Jay Meehan: Wrapping Sundance
“In darkness there is light.”
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times — a tale of two festivals. Nah, too Dickensian. Anyway, it wasn’t about best and worst as much as light and the tranquil absence thereof.
Early in the first week, you kill time between films loitering in whatever shadow avails itself. It’s all about keeping ambient light at bay — ducking inside the head envelope of your “hoodie” or “slicker,” slogging toward the venue in your crosshairs, your comfort zone a solo act.
You mutter to yourself about your last film preview or review and the ones in the wings. Not that it’s an angst-rich environment or anything. You’re not exactly interpreting the art-in-question, just what it was like to rub up against it. The old adage that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” always hovers near the surface.
Contemplation over a beverage is not unheard of. Neither is ending a sentence with a preposition. For whatever reason, possibly due to sponsorship product placement, Stella from Belgium has long been a favorite Sundance companion. One particular afternoon, our bonding was such that it was suggested we get a room.
For whatever reason, with each succeeding round, I find my backpack-wares gaining in assertiveness while spreading themselves across Urethane-coated saloon tabletops. Once again, the latest from John Le Carré finds itself butt-welded to assorted festival swag of dubious distinction.
Jotting down random thoughts in one of those lined spiral notebooks adds to the overall sense of peace. If I’m not reading or making notes, cobwebs begin to appear on the edges of the frame.
While checking out the print film-guide, I notice a scheduling conflict between a panel discussion of interest and an act performing onstage at the Music Café. A few quick hand gestures later and resolution arrives on the arm of one of Stella’s sisters. Family is everything.
Figuring that I could always use a virtual reality fix, I point myself toward that quirky zone where the New Frontier folks have circled their wagons. Of course, the sirens call of Dolly’s bookshop and the cul-de-sac of its “Fiction” aisle intercept those best laid plans. I’m at home there, safe and snuggled in a print cocoon.
My original target on the back wall had been Pynchon but another word-loon soon caught my eye. William Gibson got a grip on me back in the day and quickly has me locked in that familiar motherboard VR of his own making.
By the time I bid adieu to the “stacks,” the Cosmos have flipped and I’m no longer a lone wolf on the prowl. It’s late in the second week of the Film Festival and it’s snowing and I’m on a “Theater Loop Shuttle” with a longtime crony and one of her partners in crime. No longer re-shaping shadows, I’m actually engaged with fellow film buffs. How novel.
I’m the “Doc-head” in the group, the others, not necessarily so. We’re off to see a documentary that the radical in me characterizes as a century-old act of corporate terrorism. The old mining border town of Bisbee, Arizona reenacted a 1917 mass deportation of mostly immigrant miners and the re-visitation of the incident has been captured on film.
The following day has us deposited in the very last row of the Eccles Center balcony for “Blaze,” wherein actor/author/filmmaker Ethan Hawke spins a three-prong outlaw-country yarn utilizing life incidents of the late Blaze Foley to tell a larger story. Hawke is like that. Gonzo, indeed.
It takes a while to “come down” from Sundance, the transformation both welcome and less so. You miss interviewing those on the inside and the access afforded by a “Press Pass” but there’s also something to be said for lazing about at home in the foothills twenty miles away.
There is an understanding that, while locals share both an attraction and repulsion to the annual inundation of film-folk, it’s become, at least in the culture-sphere, a large part of the Park City vibe. Myself, I choose to partake. I sit in the dark, therefore I am.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.