Archive for the ‘Philly@Sundance’ category

Back to where I started

January 23, 2008

I’m back at my weathervane for activity, the Clockwork Café where I am the only one sitting at a table. It is obvious that the festival is winding down, even though there are four more days of film screenings and panel discussions. The stars have flown back to LA along with all the scantily clad tarts hoping to meet them. Those that remain, it seems, either have to be here or have come out from under the covers now that the hordes are gone.

Now that I have some time and there is the space to sit and write, I’d like to talk about some of the things that might actually be useful to know if you are considering coming here next year.

1) you don’t need a pass. I’ve seen five films at Sundance without one and it is usually quite easy to get into Slamdance screenings. Save your money for the overpriced, crappy food.

2) Eating here is expensive and, over the first couple of days, a hell of a chore. Our attempt to get into the ironically titled bar/restaurant the Hungry Moose on Friday night got me thinking about a few Sundance inspired names for some of these places- the Famished Writer, the Denied Non-Celebrity. There is very little take out food in the main festival area, making my budget of $50 a day a little tough to stick to. More problematic is finding the time to eat. With everything being on a schedule and with it taking so long to get from venue to venue, there isn’t much time to sit down at a crowded place and wait for food. If you are adventurous, the shuttle buses to more distant venues drop you close to some less harangued eating establishments. While waiting to get into see a film yesterday, I perused a local dining and entertainment mag, “Mountain Express”, where I got a better sense of where the locals probably don’t go. Most intriguing, not to mention upsetting, was the ad for the Saturday Night Western BBQ, where reservations are required and you are encouraged to “circle the wagons and round up your posse”—because Cormac McCarthy is the guest chef tonight at this gorge-yourself-buffet for the whole family. Adults, $47. Infants, free.

3) The locals really hate Sundance. Well, maybe the local bartenders like it. But, as my earlier posts have indicated, there is serious animosity toward this monster festival. It’s easy to understand why. The Main Street area is a lot like Olde City, with the bratty girls with flat ironed hair and their deal-making boyfriends treating everyone around them like props. I found out the hard way that the town of Park City aborts it’s down town for one week a year, having very little to do with the craziness of its non-stop, invite-only partying. Likewise, most Sundance employees are imports and can’t tell you anything that isn’t already in the program guide.

4) The bus, as much as it has been the bane of my time here, is a great place to meet people, even directors and actors. Everyone has to get to the movies somehow and it is entirely impractical to have a car. Public transit it free. But, if you don’t like waiting around, there are plenty of cabs.

5) If you lose something like, say, your wallet, the local radio station (there is only one in town) will announce it at your request. Give them some info on what to do with it if someone finds it and you’re good to go.

6) Not sure if the text messaging service ChaCha, free at Sundance, which is supposed to answer any question you may have- and I mean any- will be here next year. But, if it is, I encourage you to harass them with useless questions because they have disappointed most festival-goers with their answers to real questions (myself included). My housemate Kevin asked them what the crude epithet “choad” means. Lo and behold, they came back with an accurate answer, which is not suitable for Public Radio. Suffice to say that it is an area of the male body.

7) Even if you are here just to watch movies, check out some of the free panels and presentations. It might help you understand why there are so many guys with ponytails here.

Well, that’s it for me here at Sundance. Please follow my regular blog (www.unsolicitedsubmissions.blogspot.com) to see what happens with my screenplay. Thanks for reading.

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Reviewing and concluding

January 22, 2008

If you’ve read my last post, you will probably want to hear the conclusion to my dramatic evening. It’s so not Hollywood. I filed a police report. No one ever found my wallet. Boo hoo. But, something came out of this that I could not have predicted. I haven’t cried in a long time. Losing something you really need is hard. Losing something that identifies you as a citizen is especially difficult. But, what I have not been telling you is that while all of this craziness with my wallet was happening, my husband has been calling me every couple of hours with an update on my 13 year-old dog, who is trying his hardest to die while I am thousands of miles away. I’ve felt like a total fool crying over a stupid wallet while on the phone with distant bank customer service reps. But, that little loss kept reminding me of the bigger one soon to come. It’s my darned old best pal that imagine as gone as gone can be. Into the ether. Disappeared while I wasn’t looking, just like that other thing. I don’t want this to devolve into some eulogy for a pet none of you have ever met. But, suffice to say, if you sat down to write the most dramatic trip to a film festival you could imagine, only Tom Cruise with a dirty bomb is missing from my version. Everyone here is suggesting that I write a screenplay about this nutso trip. Not sure about that.

 

On to the important stuff. I’ve gotten to meet my not so secret idols, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. Last night, I sat next to them at a screening of the taciturn family drama Ballast and today, at the screening of their new film, Sugar, Fleck recognized me and said hi. Like a fool, I wished them luck with the screening, feeling too shy to engage them in a conversation. Luck? Anyone want to be my social skills coach? 

