I caught a 6:00 am flight from the west coast and arrived with in two hours to Salt Lake City, Utah; and, without a hitch picked up our car rental and headed to Park City. Forty minutes later, we located our Condo and dropped off our luggage with ease. I headed to headquarters to pick up my press credentials. Due to the fabulous festival organization, within minutes, I had gathered all the information I needed plus filled out a special request for a press ticket to the opening film at the Eccles Theater showing later that evening. Whew!
New Frontier on Main Lunch/ 12:00Noon
My chauffeur dropped me on Main Street so that I could partake in the special press conference/luncheon sponsored by the New Frontier on Main (NFoM) promoting a selection of cutting edge gallery artists and their role in film. This fascinating exhibit would be open to the public throughout the festival. I thoroughly enjoyed this display because it was hands on, meaning, I could try it out. I experimented with an fun graphic swirl program from Adobe and HP; conversed with seamstresses, Stephanie Rothenberg and Jeffery Crouse, making cool paper jeans (special price for the press, $65 a pair); spread graffiti (Graffiti Research Lab L.A.S.E.R. Tag from New York) for the first time using a computer wand; memorized by Jennifer Steinkamp’s high-definition video projection of a magical forest while eating lunch and admired the sculptured chandeliers (from David Cooney’s Eco Lamps) made out of recycled clear plastic bottles which beautifully glistened when bounced light hit. The director of programming, John Cooper, for the NFoM says, “This day…we will look back…at the Sundance festival when we were in the basement underneath the mall, because we will continue to grow.” There were many other artists and their wares that I would have to check out later (i.e., Jim Campbell’s Home Movies 300 developing a new form of sculptural art out of old style home movies using specialized electronics with columns of high-powered light-emitting diodes)…because the time flew by and…
Egyptian Theater/ 2:00 pm
I had to jet across the street to the Park City Egyptian Theater to get a good seat for the news worthy Festival opening press conference. To my surprise, the first three rows of the theater were secured with photographers, as were the isle seats and the whole back end section. Sheeeesh! I thought I was going to be early! But, honestly, no matter where you sit in this vintage art deco Movie Theater one can see and hear perfectly fine. I secured a seat, fourth row center and was fortunate to sit next to a local reporter for the Park City Newspaper, the Park Record. Her first question to me was, “Wow! How did you get this gig?” Her emphasis was on the, you. Ahh! Yes! There is never a dull moment in the life of a journalist. It is so not about me, but about those who I encounter in this job. I couldn’t help but chuckle! In spite of our twenty year age difference we talked non-stop until the Sundance Film Festival founder and President of the Sundance Institute, Robert Redford, stepped onto the classic wooden theater stage solo. In an instant, you could hear a pin drop, if it weren’t for the thousand plus clicks from camera shutters. My eyes were glued to his confident stride which placed him front-stage-left, near the platform edge, awaiting entrance from the festival director, Geoffrey Gilmore and new filmmaker Martin McDonagh.
Redford’s non-verbal classic poise and casual demeanor set the mood for his welcome to the press. His opening line was to joke about the lights glaring in his eyes but moved quickly to express his heartfelt thanks which our role would play to intensely ‘focus on film’ for the duration of the festival. Redford casts the vision reminiscing about the 26 year old festival roots along with its core values which he proudly announces, are still intact. Redford explained “Sundance was structured to adapt to change while committing to support the artists, to find new ways to get their work seen and to help develop new audiences for their work.” He added that he is very proud that this vision has not changed and uses the film In Bruges which will open the festival as an example and notes that it is one of 58 films by first time feature directors screening at this years Festival. Redford concentrates on the words “change”, “new product” and “new talent” and makes reference to the development of the film Labs some forty miles away at the Sundance Institute where he observes students embracing change as it applies to new cinematic voices and forms. He concurs that the world of film and its message regularly take on paradigm shifts. He likes the spirit of the new filmmakers who refuse to inherit what has gone on before them (i.e., the baby boomer generation representing something of merit and value) but wants to do something new. They say, “Just get out of our way and let us do it”. Those risky words alone provide the catalyst for a spirit of change which is one reason why better films are being made, especially in the realm of the documentaries--Redford’s passion. Redford adds that there is always more than one way to tell a story and “this year we will see experimental crossovers into filmmaking from artists of other disciplines (poets, photographers, graphic designers, musicians and playwrights) to provide film narratives with impact. It’s pretty exciting!”
