Tom Clyde: Sundance code of conduct
The annual Sundance bacchanal is upon us. Traffic is a mess, parking nonexistent, and if you want to eat out, Heber is your best bet. Park City has become a town defined by its excesses, and even by Park City standards, Sundance is excessive. Some people love it, some hate it and some of us just wonder why it can’t happen at any time of year other than when the town is already packed with skiers. There are apparently things chiseled in stone about the dates of film festivals. Changing would knock planets out of alignment. The word from Sundance is that it would be easier to move ski season to August to accommodate them.
It’s been a difficult year for Hollywood. The disgusting Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal was a watershed moment, and hundreds of similar stories of gross, boorish behavior were spilled out. I don’t know why it tipped now, instead of when the accusations against Bill Cosby first came out, or at any similar point over decades. Sexual exploitation in Hollywood is not exactly a secret. They make movies about it.
Sundance itself has taken a stand. There’s a “spring break” quality to the Festival, and it’s no secret that there have been incidents of bad behavior. Some have landed in the criminal justice system. The Weinstein allegations have some Sundance connections. To their credit, Festival organizers recognized there is a problem, and have taken steps this year to address it. Of course Sundance wouldn’t be Sundance without a dramatic overreaction.
Sundance has a new Code of Conduct this year, which says:
“Sundance Film Festival is an environment where bold, creative, and distinctive voices are celebrated. Sundance Institute is committed to allowing attendees to experience the Sundance Film Festival free of harassment, discrimination, sexism, and threatening or disrespectful behavior. We reserve the right to revoke, without notice or refund, credentials or access to Festival events and venues for those who engage in such conduct.”
That sounds great. To enforce this Code, they have teamed up with the Utah Attorney General (who is probably running for governor) to set up a 24-hour hotline to report sexual misbehavior at Sundance (and only at Sundance) directly to the Attorney General. No kidding. That’s really happening with our tax dollars. The AG is standing by to take your call. It’s unique to Sundance, which seems to raise all kinds of equal protection issues, aside from there being no statutory authority for the State of Utah to act against “disrespectful behavior.” There’s also no statutory authority for the AG’s office to revoke Sundance credentials.
For all practical purposes, they have set up a system to criminalize rudeness. If I watch a movie and walk out half way through, and say that it was a terrible movie and the people who wasted their money making it must be idiots, should I be expecting a call from the AG’s office?
It’s hard to imagine anyone driving through town during the next week without giving or receiving the one finger salute in traffic. Will the Sundance ninja forces descend on our cars and yank us out by the credentials? Is Kearns Boulevard an official Sundance Venue?
If I decline to celebrate a distinctive voice because it just plain too weird for words, am I going to jail? Is it OK to laugh at somebody walking through slushy streets (please, Sundance, bring us some snow) in open toed stiletto heels, or must we celebrate the bold inappropriateness of their footwear choice? It’s all very confusing.
Anyway, I thought his needed further investigation. So I called the number. It went right to one of those electronic menus.
If you are being harassed or disrespected by a drunken studio executive, press 1.
If you are being harassed or disrespected by a sober studio executive, press 2.
If you are being stalked by a crazy person with a terrible script they are trying to sell, press 3.
If you were disrespected by a B-list celebrity, press 4 to be connected with the National Enquirer.
If you were disrespected by an A-list celebrity, press 5 to be connected with a documentary filmmaker.
If there was a potted plant involved press 6. Do not text photos.
If you are an important person and were disrespected by a maître d who said you weren’t getting seated without a reservation, press 7.
If you are a maître d’ who was threatened by a Sundancer without dinner reservations, shouting “Do you know who I am?” please seat them, spit on their food, and then press 8.
The whole affair would be easier to deal with if the ski conditions were better. But it is what it is, so the best we can do is keep our heads down and try not to draw the attention of the Attorney General. This, too, shall pass.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.