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Sunday in the Park

I spent all day last Sunday crying and I have the Sundance Film Festival for to thank for that.

The final Sunday is my bittersweet favorite day of the festival. The award-winning films are shown and the tents are packed up and we are left, as Peter Allen once crooned, "with just the sawdust and the glitter." Summer camp-style friends head back to their real jobs and lives and we, who have been operating in an altered state of place and time and purpose, sigh and try to return to our own ordinary existence.

But before I was willing to surrender the magic, I ducked into the back row of the darkened theater and watched an award-winning film, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints." Set in Queens, N.Y., in the mid-’80s, this film has tough language and more violence than I would normally choose to watch. But it was somehow accurate in a way that to have deleted any of that would have weakened this amazing ensemble piece. Yes, Robert Downey Jr. was in the film and yes, you forgot it was the person and believed it was his character, Dito. But all in all, he was minor, compared to the relatively unknown cast of young actors whose ensemble performance garnered them the special jury prize.

The film is not just a coming-of-age story but rather a piece of defining and naming those people and places that have defined you. Without giving away the plot, suffice it to say, there are places you need to leave to grow and people you need to leave to grow as well. And though you leave them, they never leave you. The project was developed at the Sundance Screenwriters and Filmmakers Labs and it is the author’s first film. Way to hit it out of the park!

Since I hadn’t thought this would be sad, I didn’t bring in any tissues, but the sleeve of my turtleneck worked well enough to wipe away my tears. But the next film was the award-winning documentary I had heard great things about. So I checked messages, then went back in for the second film, "God Grew Tired of Us." In no time at all, I had to leave to grab tissues. This remarkable work follows three of the 27,000 lost boys of the Sudan, as they resettle in the United States. Fleeing certain death in their homeland over five years, the boys, barefoot, march 1,000 miles to a camp in Kenya. They create families along the way, caring for and teaching one another.

Their story of faith and hope is walk-on-your-heart-with-cleats sad. But in the end, so And once in America, it is an awareness that things can never replace people. Narrated by Nicole Kidman, this powerful work leaves you breathless and hopeful for the human race. The tears were free flowing by now.

And then just to complete the tri-fecta of tragedy, I settled in for the double-award-winning film, "Quinceanera," a story about a young girl looking forward to her coming out party for her 15th birthday in Echo Park, Los Angeles. Her family, filled with traditional Hispanic characters and not-so-traditional characters, are the set up for great humor and great pathos. The end, where we discover just what makes a man, is honor and commitment to family, comes in a great turnabout I won’t disclose. No wonder this was both the jury favorite and the audience favorite. Underdogs with hope and redemption and tradition. My turtleneck was now soaked and the tissues little rags. So I went into the box office to say my goodbyes.

For as many years as Sundance has been at Eccles, Jeff has been a part of the volunteer family. A former University of Utah film student, Jeff went to New York and spent time learning his craft at the AMC channel, among other places. He wrote copy for film promotions… The words from the film, "You’ve Got Mail" that graced the posters, "In life they were in love, Online they were at odds" are his. He went on to create a short, titled "Puppet Theater," a winner at the Seattle Film Festival that showed at more than 50 film festivals thereafter. Two years ago he moved to Los Angeles and started directing short television shows on off-line networks. He has both a pilot for a sitcom in the works and feature-length film he hopes to have funded this year. He is the consummate professional with a wicked sense of humor and he runs the theater during the festival with such style and grace, we are lucky to have him there.

Overseeing all the venues and their operations is Andrew, a tall, lanky, redheaded guy with an easy laugh. Andrew is relatively unflappable, which makes him the perfect man for the job. He listens before he reacts, a rare trait in any profession but almost unheard of in the creative world. Andrew received a cash prize years ago for a script he developed — a comedy. He has twice been ready to shoot his project and twice the money folks have folded. This year before he returns to Providence to run the film festival there, he hopes to get the green light to once again, line up the cast so he can start production right after his festival finishes in June.

Next year at this time, both men may have completed projects that could be entries in Sundance ’07. And that, in a film canister, is the story of Sundance. It is still about independent folks with independent ideas and individual ways of telling stories that find a way to touch us, in ways that often surprise us. Folks who volunteer in their chosen field. Folks who help create a sense of community for a few weeks with a mixed bag of people from all over the world, who are united by their love of good stories, told well, on screen.

I will miss the team. But I look forward to the Sundance Film Festival moving to our community full-time this summer. The more creative folks in our town, the richer we all become. And the more stories we have to share — everyday of the week — but certainly on Sundays in the Park


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