REVIEWS: 

Ballast, Dir. Lance Hammer 

I happen to like slow, patient movies where the plight of the characters is demonstrated by their surroundings, the things they own or don’t own, the colors of the rooms they inhabit, they way they move through that space, etc… So, Ballast’s lethargic pace and sparse dialog didn’t bother me. This simple story about complex people (A single mom and her troubled son reconnect with the boy’s estranged uncle after the boy’s dad kills himself) would have been disingenuous if told in your typical indie imprint fashion and I was thankful that the characters and their relationships were treated with the delicacy and decency that is only afforded when Warner Brothers doesn’t have its money on the line. Therefore, sadly, don’t look for Ballast at your local art house any time soon. Though the audience response was overwhelmingly positive (I wouldn’t be surprised if it got best dramatic somethingorother), this film is too ponderous and slow for any distributor to pick up for theatrical release (the complete lack of soundtrack certainly won’t help its chances). I’m guessing, however, that the Sundance channel will probably find room for it in their schedule and, if you catch it on TV on night, you should take the time to immerse yourself in its lonely landscapes.

 

Sugar, Dir. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

This is a story I’ve been wanting to hear for a long time: how a poor young ball player from Central America gets to the U.S. major leagues. The Fleck/Boden team nail it with their story of Sugar Santos, a talented kid from the Dominican Republic with some problems controlling his emotions on the mound. At the onset, we find him in the Kansas City Royals recruitment camp near his home in the DR, self-assured and full of glimmer as his chances of getting picked to make the move to America heat up. Though the trajectory of this film is none too surprising- Sugar’s star rises and sets prematurely- his struggle is nonetheless compelling. Though he makes it to the promised land, America is prepared to eat him up and then spit him out when he ceases to be of use, as it has done with so many immigrants before Sugar. Even the good Christian family he boards with in rural Iowa doesn’t hesitate to trash him when he doesn’t live up to their expectations as rabid fans of their small town minor league team. But, as any good sports movie does, Sugar in the end redeems our hero and his diehard determination to make it in America on his own terms. HBO funded this pic, which would probably not otherwise have found funding because it’s mostly in Spanish. I know, isn’t it ironic?

 

Tomorrow is my last day in Park City. I hope to be able to write one last post before I hop on the plane. Thanks for reading. 

Getting it in the face

January 21, 2008

I’ve gotten several responses from you WHYY listeners saying how fun I’ve made Sundance sound and how you wish you were here. Well, right now, I wish you were here too, because I’ve just had about the worst night a traveler can have. After I got home, exhausted from a day of skiing and having stuck it out for the Shorts Program, I cooked up some Ramen noodle, wrote my post, and showered. I felt barely good enough to go out and my housemate Kevin had just given me an in to a big party. As exhausted as I was, I kind of had to go to this party, since I probably wouldn’t get such an invite again. But, something really crappy happened on the way back from the theater. I realized, as I was getting ready to go back out, that my wallet was missing. After tearing apart everything I own, it appeared that this object of ultimate importance was probably left at the film venue. This is when I became painfully aware of Sundance’s shortcomings. When it comes to emergencies of this nature, they don’t have a system in place. No one could give me a direct number to the theater, so I had to call 911. The dispatch woman was very compassionate and she put out an APB with the bus company (the only other place it could be was on the bus I took home). No go. So, I hopped another bus back to the theater. Definitely not there. Now missing four hours, my hopes of getting my wallet back with anything in it were dwindling. I have no money, no way to get money, and, more importantly, no ID. And tomorrow is a bank holiday.

But, my dearest friends, it only gets better. I finally return back to my temporary neighborhood, shivering and distraught, ready for a glass of wine and some quality time with my equally worn out Lolita. I start walking up the hill towards our house when along comes three merry gentlefolk, howling at the top of their lungs “F*$%K you, Sundance! Go Home!” as they swaggered to and fro. Uh oh, I thought to myself. These jackasses are coming straight at me. So, I looked to the ground, hoping my broke, depressed, lonely self would inspire some pity in them and they would pass me up for a leggy blonde in a fur coat who really deserved such browbeating. But, as my luck would have it, the female of the bunch was looking for someone just like me to whollop in the face with her heavily mittened hand. At this point in my evening, I wasn’t about to take this kind of $%#*. This town already had my wallet. They weren’t going to take my pride.

These esteemed Park City envoys kept walking tall, on their way to catch a bus (you see the common thread of my discontent). Having the sympathy of the police department squarely on my side, I gave them a ring. My lone agent of change here in Park City, that perky and benevolent dispatcher, was happy to assist me with this outrage. The cops came and pulled these clowns off the bus and, would you believe, they said they didn’t do anything. After some pressing, the lassy in mittens started in with how this is her town and she can’t stand all of “those people”. I found her Australian accent, demented by her drunkenness, an interesting icing on her argument that this old American mining town should somehow be hers. I’m sure it goes without mention that I am not the specimen of “those people” they would have preferred to exact their buffoonery on, had they the guts to take out a movie producer on a Blackberry.

