Teri Orr: A delicate dance…
Day One — The Eccles Center was a cross between reunion and revival. From all over the planet folks greeted one another with hugs and high fives, much laughter, a few happy tears. The family, the gang, the rag-tag disparate troupe of volunteers and staff and longtime directors and technicians and filmmakers and philanthropists and just plain film fans were assembled to get on the ride known as the Sundance Film Festival.
And the excitement was palpable.
In the lobby before the doors opened there was a low-level buzz of greetings and glad-handing and anticipation. The Coffee Boys — yes they are identical twins — Rob and Ray — had the brew bubbling and the cold drinks iced and the smiles being dispensed as quickly as the candy bars. The police officers were smiling and nodding and watching the gathering swarm of happy folks all there to witness Opening Night together — live — inside the theater.
Once inside, folks found their seats and then started working the room. Actors now joined the crowd and board members and former festival staff who had shaped the organization in its formative years. Spence Eccles, his daughter Lisa and Next Gen current Stanford student Eccles were all on hand to witness the usage of the building they had helped fund back in the ’90s. It was even better than they had envisioned — serving the festival and serving the student body and serving the community — all had grown in ways only those visionary people could’ve imagined.
And then the lights dimmed. The boisterous room silenced in anticipation and the single spotlight hit the podium — that beautiful cello blended into a carved wooden stand 20 years ago by local artist John Helton. From the side stage with no introduction and none needed came festive founder, award-winning actor and visionary Robert Redford. In jeans and a casual jacket and that mop of still-wonderful unruly hair, he greeted the crowd and then told some of the beginnings to the festival in the mid ’80s. He spoke of the need to tell stories that weren’t being told in Hollywood then. How he had created a kind of summer camp for film geeks then at the Lab at Sundance Resort and with a grant of $20,000 that launched the whole thing. And it was clear — his heart lies in his resort and those labs and the magic that exists in the creation part of the work. “Sundance,” he said, “is not Park City. Sundance is where the wheel turns.” And as anyone who has spent even day in the trees on the mountain knows — there is magic in that space which fuels more magic that often shows up years later on the screen.
Beloved festival director John Cooper — affectionately known as Coop — popped out next in his signature black glasses with his signature self-effacing nature. He welcomed the crowd and invited them to explore the festival and also gave a shout-out to the folks in the new Ray Theatre — where for the first time, the events of the night were being simulcast back and forth. The director of the film, Bart Freundlich took the stage, to set the stage, for the powerful film. “After the Wedding,” starring his partner in life, Julianne Moore, who along with Michelle Williams and Billy Crudup and other cast members was there and would appear on stage after the film to answer questions about how the secret sauce of something so impactful was made. And the questions would also come — via simulcast — from the folks across town at the Ray.
At the film’s end and the questions’ end, the theater-goers dispersed efficiently (those volunteers are pros) out the lobby doors mostly. But about 400 guests took the side exit and boarded buses to journey less than 5 miles down the road to the film studios where the elegant Artist at the Table event was set with soft gray clouds of gossamer (maybe stage decorations but still…) and a neon chandelier and fresh flowers and a large lit sign that reminded the glitterati to RISK INDEPENDENCE. Actors and aspiring filmmakers and philanthropists all mingled together to celebrate the start of another 10 days of learning all the people it takes to make a film and then ensure it makes its way to audiences so that storytelling can touch us and sometimes change our world.
Back at Eccles — the next audience had been queuing up in the lobby — hugging old friends and staff members and eager to see their first film. The coffee was brewing and the cops were smiling and the heat lamps outside were keeping folks warm in the freezing waitlist line.
For the next 10 days, this cycle will be repeated all over town (and in Salt Lake City and at Sundance Resort). The excitement for each film will be fueled by the anticipation of seeing a story on the screen that hasn’t been shown anywhere else before this festival. Every wait line in town from the grocery store to the liquor store to the ski shops will be filled with a mix of film fans and film funders and makers. Remember all actors were once — unknown. Ditto directors and moguls who distribute films. You really have no idea who is riding the bus or ordering shots at the No Name.
So stay open. RISK ENGAGEMENT. Spark a conversation with a stranger. Open the door. Let the other guy in line ahead of you. Laugh at anything you can from the Gilbert grape color of the volunteer jackets to the folks who still say “Maybe you don’t know who I am,” thinking that will change how they are treated.
We are all explorers this week. We are all part of the story. And one day I am convinced someone will do a documentary of the town that shaped an entire industry. Because the one thing we seem to all share is our spirit of independence. Every day — even Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
“Even the dogs were celebrating the reemergence of the sun.”