Sunday in the Park
If ever there was a Sundance year to follow Paul Simon’s advice and "Just hop on the bus, Gus," well, this is it. But the rest of that lyric, "no need to discuss much," I would take issue with. Sundance is the very time to discuss much, with friends and more importantly, friends you haven’t met yet. Whether your conversation is on the bus or the wait list line or the caf , for the next two weeks you can compare notes on what you saw, what you can’t get into and the party you’re still hoping to crash. Because at the end of two weeks, if you haven’t picked up enough stories to last you through a year of cocktail parties, you haven’t really been trying. There is a kind of openness that exists in a rarefied form in the space and continuum of time known as Sundance. You can ask in the checkout line at the market of perfect, and even imperfect, strangers what films they have seen and you will hear reviews, both concise and detailed. On the bus you can ask who has tickets to a noon screening they would trade for a three o’clock and you can watch the barter system snap into place. Throw in a reservation you can’t keep at a Main Street restaurant and watch eBay-level bidding begin. But say you have nothing to barter with, and in fact, don’t even care about going to a film this week. Do not allow yourself to miss the extraordinary people watching that you are afforded with no real effort or expense. The drivers alone are entertaining if you have a long-fuse personality and plenty of time to get where you need to be. And going about your normal daily routine will be anything but normal if you stay open to the moment. Picking up your mail on Main Street should be slated now as an hour-long activity. Grabbing the mail is still a five minute process but hanging out on the street and watching the folks putting up posters or handing out flyers or just dressed in get-ups that defy any level of ski resort-climatologic knowledge, well, that can be fun to watch. And listen carefully. You can often feel you are in an international airport just by catching snippets of conversation in, say, Dolly’s bookstore or The No Name Saloon. And speaking of watering holes, animals of all stripes converge at bars. Pretend you are on vacation in your own town and go to a bar you haven’t been to in years or maybe ever. Then just listen. If you don’t come away with one retellable story you really weren’t trying. In my business we have a saying, "There are no art emergencies." And it helps to remember that what may appear to be a crisis in the moment a film breaks down, the theater is too hot or too cold, the question-and-answer session is dominated by a self-serving, self-aggrandizing, long-winded creep while all annoying, none are actual emergencies. And when you watch the public relations flack, who has been sent to the wait-list line, to try and score premiere tickets for the studio flack, who needs them for her boss and fails to achieve her stated goal and sadly, watch her unravel in front of volunteers, who could never help her anyway, or festival staff who are lovely people but also not ticket brokers, well, it can all be rather sad. And you want to walk right over and tell her, perhaps she’s in the wrong business or at least in the wrong job or at the very least, has the wrong boss, while you offer her chocolates or coffee, but you resist the temptation. History has taught us these are highly flammable people who will ignite and self-destruct upon contact with rational people. So you sit back, take it all in and mentally note, say, her footwear or some other salient fact you will share later with others when you retell this tale. But you keep listening. In a pre-Sundance meeting this week, when logistics were being discussed on how best to efficiently move people out of the theater and onto the awaiting shuttles, a long-time department head with salt and pepper hair offered the perfect generation-appropriate (for me anyway) analysis. "Just remember the liner notes on the Grateful Dead album from the ’70s that talked about bolos and bozos. There will always be bozos trying to go where the bolos belong. Our job, is to carefully, separate them." And it seems so clear when stated as such. Finally, remember when you do view a film that these stories invariably started small. It is rare the actors on screen were anybody’s first choice for the picture. The script was rewritten and modified and then the whole project edited down to around two hours. Years of financing and negotiating and compromising have resulted in every filmmakers dream, a slot at the Sundance Film Festival. So raise your hand and ask a question and validate the dream. Or just slip into a little Walter Middy moment and wonder what it was like to write a story that found its way to a major director who cast it with well known actors and filmed it beautifully and scored it with the "just right" pulsing soundtrack. Then search around in your head (which can be a dangerous neighborhood, I know) and think about what story you have to tell, because we all have one. Cast it. Who would play you at 20, then at 40? Where would you want to shoot the film, on location? Or in a state like Utah that has the ability to look like lots of locations (think of everything from "Thelma and Louise," to the most recent, "The World’s Fastest Indian"). If you have spent enough time on this exercise, the self-aggrandizing annoying question asker will have been replaced by the sincere, aspiring screenwriter, who will want to know just how long The Whole Process took? Regardless of your interest in films, we are all interested in stories. So gather up a few and weave them together until you have a tale of Sundance you toss around your neck jauntily when the mood strikes. It is something you can pursue any day this week but most certainly on Sunday in the Park
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