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Sundance Day One: Two Films and Two Parties

Sundance Day One: Two Films and Two Parties

Well it is not as cold as we all thought it would be, but there is snow everywhere.  My first rented car was not a 4 wheel drive and so I could not drive up the unpaved, snow-packed road to my host’s large house in the Wasatch mountains.  I got lost and the sun set, a beautiful pink sky over white mountains, really spectacular.  The highway patrolman was kind enough to lead me up the dark mountain road to where my host awaited me and my hostess laid out a delicious meal of vegetarian quiche, green salad and cherry pie which we ate after a good shot of scotch and where we got to know each other a bit. Their home accommodates their 7 grown children and their 14 grandchildren.  Since no one is visiting now, we have a third of the house for ourselves.  It is surrounded by snowy acres of land where deer, elk and moose roam. My hosts are friends of my friend and former Sundance roommate from the early days in the 80s at Sundance when he, Todd McCarthy and I used to share a condo in Deer Valley.  Harlan Jacobson of Talk Cinema invited Peter and me to stay with him again.  I just saw him last month in Cuba at the Havana Film Festival, and this continuation is perfect.  However so far, I am alone here in Sundance, driving unfamiliar cars up unfamiliar roads, because my partner Peter was felled by the flu and had to stay home.  We hope he gets better so he can join me on Saturday.
Job One on Day One was to return my car and find a 4 wheel drive somewhere, which I did online from Budget, so I returned to the airport, returned my first car at one company and went to the other, took the car and got lost again returning to Park City.  I thought I would reach Nebraska as I realized I was driving on the I 80 East way too far.  Saw some spectacular mountains until I turned off at Castle Rock, read about the Mormon’s migration through the area and found my way back where I registered with the festival with very little trouble.  
I thought I had plenty of time for the 6:00 pm press screening of the Marc Silver-directed, Gael Garcia Bernal-produced documentary, Who is Dayani Cristal? except my car got stuck in a snowbank and I had to wait for AAA to tow me out.  However, I still made it to this beautiful and very sad film about the too well known story of young migrants coming from South and Central America to North America in pursuit of the American Dream.  Those that die in the Arizona desert (the numbers of deaths per year has reached 2,000 in spite of increasing the size of the border patrol and building a wall between Mexico and USA which cost billions of dollars to build – money that could have better been spent on human beings seeking a better life from countries our own country has exploited for the past two centuries.  
An anonymous body found in the desert sparked the beginning of a real-life human drama as a group formed to track down the identities and seek the families of those who die so anonymously found his home in Honduras, the former Banana Republic and the poorest of all Latin American countries.  The human face this documentary puts on this cycle of human migration, like salmon spawning upstream, was inexplicably beautiful and deeply moving.  
With an hour to kill, I went to my favorite sports store near the Holiday Village (where my films are showing) and bought me a sleeping shirt with the motto, “My second bike is a bike”, listened to a funny story of the salesman about a colleague, and then went to stand in line for an hour for the next film.  What’s great about these cattle lines you must stand in for an hour (I’ll send a picture next time) is you see people and actually can catch up with news.  Richard Lorber of Kino Lorber and several other brands of showcase films was my partner in line, and I got to hear news not only from him but all the friends also lining up five deep.  Richard picked up 129 films last year.
Discussions with peers are so valuable as they are all about the new forms of distribution, theatrical and digital, that are quickly evolving by being tested, some working well, others being discarded, and mostly being shared among distributors and theater exhibitors.  The previous day I had attended the Arthouse Convergence, now in its 6th year and grown from 20 to 350 attendees.  The energy was incredible, again with sharing among all the arthouse owners of what works or does not work and what are the new challenges they are all facing.  I attended only one session on Day Three, to hear my much admired colleague, Ula  Sneigowska the Director of Programming for The American Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland and US in Progress (for films in post).  US in Progress is held in November during The American Film Festival and also in July in Paris! I was lucky to be on all 3 editions’ jury.  Only in its second year, it can boast of 3 films here in Sundance which were in post production when I last saw them — The winner in Paris: A Teacher, and last November in Wroclaw: Milkshake and I Used to be Darker.  All are in the next section of the festival and it looks like a good relationship between US in Progress and Sundance is beginning.
Ula previously curated an arthouse theater in Warsaw for ten years and so was an authoritative speaker on behalf of CICAE, the International Association of Arthouse Cinemas on a panel moderated by David Bordwell from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  The panel, The Digital ArtHouse: Lessons and Experiences from Europecomposed entirely of women, included Sophie DeVinck, a senior researcher of iMinds-SMIT, a think tank based at the Free University Brussels (Vrij Universitat Bruxelles),  devoted to studying digital challenges facing the European film industry; Fatima Djoumer, head of international relations for Cinemas Europa, an association of theater owners throughout Europe and extending to the Americas, Asia and Africa, and Ann Overbergh of BAM Art (, the Flemish (Belgian) institute for the audiovisual and cinema, visual and media arts dedicated to keeping these creative sectors informed and knowledgeable in contemporary programming, work and business models.  The audience left feeling upbeat to hear there is more than merely adversarial relations possible between the distributors and the exhibitors.  In Europe the age-old rivalry, akin to “the farmer and the cowboy” syndrome in America seems to have been resolved when it comes to digitizing all the theaters and even keeping 35mm projectors working.
To return to Day One at Sundance, Ula and Karolina Pasternak, a Polish film journals and I exited Crystal Fairy with mixed feelings which we discussed as we proceeded to the annual Indiewire Chili (cooked by Dana Harris herself!) party and then to Sundance’s official Day One party for filmmakers and the press.  Crystal Fairy’s director Sebastian Silva (The Maid) and his two Chilean brothers, Juan Andres and Jose Miguel are wonderful to watch, dryly funny, infinitely patient and totally accepting of the two young, naïve Americans who go on trip with them seeking mescaline.  Ula loved the film and the funniness of the Americans; Carolina and I both were put off by the typical American naiveté of the two young people.  I was especially peeved and even embarrassed by their neurotic self-centeredness.  It is only now, the following morning, as I write this that I realize the title Chrystal Fairy means much more because of the revelation of Isabelle which was witnessed by the others.  Now I love the film and once again congratulate Chile on what this new generation of filmmakers is bringing to the world.  Everyone is aware that Chile is outpacing Argentina in producing new and interesting films in Latin America. But watch out for Peru which is gaining on them from what I hear.  Certainly another prize winner from Palm Springs which first played in Havana, The Cleaner (El Limpiador) is a great beginning for its director, Adian Saba.  EL Limpiador will next be in Guadalajara Film Festival in March.

The parties were filled with good people we knew and new acquaintances like Jacques Telemaques of Filmmakers Alliance and Todd Goldman (, finally realizing this feature film worked on for the past 17 years (!), Melissa a beautiful young actress caught in the drama of the house she and three other couch-surfers are staying and many others and Roger M. Mayer of Brooklyn Reptyle Films from Studio City California and here with his second film.  Coincidently, Melissa said as we were cruising the room at the Day One Party, her three roommates are also Polish.  Just as she said that, they appeared.  Three Lodz University graduates, these young women are at Sundance with their short, On Suffocation.  The director Jenifer Malmqvist ( turns out to be Swedish, her producer is French and their star is actually Polish.  This international mix of talent, even at the primarily American indie Sundance Film Festival, is so on the mark for me about why I love the film business.  The international mix of films and people creates an excitement and belief that films can and do change the world.
See you tomorrow!

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