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Sundance: The view from the inside

Alisha Self, Of the Record staff

At a filmmakers’ reception on Wednesday, the true stars of Sundance had a moment to reflect on the first five days of the festival and share their experiences with one another (and with the press).

Although exhaustion was evident in some, the filmmakers and artists seemed pleased with the first half of the fest. Many were relieved to get through their premieres with positive responses, and several expressed that they were looking forward to getting a chance to see other films.

Jessica Hernández, a Sundance first-timer and the director of the U.S. documentary "Bhutto," may have summed up the collective feeling best when she commented, "It’s been a rollercoaster."

Hernández added that the best thing about the festival is getting out of the bubble of her own film and meeting those who are in the same position. "It’s most rewarding to be able to talk to other filmmakers," she said.

Patrik Eklund, the director of the short film "Seeds of the Fall," said he was able to breathe a sigh of relief after his premiere on the first night of the festival. Eklund is from Sweden and is making his Sundance debut this year.

"The opening night was the best for me," he said. The shorts program he was included in was warmly received and he was happy with the audience’s reactions. "We got some good laughs," he said. "It’s a great relief after that."

Fatima Geza Abdollahyan, a native of Germany with Iranian parents, premiered her first feature-length film, "Kick in Iran," on Tuesday. "It’s exciting," she said of the opportunity to showcase her film in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.

Abdollahyan has never been to the festival before. "On one hand, it’s what I thought it would be where you really get to meet people," she said. "What I did not expect is that there’s so much going on around the festival that’s not necessarily related to the films."

Abdollahyan said she was enjoying the time she had to engage other filmmakers. "There’s a lot of solidarity between filmmakers, and I love that. It’s really good to meet people who have gone through the same process," she said.

Juan Carlos Valdivia, the Bolivian director and screenwriter of "Southern District," is making his fourth appearance at Sundance. "I think the festival has matured," he said, alluding to the emphasis on art installations and the addition of low-budget films. "That’s what a festival should be, not about sales and business."

Valdivia agreed that filmmaker events such as the reception are one of the most important parts of the festival. "Filmmakers are essential," he said. "You come here to meet other people. It’s a great way to see what’s happening in the film world, not just in the U.S."

He added that the festival organizers go to great lengths to make sure the filmmakers have a good experience. "I see everything really well organized," he said. "I feel like we are taken care of."

Filmmakers aren’t the only attendees who are given special treatment (not counting celebrities, of course). The artists featured in New Frontier are also included in networking and industry events.

Computer scientist Eric Gradman is one of the New Frontier artists who chose to stick around for the duration of the festival. He said he was getting tons of exposure for his augmented reality project, "Cloud Mirror."

Visitors from school-age kids to grandmothers have experienced his installation, which incorporates tidbits from viewers’ social media networks into the identity that is reflected on screen. "I call it the new photo booth," he explained.

Gradman said being involved with the festival has also given him a once-in-a-lifetime chance to talk to other artists and filmmakers. "This isn’t a slice of humanity I often find myself with," he said.

He’s already looking toward future festivals, which he hopes will focus more on artists and filmmakers who are experimenting with new forms of technology. "I think interactive cinema is the future," he said. "I hope it eventually takes over the whole festival."

To check out a festival photo gallery, read blog entries and connect with other festival-goers online, log on to http://festival.sundance.org/2010.


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