Shouldn’t all pictures be moving?
Sunday in the Park
January 27, 2017
It has been a dizzying week. It is easy to listen to friends' stories and feel like I haven't measured up to the pack. I can't say I saw dozens of films in a very few days or attended as many gatherings day and night to increase my network. And nothing I did increased my net worth. But honestly, despite the increasing inconveniences and annoyances that such critical mass is bound to produce, I still love the idea of the film festival in our town.
We added a gigantic special event on the first Saturday when the perfect storm of an extra 8,000 people and their cars and signs, made it to Main Street somehow and for four hours took over the town to protest for equal treatment and rights for women. It was empowering just to look at that sea of faces, young and old and multihued, with handmade, clever signs and (somewhat) matching hats.
To listen to the chants and see the linked arms and understand, again, just reminded me how much the right to free assembly matters to a democracy. From the Park City student mayor, Maya Levine, to global citizen and 86 year old Hispanic activist, Dolores Huerta, each speaker put a piece of their heart before the microphone. And the crowd answered back with cheers, applause and an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.
Yes, I saw films… "Opening Night," the sequel to "An Inconvenient Truth" with Al Gore on hand, a day after the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States was surreal. The former vice president, and former presidential candidate who lost the electoral vote, but not the popular one, showed his statesman-like demeanor had collided with his passionate activist concern for our planet.
All over town there were private gatherings: the Irish Film Commission and film makers felt right at home with a local Irish couple who hosted them.The Guinness beef stew was nearly as thick as the brogues of the folks speaking. There were stories of successes and of pilots and plots afoot, and all the while the snow fell like a perfect storm had been cued up to appear fierce and frequent. Except it was all real.
The near white-out deterred some folks to not venture out, but others still arrived on schedule to the party at the home of the Hearst Corporation board member who had gathered his tribe of ESPN junkies and executives and those smart women from the A&E channel. The room was filled with heady conversations about the future of media and the future of our country.
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Across town in Old Town, the crazy kids from National Geographic threw a "choose your own adventure" cocktail party, while Executive Director of Sundance Kari Putnam took the stage to announce a new partnership with them and the festival. The slow mo photo booth had revelers tossing play money and confetti and wearing silly hats and laughing at the snow piling up outside.
The annual Zion's Bank leadership lunch to honor women doing good works in their communities and in film and in leadership positions across the state had Zion's Bank President Scott Anderson putting women of color and various backgrounds together to be inspired by the speakers but as importantly, by their table mates.
And you could think the festival was about extraordinary networking, except once you were ensconced in a theater seat and the darkness and warmth took over, you were traveling all over the world recognizing a piece of yourself — good ,bad and silly – and/or placed you in harm's way or made you so uncomfortable you left wondering why did that film unleash emotions you thought had long been dealt with.
There are two films that stick out and onto me for very different reasons. "The Last Word," starring Shirley McLaine and Amanda Seyfried, was a story of a controlling older woman who wants to give a young obituary writer enough good material to write a meaningful synopsis, in print, of her life. Slightly different to the story her living friends and relatives are sharing. It is funny and poignant and it gave me that really good cry of the festival. It will be released on March 3.
The film "Mudbound" had me crying too, but the tears were of such sadness and horror of our inhumanity to one another that I am still breathless when I think about certain scenes. It is a raw story of two families, working the sugar cane land in Louisiana, during and after World War II. The coloring is mud and you feel like it should take a long hot bath after, because much of the film had endless scenes of rainstorms turning those fields and everything around them to more mud. You witness discrimination in overt and covert ways, the all-white cocktail party with the all-black help serving and all-black band playing. The commonalities of the horrors of war and the brotherhood of the battlefield. The racist country of entitled men those soldiers returned home to. The star-filled cast included Carey Mulligan and Mary J Blige with Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund.
The festival winds up this weekend with awards and final screenings, closing parties, announcements of sales and dates for distribution. And after that, we will need to reevaluate how we fest. Did we take away from the charm of our town by having too many pop-up spaces in Old Town? Does our zeal for "the new" displace valued merchants and places to stroll? Does the look resemble a bit more carnival than curated event? Have we become a character or caricature in the story? What matters is that we recognize the starring role each bus driver, waitress, snow shoveler, bookseller, bartender had in the featured film (festival). Find time to thank them all week, any day, but maybe this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.