I feel like I could sing Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everyone” if it were about film festivals because I am finally at Sundance. While I have hit many small festivals, and large ones like SXSW, Fantastic Fest and Cannes, the Sundance Film Festival never worked out. This year I left the family, imported my father-in-law to take care of my 15-month-old son, and away I went.
While I’ll give you five things below, here’s a bonus. Park City, Utah is insanely beautiful. If I were a skier, I would be euphoric right now. We’re not here to talk about the landscape, or the perfect weather (mid-30s and sunny all week), though, so let’s cut the jibber-jabber and get on with the festival.
Well, before we do, this festival has the best volunteers. Sure, some might want to desperately talk to you about every film you’ve seen, and haven’t seen, but they have knowledge on how to navigate this city and they are everywhere.
1. Get Here Early
Yes, the following will sound like a whiny film critic. I attended the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards on Thursday night, missing the opening of the festival. Sure, I met Tom Hanks, and my wife met Oprah, but the movie gods made me pay. On Friday I had a layover in Las Vegas. It should have been an hour. It turned out to be 5.5 hours. Instead of making a run to the Strip, I sulked, but wasn’t completely deterred. There was still a chance to make Hellion at 9 p.m. I dropped my luggage off, made it to headquarters, and realized picking up credentials ended at 6 p.m. The kindness of strangers almost got me into the film without my press badge, but it wasn’t meant to be. Arriving late also means you can’t request public screenings for a few days because they’ve already been gobbled up by press who arrived on time. All of this added up to feeling like being the last kid picked for kickball, but then they realized you were an odd number, and you couldn’t really play the game for a few days.
2. Industry Folks Are Here
While I knew this would be the case, I didn’t realize they were everyone (in comparison to other festivals). My first exposure was on a bus. Three nice looking fiftysomething women talked about where they love to vacation in Hawaii, how they hate waking up to alarms so they never see early screenings, and most importantly fat arms (which one didn’t technically have, but it almost made her not wear a jacket). Wait, that’s not the most important, it was that they were here to acquire films. They decided they wouldn’t do it anytime soon, since their boss didn’t feel good. The lesson is that anyone is capable of being in the industry, no matter how much you wish they weren’t. Luckily, there are some good ones as well, like Roxanne Benjamin, one of the producers of the V/H/S series. Talking to her makes me want to like horror films more.
3. Don’t Trust Twitter
This shouldn’t come to a shock to many, but there is more than one opinion on Twitter. Every time a film gets out here, the pattern is that some people worshipped it, other people hated it, then other people are shocked that there were people who could feel that way. There is no collective opinion. They just don’t seem to exist anymore at film festivals. So, trust a film critic or two who you love, and follow their lead. Wish I Was Here is the prime example of this so far. Everyone loved/hated it, and couldn’t believe others felt that way. I haven’t seen Zach Braff’s film yet about a struggling actor, father and husband, but I can’t wait based on our very own Erik Davis’ thoughts. His tweet said, “Wish I Was Here was made for thirtysomething fathers like me, wrestling w/being a leader for your family when most times you don’t know how.” So, I’m going to trust him… until I don’t.
4. My Wheelhouse Calibration Is Off
Most of the time, I trust my gut when it comes to my wheelhouse. So far at Sundance I’m off to a rocky start. Here’s the description for Infinitely Polar Bear, “A manic-depressive mess of a father tries to win back his wife by attempting to take full responsibility of their two young, spirited daughters, who don’t make the overwhelming task any easier.” The dad is played by Mark Ruffalo, whom I love and I’m a work-at-home dad who has dealt with depression before. That’s my wheelhouse. The film never clicked with me, and simply wandered with little purpose.
My second most anticipated film was Ping Pong Summer. Here’s the description, “Ocean City, Maryland. 1985. Summer vacation. Rap music. Parachute pants. Ping-pong. First crushes. Best friends. Mean bullies. Weird mentors. That awkward, momentous time in your life when you’re treated like an alien by everyone around you, even though you know deep down you’re as funky fresh as it gets.” Ping-pong (sadly) is my best sport. I loved the Fat Boys and Run-DMC while I was growing up. I owned one pair of parachute pants I was only brave enough to wear when I was on a family vacation. The ’80s window dressing is the only strong part of this film. The acting and script are bad, and not the kind of bad that means good.
5. Abortion Comedy-Dramas Are Great
The film I have been happiest with so far is Obvious Child. It’s the only “abortion comedy-drama” I know of, but maybe that will change. It’s a truly honest film starring Jenny Slate about a comedian who gets dumped, fired and pregnant. Slate truly shines and sheds whatever outrageous characters she’s played in the past like from Parks and Recreation. While talking about abortion doesn’t fill up the majority of the film, when it is a topic, they do it with sincerity that even films like Juno messed up.
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