In the end, there wasn’t much the Park City police could do. I could press charges, were I willing to show up to court out here in Utah some time in the future. Kind of a bad system as well, don’t you think?

Seeing it

January 20, 2008

This morning, I enjoyed a cosmopolitan brunch in the crowded Morning Ray Café. I sat at the counter and had to pull my worn out copy of Lolita up to eye level in order to avoid exchanging glances with Paul Giamatti. You know those actors, always trying to strike up a conversation with any and every lonely looking girl.

I then ventured onto the hard packed beginner’s slope at Park City Ski Resort for my first ever snowboard lesson. Ouch. I got lucky in that our group was small and our instructor, Tak from Okinawa, Japan, was fantastic.  I got unlucky in that I was not instantly amazing. Nothing a bottle of wine can’t make me forget.

I then hurried onto a bus, hoping that it would take me to my next destination, the Prospector Square Theatre, for the one event I have been impatiently waiting to see- the Shorts Program V. Sundance received a record number of shorts submissions this year, over 5,000, probably in part because of this quiet revolution everyone here keeps talking about, the affordability of video production thanks to cheaper cameras and cheaper editing software. They pick a couple dozen and break them into easily digestible programs.

The shorts lived up to the hype. Most popular were the three one-minute pieces by Isabella Rossellini entitled Green Porno. There are eight in total of these ingenious little niblets about the reproductive habits of certain insects (dragonflies, spiders…). They were made and paid for by the Sundance channel and, I presume, will be available for download at some point, since that is what they were made for.

The best, however, were three films by people you’ve never heard of. The first, Force 1 (TD), the title never being explained, was a series of unexpected and thoroughly amusing comic situations revolving around three New York City youths and a miniature horse wearing expensive sneakers. These things never sound as good when talked about as they are when you watch them. But, I’ll give it a shot. Two young kids in New York City convince their friend to steal his brother’s precious SUV in order to pick up a pair of hard to find baby kicks from a store in Jersey for—I bet you didn’t see this coming—a miniature horse. One of the kids is blind and allergic to dogs. So, his service animal is a tiny horse (a real horse, mind you) that he pimps with expensive shoes and a cape with a hands-off warning. He needs these shoes for the horses’ prom outfit. Not laughing yet? My fault, because it was brilliantly directed by Randy Krallman, who admitted that he had to be coaxed into making it by his boss. Don’t we all wish we had that kind of boss?

Second up was the haunting and enthralling August 15, a subtitled Chinese film made as a senior thesis by the very talented Jiang Xiang (I apologize if the spelling is off). Based on true events, it is about the of the hijacking of a bus in rural China by two brutal thugs who, after robbing everyone, rape a woman while all but one of the passengers remain silent. Though Ms. Xiang never met the sole survivor of the incident (am I giving too much away?), her ability to create distinct characters that make unspeakable choices demonstrates a rare gift, and one that I hope will give us a feature one day as engaging as this short.

Finally, the super polished I Love Sara Jane. An adolescent love story set in a post-apocalyptic, zombified Australia, this is the one short that I could see as a feature.  With the highest production value of all the pieces in this program, Jane delivers on content as well as pastiche with the charming story of an adult-less world where violence is just whatcha gotta do, cuz there are zombies out there and some of them are mom and dad. Wouldn’t you pay $9 to see that? Your kids would, and that’s what counts.

I’m getting too tired to write. So, I’m going to sign off, once again, without saying all I have to say. Hope you are all enjoying the blog.

Getting into it

January 19, 2008

I’m going to go ahead and admit something here: Sundance is cooler than I thought it would be. Once again, I find myself in the dark basement of a tiny shopping mall dubbed, for the purposes of the festival, the New Frontier. It’s a place that, obviously, has wi-fi (stay clear of the HP laptops), good strong coffee, a Sony rep ready to tell you everything you will ever need to know about three of their flagship video cameras (one for each budget tier), and several art installations that are pretty good. It’s warm here. So, young folks come here to rest, re-cap, re-convene, or check their e-mail. When imagining my trip here, I had in my mind a scenario whereby a lot of middle-aged, out of touch movie people ignored the few thrift store dressed wannabes like me as they frantically made deals on their Blackberries. Not so. Most everyone I’ve talked to (at random) so far is here for the first time and, you’ll never believe, they are here to see movies. That’s right, Internet. They are here to watch a projected image as a group.

