Kristin and I approximately 2 seconds to dig shot glasses out of the condo cabinet. We need it bad, and it ain't cuz of the cold...


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