As we, the indie-film hordes, prepare to head out to the sub-freezing temperatures of Park City on Wednesday and Thursday, here forth are five of the blazing ironies of the Sundance Film Festival:
1. To see the least commercial entries at the festival, you must survive the most commercial areas of the festival: Does it not strike anyone odd that Main Street, home to the horrible hawking of everything from movies to pet-food, is the permanent home of Sundance’s new avant-garde space, New Frontier on Main. To see the Martha Colburn installation, you must suffer through countless filmmakers carrying masks, sandwich-boards, bullhorns, etc, in additon to the rabble trying to get into some party at Cicero’s or Harry O’s, etc. The only movie venue on Main, the old Egyptian theater, also plays most of the World Cinema entries. I’ll never forget my days hiking up Main Street, trying to avoid the chaos as I try to catch some obscure entry from South Korea or Singapore.
2. The most buzzed about films going into the festival are forgotten going out: So which ones will be it this year? Who is spreading rumors getting us psyched about films that are just going to waste our time? Is James Strouse’s debut “Grace is Gone” going to fullfill on its promise of solid drama, as advanced buzz seems to indicate? Will “Black Snake Moan” be as good as Film Comment’s Nathan Lee said it is, and if it isn’t, might we ask how he’s the only critic to have written about it? What about other tabloid-grabbing titles like little-girl rape and torture movies “Hounddog” and “An American Crime”? I guess I’m most curious to see how those smaller movies bubbling steadily under the radar will fare, such as Jason Kohn’s Brazilian documentary “Send a Bullet,” Gina Kim’s Korean-American drama “Never Forever,” JJ Lask’s meta-comedy “On the Road with Judas” and Craig Zobel’s docu-fiction hyriid “The Great World of Sound” — all movies I’d heard good things about and were recently touted in Screen International’s “US Stars of Tomorrow” feature.
3. The films you want to see, you don’t have time to see: How many critics who placed “Old Joy” on their top ten list were at Park City and yet failed to catch it at the festival. What sort of world is Sundance if the best, most vital movies of the festival (“Tarnation,” etc.) are those that are overlooked. How many people last year missed “Half Nelson” and “Iraq in Fragments,” I wonder, because they had to catch “Alpha Dog,” currently listed as one of the worst movies of the year. If Sundance only stripped its selection of such duds, imagine how much better a viewing experience the fest would be.
4. No matter how diverse the film’s selection, journalists will identify specific trends that define the selection: We can’t help it. Writers, we just have to simplify everything and fit it into a neat little trendy box, don’t we? Whether it’s political films — oh, yes, there are a lot of them, but jeez, can’t just about every film be defined as political — or sexually risque films (there are a lot of them, too, but we’re talking about independent films, of course they need a little sex to stand out from the crowd), we will find a way to compartmentalize and define and narrow for your reading enjoyment. And don’t be surprised to find lots of lists, too. We’re very good at lists.
5. The more rich you are, the more gifts you need: What the hell is gifting, and how has this new verb become such an integral part of the entertainment business. I just got an email for the “Gifting Lounge,” a place that has decided to take the high road and disguise its gross gluttonous impulse by giving celebrities a gift card so they can “select their own swag in the privacy of their own home.” “This is not your typical swag house,” reads the press release. “No more heavy bags full of useless merchandise, no more oversized clothing or oddly colored promotional items.” Oh, I feel much better now.