Teri Orr: The stars come out for Sundance, and not just the celebrities
To steal directly from the Sundance Institute — it is about “the power of story” — of course. And for the next 10 days — as they say at The Moth Radio Hour — a program of the Atlantic Public Radio (also representing here this week) — “You either have a good time or a good story.”
With any luck — over the next 10 days … you have endless opportunities for both.
Opening Night at the Eccles Center was filled with standing-ovation crowds and tearful moments and exhalations of joy — and that was just Redford telling the origin story of the festival. Then he welcomed retiring Festival Director John Cooper to the stage — and it was Coop who received the first standing ovation of the festival. Coop has spent the last 30 years of his life with the festival — as first an assistant and then director and he helped with selection and development, shaping what we know, love and praise about the storytelling from different voices. And he not only helped set the films for the festivals — he helped shape the workshops that helped develop the stories that became the films. Coop has of late been splitting his time between L.A. and Northern California and he is looking forward to The Next Chapter. And no doubt there are folks writing important profiles of his influence on the stories and films that influenced how we stretched to see a bigger world, a larger vision and version of what was and what could be/should be — he has been a voice for equality of all stripes all along the way. And he has been kind and silly and a champion for the small story of average lives which is — of course — the larger story of all lives at some moment.
I have so very many festival stories and I have written about them in this space for all the years I have been writing this column — because the festival started in a very small way in the ’70s. And after we watched a film we would sit in the lobby of the Holiday Inn (then the Yarrow — now a DoubleTree) and we would order a drink and talk with the director — Jonathan Demme comes to mind with “Melvin and Howard” and sometimes an actor and maybe 25/30 of us would have the best night or two. As I recall the festival was a four-day weekend — for years … in the fall. Until the town pushed them to move the event to January because no one skied then and it would help fill up rooms. Long before we had any properties that had any stars attached to either their ranking or the kind of people who would visit and stay there. We were so very grateful for the extra 200 and even 300 people that would come to visit for a few days.
But I digress.
The second standing ovation I witnessed came at the end of the documentary — “Miss Americana” — when the principal of the film — Taylor Swift — came on stage. It was NOT a shiny homage to a country/pop/rock star. It was a slightly rough, raw and edgy portrait of the artist as young girl who has become a grown-ass woman before our very public eyes. A woman with a loving family (including her cherished cats) who has fought self-worth issues in social media and every public stage that exists.
“Don’t become like the Dixie Chicks” came the admonishment when after an ugly trial for a sexual assault after being publicly embarrassed and humiliated from that courtroom drama where she won — she emerged empowered and deciding that she had a responsibility to become political for the voices who didn’t have the resources like hers to fight those fights and hit those emotional high notes. And yes, her ability to have always written her own material since she was 12 years old makes her unique but so does the first full of “firsts” in her musical career. And she is acutely aware at 31 years old the shelf for the average female celebrity singer or actor is 35.
And how very wrong that is…
At the end of the film there was a man who came to the box office seven times to ask if the staff had found his girlfriend’s phone. Seven times in maybe 30 minutes. There were volunteers resting their walkie talkies in their charging stations and there were cars trying to get out of the parking lot for a longer queue than there had been to the ladies room earlier.
I left the theater and drove toward to my tiny home that I have lived in all the years Sundance has existed here. I slowed down when I saw some folks who had been walking on the edge of the road in my hood — I suspect they had come from a film at the MARC. Three men were pointing up at something so I slowed down. At first I couldn’t see anything they might have found remarkable. Then I realized they were pointing at the sky. They were here in Park City, Utah, and they were seeing the stars at night in their big sky natural habitat and that was remarkable.
So in the next 10 days, make it a point to laugh and have enough experiences and good stories to tell and don’t forget to really look at all the stars — the many days and any night but certainly on a Sunday (or two) 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.
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