Geoffrey Gilmore, the Festival Director, jumps into the conversation to note that he sees an increase in the number of impressive film work not just in the USA but all around the world. Gilmore says that they see a substantial boost in film submissions and that this year alone the numbers were 3,600 features and 5,100 shorts. In his opinion, the filmmakers seem to be more personally driven and innovative in their work much like the prominent Cohen brothers who immerged with cutting edge films at Sundance festivals. Gilmore continues to quote various festival program particulars also mentioned in the program manual: films from 34 countries, 81 shorts, 81 premieres, etc. He adds that in reference to change the whole music scene is pushing the envelope this year, i.e. Patti Smith and her band will be performing live on Main Street and the film by Steven Sebring, patti smith dream of life, is a documentary selection. Gilmore emphasizes that Sundance has always been known as the premiere American Indy film festival but is proud of there addition to focus on International film competition which has been successful for the past four years. He adds that half of the selected shorts screenings are International and ten shorts will have a special focus on the Sundance website—one short screening a day during the ten day festival. However, the festival organizers never know what is going to happen at their annual Park City showcase until the audience sees it and responds to it. At the end of the day they lift up their hands and say, “We provide—You Decide”!
Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, first time feature filmmaker with In Bruges is soon thrust in the spotlight while Redford and Gilmore converse with excitement how they view the opening film as a powerful agent of change to effect our world. Their praise stoked my curiosity! McDonagh’s idea for the film appeared to him while traveling. He was in the city of Bruges enthralled with its history and architect but was bored to death. One of his fears as a playwright was that he did not want to transport the stage onto the screen. He was confident with his black humor, the dialogue he wrote and in his characters but using cameras to bring out his message was a whole different ballgame. He was terrified going into a project knowing so little about the art of filming. He was thankful to have had the desired actors on board. Fortunately, as a director he was open to their ideas. They seemed to put him at ease even when giving tips about changing the character accents used to give the story more credibility representing the working class folk; or, on the fundamentals of gun shots. What happens when bullets fly and people get hit? His comment as to whether he viewed it is a political film he quickly answered, “It was not made as one!” but, added that people will see what they want, to which he can’t control.
The Q and A would not be complete this year without a query for Redford to comment on his daughter, Amy Redford, and her feature film début The Guitar. One asked, “Since Amy was an acclaimed actress, if anything, what he has done to encourage her as a director?” His face brightens as he shifts into the fatherly mode and responds with pride. He reflects on the fact that because Amy is his daughter, their communication is pretty normal about everyday life and work, mentioning that he is generally supportive of anything she would pursue. He recognizes her talent and enjoys talking with her about her interests. But they don’t sit around and just talk film. He is her dad, first and foremost, but offers advice when asked and he does not tell her how to run her affairs. I say, “Go, Dad”! He seemed sincerely very proud of her accomplishments. I can only imagine that he is thrilled to see his own daughter embracing the group of artists who he identifies as our society’s “agents” of change.
Eccles Theater/6:00 pm
Redford had cast the Festival Vision. Gilmore had given the program particulars and McDonagh now opens the Festival scene as In Bruges unlocks the 2008 Sundance Festival doors. I had my ticket, entered the theater, searched for a seat and eventually sat next to a film student who was one of the festival volunteers from Florida. She entered just minutes before the film began so we had a nice chat about her career after the film. I wished my husband had waitlisted this film because after the screening I would have enjoyed critiquing with him because In Bruges seemed like a real “man’s” film. Granted, it was interesting and once in awhile my lips cracked a smile with McDonagh’s famous black humor but the storyline was a bit disjointed. I hung on to the end because the acting was fabulous. Hats off to the casting director! I greatly admire the work of the Finnes brothers (Ralf and Joseph). They can do no wrong! And, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson were no less than par excellence. However, I simply needed a buffer at the end of this film to help me process its weirdness. The Q and A always helps me to assimilate my first impressions but unfortunately, the theater quickly emptied. No sign of the director or cast at this first public screening. Hmm! were they all at the official press screening? My disappointment soon drifted away as I chatted with my neighbor about her reactions to the film. She praised it for the next 5 minutes while I drifted in thought to the press conference held just hours before recalling the comments made by the Festival heads praising how films like In Bruges were their hopefuls for societal “change”. Ok! Now, did I miss something? What kind of change were they talking about? The film was tragic, the ending was dreadful and it wasn’t funny. Was the message a twisted form of redemption? Was there a message? Or, was this purely entertainment? I couldn’t suppress the voices I heard earlier talk about the world being a dark place and the great hope that filmmakers will be agents of change in a dark world. How will new filmmakers influence society using black humor and a disregard for human life, emulating a violent job? I couldn’t wrap my head around those concepts so I decided to give director Mc Donagh a break, view the film as a different style of art and search for the deeper message tomorrow.
The day ended around Midnight after quickly checking in and then out of the last big bash for opening day. I felt great! Day one of my festival adventure had come to an end and I could hardly wait to enter the door of my cozy condo so that I could peel the boots off my frozen feet and chill out by the warm and crackling fire in the fireplace. Ahh! Yes! It was a good day!