Teri Orr: Doing the ’Dance…
It is admittedly harder this year. Last year, at this point in the calendar, we were entering our second year of COVID protocols, and we understood The New Normal. The spring and summer ahead gave us false hope with our double vaccines that the virus would soon be a thing of the past. And we all felt so good, we added travel, carefully, back into our lives. Long car trips and thoughtfully chosen overnights.
We had had that 2021 Sundance virtually and we were all good sports about it because that time was a high point of transmission. No one wanted to host a superspreader event or attend one. We watched films in our living rooms and stopped and started them to grab snacks and not miss a line of dialogue. There was no hearing folks in the lobby, after the show, extol or X out what they had just seen. No chance to see one of the principals of the film, in the press line or later that night in a bar on Main Street. We were being good little soldiers and we could sacrifice all that so that we all stayed healthy.
Then the fall came on us like a teeter totter. Numbers were down and then up. There were masks and no masks and masks again. And then the Christmas holidays flattened us. So many people left wherever home was for them and came here, to be “at home” for weeks. And restaurant servers and housekeeping folks and snowplow drivers and ski instructors couldn’t keep up with the demand and germ fest. And they started falling like wet heavy snow. And then nothing worked right. And Sundance had tens of millions of dollars lined up from corporate folks coming to promote their films and their products. Rising stars in film and music had booked hotels and homes. The plan was to return Main Street (and other environs) to much of their glory days — with (limited) tents and music and parties. But the case numbers kept climbing and by all accounts, the very peak of this wave of infections would be expected to hit right now — this very week — when the town would be filled with — maybe 100,000 extra guests — from the globe over. We simply couldn’t handle that — not that risk to our community and to our guests — those folks who might take the disease home with them.
Sundance made The Call that was the very best decision for the health and safety of all. It was the right call and a very, very, very expensive one for all involved — in any way. And our COVID numbers in recent weeks are the highest they have been and in fact, we have one of the highest counts in the country. That does not mean we are winning. Except for this. The health, safety and welfare of the residents here and the guests who would have come here was more important than pushing the limits of all the folks who live and work here.
The loss of revenue to the state of Utah could be well over $100 million — which, of course, is money that won’t be there to reinvest in local communities. And yet, if your loved one had come up testing positive and becoming deathly ill from the Sundance circus being in town, no amount of money would make that a fair trade when there was no hospital bed available. Sawdust, glitter and COVID don’t all clean up the same. So let’s stop the bitching about the incredibly difficult decision the festival made and say with genuine gratitude, thank you.
I watched my first film Thursday on opening night — safe in the comfort of my vaxxed and boosted friend’s home. We chose the premiere of the documentary “La Guerra Civil,” which is about two boxers of Mexican heritage.
One is purely Mexican and the other is Mexican-American. It is filled with incredible footage of the stories of Oscar De La Hoya from East L.A. and Mexican-born boxing legend Julio Cesar Chavez. In 1996, a fight between them was billed as the ultimate showdown, and the film showcases the differences in age and personality and loyalty of the fans to the native Mexican older boxer and the younger one who embraced his shared heritage of being a Mexican born in Los Angeles.
Eva Longoria Bastón makes her debut as a director. You feel the authenticity and the great heart she draws on to tell this story of such cultural significance. These are family stories with more than whispers of the cartel.
You can expect to see issues of how we define manhood and nationality. The path so many professional athletes take — from the love of sport to the love of the spoils of making stupid money from the sport. And the radical difference in the Mexican communities between being purely Mexican and Mexican-American. I know you wonder how someone who cares little for most professional sports and even less for violent anything — did with all that. Here’s the magic of (good) filmmaking — the story was so strong and well told — about tough love and single focus and sports as a way out of poverty from tough lives to athletic stardom — including a gold medal in Olympics and the eventual emotional, physical and mental price of sport — that I stayed glued to the screen (OK, the television screen but nonetheless — a screen).
There are so many films in so many genres in this virtual festival and there is even a virtual reality element in which you can visit and hang out with other festival folks. You can join chat rooms and stay for Q-and-As on screen. Beyond Film includes panels and conversations and all those are free.
I am looking forward to viewing all the movies I can cram in and to sharing stories. And no, it won’t be the same but so little is right now. This is what our kids and grandkids are referring to as The Now Times and The Before Times. In the Before Time, we used to … in The Now, we can’t … We all want The Before Times back and popcorn in the lobby and the glimpse of someone on their way to being famous sitting at the bar at the No Name. But in the big map of life — this time feels like the wayfinder in a national park — YOU ARE HERE.
WE are here.
So look around and enjoy the view and join the conversation — find a film or three and take a chance on something we are, as always, the first on the planet to see. And remember the motto of the good folks who create the NPR storytelling show, The Moth — you either have a good time or a good story.
Support the Sundance Institute and this festival in the virtual form because they have earned that support after bringing us nearly 40 years of extraordinary experiences — where we played the sometimes quirky, sometimes glamorous supporting role. And with any luck we will again, in 2023, when the stories return LIVE — to be lived, on and off screen, on a Sunday (or two) in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.
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