The Oscar nominations were announced this week. Which seems to serve as the perfect preamble to the Sundance Film Festival. Which films/actors did we see here first and who are we rooting for? And which films from this year's festival might be sleepers for the next year's awards?
Everybody who loves film knows about the website IMDb.com, the international movie database, but back in 2002 it wasn't quite so much a household name/site. I was introduced to it by a guy named Rob whom Sundance had hired as a consultant after the events of 9/11. He came from the Department of Defense. Remember, the Olympics were coming here in February of 2002, but first came Sundance in January, just four months after the events of 9/11. The world was still nervous and so was Sundance. Then, as now, the building I work in most of the time, The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, was the largest indoor facility in Summit County.
We had some learnin' to do, in short order, about how to understand the places crazy people could go and things they might do to disrupt the norm. Rob trained us all and then stayed on site, for most of the festival, in our small box office.
He just might be one of most genuine, funny people I have ever met.
Every day there would be these crazy trivia tests he created and always won. "Who was the director of the film from the '80s, who also had a film in that year's festival, who had a daughter named Cactus?" We would talk among ourselves (the Internet wasn't so au courant and we weren't so Internet savvy back then) and try to research answers, and each time we would lose and he would win. After a couple of days of just messin' with us, he introduced us to IMDb because Rob was also a movie freak. Too much time, in too many foreign posts, had resulted in a strange but powerful knowledge of film trivia facts.
One night, close to midnight, we got a call from the Big Source of Communication at the festival. There had been a call from someone in Park Meadows (yikes, my 'hood!) that there were satellite trucks stationed close to the Racquet Club and could those cause brain damage to residents?
Rob never missed a beat. He suggested the caller wrap his/her head in tin foil and hold two D-cell batteries in each hand. They should be able to deflect any serious repercussions. Since he was a former government official, and since we didn't know very much about emissions then, I have to admit there were seconds, maybe three or five, when I hesitated and looked at his serious face and thought that was a strange suggestion, but hey, maybe...
He took one look at my face and burst out laughing, and I took one look at his laughter and knew I'd been punked. So, the next day at the box office, I showed up with batteries in my hands and a tin-foil helmet and I made him laugh.
There were real-life dramas that year but none that required a visible police presence. He made us all feel safe because he made us laugh. Often. And he understood independent film really, really well. We exchanged emails for a couple of years after all that. He had an assignment in Korea and then the Middle East and then somewhere in the Midwest and then I lost track of him. And tonight, when I wanted to know the exact age of Quvenzhané Wallis, who is nominated as best actress (!) for her brilliant work in last years's Sundance award-winning, now Oscar-nominated, film, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," I went to IMDb.com and I looked it up, and I remembered wacky Rob.
Is he wearing tin-foil hats and punking foreign diplomats in some exotic locale? Has he retired with his family in Kansas or Panama?
Now, of course, I can look smart by quoting all the facts about the Oscar-nominated film, "Silver Linings Playbook," that I watched last Sunday and loved. Furthermore, I can give you quotes from folks on a blog who claim to be bipolar who love/hate the film, which is a portrayal of "their" people. I can spout facts about the script or the music or even the screenplay, and if you didn't know better you might think I was that connected or astute or educated to the world of filmmaking. But truth be told, I just learned to utilize a great resource from a wonky former government guy who took a rather obscure assignment and made it his mission to explore the clientele at The Alamo (now The No Name) with the same enthusiasm as he showed for understanding how a terrorist might enter a school building filled with celebrities.
Just for the record and for a bit of luck, with a whisper of nostalgia, during the festival I throw a roll of tin foil in the trunk of my car and a couple of D cell batteries. You just can't be too certain, on any given day, but certainly you need extra awareness, the next couple of Sundays, in the Park ...
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.