At this point, if you have been following this blog, you may want to know why I came to Sundance. I also came to watch the movies– and because I wrote a screenplay and this is the best place I could think of to find a home for it. Thus far, I have done a poor job of that. But, I did put forth some effort this afternoon by attending the “Rewriting the Process” panel discussion featuring two of my favorite filmmakers, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck of Half Nelson fame, here to showcase their second feature, Sugar. While the other panelists, one of whom being fellow festival filmmaker Boaz Yakin, waxed poetic about the difficulties of being a writer, they sat, bemused and then saddened by the responsibility of having to inspire a crowd of strangers to keep writing. Not buying the hyperbole of how impossible it is to get your idea from page to screen, the two looked to one another for approval before answering with some embarrassment that they didn’t always understand the question. Perhaps the process is not that hard for them. The support the Sundance Institute has given them over the years probably hasn’t diminished this outward confidence.

Being there

January 19, 2008

The lights went out, but the party went onThere are a lot of 8:30 am showings at Sundance, all of which were sold out last I checked. But, you wouldn’t know it from how dead the streets are this morning. You might get a hint at the indoor activity, however, from how utterly packed Clockwork Coffee on Main St. is. So jammed was this little cafe, I had to invite myself to share a table with three pretty young sales reps from Kodak, who were happy to oblige. The table next to me had a similar arrangement, with strangers getting to know one another for no apparent reason. This is how Sundance works. Everyone is so incredibly friendly, it gives me a tingle of hope that these here folks might actually be able to create world peace through film festivals. I’m sure they already think that they are.

Another example of this extreme coolness is what happened on Mains Street, Park City last night. I was at a party thrown by the Seattle Film Commission when, soon after a completely inaudible singer/songwriter mumbled his way off stage, the lights went out. ALL the power on Main Street went out. And guess what happened? Nothing. People carried on with their light drinking and movie-biz chit chatting as though nothing was wrong- -because nothing was wrong. It occurred to me that, if this were Philly, some testosterone addled bouncer would have forced us out onto the frigid streets where complete mayhem would ensue.  But, here in civilization, a guy got up on stage with a flashlight, apologized, and we continued forging world peace.

No canvas of the activities surrounding Sundance would be complete without giving some mention of its red-headed stepchild, Slamdance. Founded seven years ago and still maintaining its DIY , let’s-go-tobogoning tomorrow attitude, Slamdance offers less commercial fare, all in one convenient, poorly heated location. I was delighted when my friend Andy gave me tickets to the one movie I really wanted to see at Slamdance, “New Year’s Parade”. For most Philadelphians, those three words conjure memories of frigid, groggy afternoons on Broad Street. In this patient, introspective drama about a year in the lives of a crumbling South Philly family, the generational bonds that make that day so special to our city are portrayed through the year-long preparations of the South Philadelphia String Band. “New Year’s Parade” shows the complex internal struggles of a each character through lingering close ups on their dour, hardened faces. Young Philly filmmaker Tom Quinn draws realistic performances from his non-actor cast, demonstrating his readiness for some real funding. Good luck to him and his film.

Sundance: Getting there…

January 19, 2008

Last night our guest blogger, Kristine Kennedy, sent in her first post from The Sundance Film Festival.  Here it is.  You can also check out Kristine’s blog, Unsolicited Submissions.

Where to begin? How about right now. I am standing in near pitch darkness in the cavernous New Frontiers building at a bank of laptops provided by Hewlett Packard that offer free internet access to us bewildered city kids. I sorely miss my Mac. This PC’s cunioform keyboard makes me want to throw the whole baby across the room and, with any luck, take out a low-level talent agent. Seriously, six people have asked me how to get on the internet from these “computers”… in 2008. Kudos, HP.

I’ve been in Park City for a couple of hours now and it’s been a festival of “where am I?”. It’s a small town, to be sure, with a lot of junky tourist shops and enough bistros to shame any French festival goe-er– and there are some. I’m still calling them “freedom tourists”, for old time’s sake. The slopes literally are the edge of town, with the lifts to the Park City Ski Resort picking you up at Main Street, latte in hand. I did see one sort-of-celebrity being a good sport, posing for pics with a crowd of people who kind of recognize her from “The Forty Year Old Virgin”. But, who nees all those celebs when everyone else looks so darn good?

As I do not have a pass, I am at the whim of “anyone may attend” this evening. Apparently, having a pass doesn’t do you much better. Two women on the flight here said that they paid $700 for passes and still wound up with no tickets. It made me proud to be a Philadelphian when they told me that, with much protest, they got their money back.

I attended the first half hour of a rather droll presentation by two fellas who made a movie for $250,000. It was supposed to highlight the crazy new things that Avid plug-ins can do for the low-budget filmmaker. But, as one of these guys is a professer at USC, it turned into more of a motivational speech about what you can do if you can wrap your head around the technology.

Tomorrow, I hit two more of these free presentations and, with some determination, will actually see a movie.