It is within the quality of the pain that the essence of "random" truly reveals itself. The fact that it’s not personal, that it’s a computer generated "accident," doesn’t matter much. The ever-so-capricious gods of chance have chosen once again to leave the de-selected among us out in the cold.
The feeling is that of a bouncing ball upon a spinning roulette wheel. Which number it will land upon is anybody’s guess. There is always the sense that the "croupier" from "Casablanca" is running the game, however, and the smirk on his face is not for nothing. Irony and humor lounge therein. He knows something we don’t.
Now there was a time when just being aware of how the Sundance Film Festival ticketing process operated was enough to get you into your screenings and panels of choice. Somehow you always came into possession of a "locals film-lover package" and you were pretty much set.
You had a couple of credentials and a fistful of "hard tickets" and life was good. You basked on the beach of the beautiful. Nary a thought was given to those less fortunate spending the night in sleeping bag ticket lines or queuing-up with water bottles and books hours before showtime. Karma had spoken and you had been deemed worthy.
Then, for some odd reason, each new festival season began arriving with the fruits of bad "juju." Seemingly, your membership among the cultural elite had been revoked. But, you were a junkie, and if you were forced to stand in the locals-only lineup at the Gateway to gain a wristband and a timeslot for tickets, well, rubbing elbows with the bourgeoisie was, indeed, a small price to pay.
It was fun, actually. Friends among the working press were often on hand to capture the aesthetic by interview and image and, once you exited Swede Alley and slipped inside, there was always the snaking mosey of the conga-line wristband rhumba to carry you through. Hope never left the building.
Even when you were awarded a ticket-purchase-timeslot-from-hell, you kept the faith. Operating, as always, under the assumption that the festivarians ahead of you in line would exhibit tastes of a more mainstream nature, you never doubted that access to the more unconventional specimens of film culture would search you out. Your ever-so-hip muse would see to that.
And so far, through many a year, ticket-procurement whining notwithstanding, when looking back upon the overall rhythm of each festival, the bang-for-the-buck component has been over the top. The art, especially at its most confrontational, has most always exuded an elegance and grace.
It’s all about a labor-of-love and achieving onscreen transcendental harmony. Independent filmmakers deal in truths that aren’t always pretty — the beauty, when it is perceived, reposing beneath the surface. The degree of subtlety with which it comes knocking is what sets it apart. Seldom does it arrive with a grapefruit in the face.
But, when the highly anticipated e-mail showed up from Sundance this year, it was, indeed, accompanied by James Cagney’s maniacal grin shoving a large, roundish, yellow-skinned, edible citrus fruit right smack into your comfort zone. You’ve been busy wiping the juicy, acidic pulp off your mug for a week.
This year, you hit the grand slam. First, you once again failed to qualify for a locals film-lover package. Well, that’s OK, you still have the local’s lineup in Swede Alley, you thought. But then, you learn, in order to level the playing field and ease the elemental impacts, instead of standing in line, a new process has been put in place.
In the new and improved 2007 ticket acquisition model, you can do it all from home. You register online and acquire a ticket purchase slot by random selection without leaving the house. Cyberspace, it seems, is a wristband-free zone.
OK, no obvious problem there. Well, maybe only a slight hitch in the giddy-up. Being a Heber type of guy, it turned out you had been declared an alien. Your Zip code didn’t make the cut. You were nowhere to be found on the list of those whose area of residence qualified them to pursue their film festival ticket dreams in Park City.
You could, however, register for a timeslot at the Salt Lake City box office. Alright, what’s one more hoop? The place is kind of growing on you anyway. So you register to buy your tickets down in the city. With the film festival being somewhat less of a big deal down there, it’s probably for the best.
But then, with the click of a mouse button, it all came crashing down. The amount of film-buffs entering the time-slot lottery had superseded the amount of time, space, and manpower available to fill the demand. Sorry, but there is no room at the inn. You have been randomly selected to lose whatever luster you once held as a local in the ticket-line of life.
Your cachet had been cashiered. You were now one of the "great unwashed," with all the rights and privileges contained therein. But all was not lost. For five bucks more you could register to order, along with the rest of the planet, from whatever ticket scraps remained.
This final attempt at pre-fest tickets would transpire online or by phone at a time to be designated, you guessed it, by computer generated random selection. Well, you’d come this far. No reason to quit now. Good things come to those who wait. Patience is a virtue, and all. Your luck’s still holding. Spin the wheel and let it ride.
Well, whoda thunkit? As deadline approaches, you are in possession of a timeslot only three hours hence. Surely, seats to screenings of a few of the films on your wish list will still be available. Well, only time will tell. And, if things don’t work out as planned, there’s always the "day of" sales and the waiting lines and, praise be, the Music Café.
Not to worry, however. Somehow, the Sundance Film Festival, with all its attendant baggage, each year finds a way to turn into a tone poem of sorts. It always seems to keep in touch with its elegant sense of the dramatic while remaining awash in a quite cultivated and expansive dreamscape. And even when one is randomly demoted to "outsider" status, it continues to satisfy.
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Thanks to COVID-19 cutting into visitation numbers, Park City’s seasonal workforce is sufficient. In any other winter, “the hiring situation would be dire.”