My first Sundance was in 1998 — I fondly remember meeting and then doing interviews with everyone from Darren Aronofsky to David Mamet, Julia Loktev to Liz Garbus, and many many others. (What ever happened to Max Makowski?) I think I’ve been to Sundance every year since (actually there may have been another one in there somewhere that I skipped.) Ten years on, I admit the sheen has worn thin and the thrill has dampened. Now all the festivals blur into a decade of freezing my ass off, endless, circuitous shuttle rides, and dozens of mediocre, forgettable movies along with a small percentage of gems. Or needles in a hackstack, if you prefer a different metaphor. Of course, I have some regrets about not going to Park City this year. But here are five reasons why I’m not feeling so bad.
1.) The best movies end up at New Directors/New Films. While one would always like to say they were the FIRST person to discover “Pi,” “Tarnation,” “Old Joy,” etc, the fact of the matter is that those of us who don’t go to Sundance will be able to catch the best of the fest a few months later in New York.
2.) I never liked it. Those who know me might remember that my favorite pasttime in Park City is kveching about something: Being too cold, too tired, too hungry, too frustrated about something. I’m not my self at high altitudes, dehyrdrated and stressed about deadlines. In fact, I’m the worst of my self. And so, apparently, is every other journalist. For more, see the infamous moment: “Ruthe and Me: My Sundance Enemy” from 2005.
3.) I can’t afford it. With print magazines folding like first-time poker players and Internet-based media still struggling to come up with workable economic models, there’s just not enough money to go around for the average freelancer. If there are bloggers going to Park City this year, somehow thinking they can break even financially, please tell me how you intend to survive. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m tired of being underpaid for the privilege of being overworked.
4.) Let’s face it: If your’re going to go to a film festival, make it Cannes. While it’s a wonderful feeling to discover a first-time American director with talent, this is a rare and remarkable once-in-a-Sundance moment that I’d trade in for seeing 10 first-rate world auteur films in the French Riviera every year. Too many Sundance films are soft, star-studded and don’t take enough risks. (Why any programmer would let a movie like “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” see the light of day is beyond me.) And the ones that do take risks, oftentimes, don’t work. (See “On the Road with Judas,” “Somebodies,” “One Point O.”)
5.) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Sundance may be one of the worst places to see a movie, particularly a small, intimate movie that needs a patient and careful eye. Venues such as the Eccles and Racquet Club are enormous, cavernous places that do little to help a film’s first viewing. Early exiting patrons at the Racquet Club create a thunderous clump on the floorboards. The Library Theatre has terrible sightlines. And because of tight schedules, everyone is on the run, thinking about the next place they need to go or how to get some decent sustenance to keep their rumbling tummies from interfering with their viewing enjoyment. This is probably the same for Cannes and Toronto, but because there’s always a 30-minute shuttle ride from one venue to another in Park City, time is even shorter at Sundance.
Perhaps because of the economic collapse, fewer big Indiewood companies and low-key sales buzz, this year’s Sundance may be more enjoyably mellow than past years. This, I would miss experiencing: Imagine a Sundance where you weren’t elbowing folks for a spot on the bus or an empty theater seat or entry to a cocktail party, but could actually take your time, take a breath, and think about cinema, in peace.