by Aaron Peck
Today I got up bright and early, 6:00 am to be exact, and packed up my car for the short two-hour drive from my home in Logan to Park City. Being a local is nice. No airplanes, taxis, or hotels to deal with. I’m simply here for the movies and that’s it.
So begins my fourth year at the Sundance Film Festival.
These daily journals of my festival experience have less to do with movies and more to do with the goings-on of a film festival like Sundance. Yes, I will be discussing my thoughts on some of the movies here (but for more in-depth film analysis check out my individual reviews on The Bonus View), but I’d like to take you on a journey with me through the festival.
Nine complete days of movies requires a lot more than just standing in lines – although that’s a big part. There’s a certain spirit at a festival like Sundance. A love of film and stories that doesn’t exist in your normal everyday theater. The people here are actually excited to view films that not many people will end up seeing. Sure, some films will be bought and distributed, but compared to the ‘Transformers’ of the world, their audiences will still end up being miniscule. Even the movies that gain traction and notoriety at the festival will come out of it and still get relatively limited releases. Still, the journey of finding and seeing new films is an enjoyable one. At a festival like Sundance you get to see films before they’ve been touched by marketers or studios. These are full, unaltered cuts. These are the exact movies, for better or worse, which the directors intended you to see. Those are the main reasons I keep coming back to the festival. There’s just something about being around groups of honest-to-goodness film lovers that makes watching unknown movies that much better.
I got to Kimball Junction (a city just outside of Park City) at around 8:20 am and boarded my first bus to travel into Park City. If you ever find yourself in Park City during the festival you’ll be amazed by the bus drivers. I always am. Park City has a city-wide free bus service and the drivers couldn’t be nicer. You’d think that they’d get mad being asked the same questions over and over by out-of-towners, but they’re always courteous and polite. They never get enough credit as far as I’m concerned. On the second bus I boarded, as I was heading over to claim my credentials from the Festival Headquarters, one of the bus drivers noticed my Utah State University beanie and launched into a conversation about going to the same school. That’s the way it is around here, if you stay off Main Street where all the celebrity hype is, you’ll meet some of the nicest people ever.
Festival Headquarters was abuzz with all sorts of journalists, volunteers, and people lugging around boxes of sponsor booze. With my credentials finally in hand I headed over to the Press Ticketing Station where press members can request tickets to public screenings. I had my heart set on seeing the premiere of ‘Your Sister’s Sister’ (starring Emily Blunt, written by Mark Duplass) tonight, but premieres are usually hard to get into. However, with a bit of luck I was able to secure a ticket to tonight’s premiere without any hassle. I also got a ticket for the 9:00am screening of ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’ (starring Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones).
I hadn’t even seen my first film yet when I decided to switch up my schedule and catch the documentary ‘The Ambassador’ instead of ‘This Must Be the Place’ (starring Sean Penn). I made the decision based primarily on the fact that I thought fellow HDD writer Luke Hickman would be there. Was he? No. He ditched out on even coming up to the festival today. Guess he couldn’t handle it or something.
I immediately regretted my decision to switch movies because ‘The Ambassador’ a story about a Danish journalist who pays a lot of money to become a Liberian diplomat, turned out to be a road to nowhere. That’s the nature of the festival though. Sometimes you switch up your plans and it works out, and sometimes you sit through 90 minutes of “I wish I had that time back," – actress Brie Larson just walked by while I was writing this part of the journal.
After 'The Ambassador' it was onto a deeply frustrating, but very good documentary called 'The Queen of Versailles.' Billionaires whining because they lost all their money and they couldn't finish their 90,000-square-foot home. It was disgusting and fascinating all at the same time.
Finally, it was on to the last stop of the day the premiere of 'Your Sister's Sister' starring Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass, and Rosemarie DeWitt. While sitting in line I started chatting with a woman next to me who wanted to know the movies I'd already seen. This is what's great about Sundance (and probably any film festival for that matter). Strangers will talk to you in line and suddenly you're embroiled in deep conversations about film. It's completely unique to the film festival experience.
While we were waiting in line actress Malin Akerman walked up beside us. People swarmed her for pictures. She obliged. From there the entire screening was full of notable faces. I spotted Ron Livingston in a breezeway as we were ushered to our seats. Andie McDowell walked in after I'd found my seat and sat two rows directly behind me, and may I say, she smelled amazing. The stars from the movie came in next. Emily Blunt walked in, right past me and found a seat about three rows behind me as did Mark Duplass and Rosemarie DeWitt.
Quite possibly my favorite thing about Sundance is the question and answer sessions after the movies are over. The entire cast and crew get up and the audience lobs questions to them. From here we found out that the great little character piece 'Your Sister's Sister' was largely improvised – only about 20 percent was actually scripted. They shot the movie in a little under two weeks. Four hours after meeting each other Duplass and DeWitt filmed a sex scene and a very intimate drunken conversation together. This was one of the more informational and interesting Q&As I've ever been to. It's events like this that really set the film festival experience apart from plain old movie-going.
I finally caught a bus back to where I'm staying and wrote reviews into the wee hours of the morning only to get up at 6:00am tomorrow and do it all over again. I'm planning on seeing a new comedy starring Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones called 'Celeste and Jesse Forever'; a fledgling horror film called 'The Pact'; a coming-of-age drama about a young hip-hop artist in L.A. called 'Filly Brown'; and my most anticipated movie of the festival, 'The Raid.' Make sure to join me for Day 2!