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Why Journalists Are Not ‘The Worst People at Sundance’

Why Journalists Are Not 'The Worst People at Sundance'

Sure, journalists are soul-sucking vampires, but in her final dispatch from the Sundance Film Festival, Wired’s Jordan Crucchiola describes them as being something worse: mean.

In a piece politely titled “Journalists, Please Stop Being the Worst People at Sundance,” Crucchiola takes issue with what she characterizes as an overwhelming attitude of entitlement and apathy. Sure, Park City is full of officious publicists and snooty stars, not to mention perpetually intoxicated leeches who couldn’t tell a Duplass brother from a Main Street lamppost, but the real problem is the writers who just can’t seem to enjoy themselves.

It’s not that journalists tend to be highly critical. (Everyone’s a critic; we’re just lucky enough to be paid for it.) It’s that no one is acknowledging that this is awesome. My second night here, I went to a showing of the horror movie It Follows; inside, a man shouted to anyone listening, “Nothing like a midnight movie at the Egyptian [Theater], right?!” No, sir, there is not. But this is exactly the type of enthusiasm I have come not to expect from my peers at Sundance (or really anywhere 10 or more journalists gather for work purposes). Yes, we’re here on business. Yes, we represent our respective companies. But there’s a big difference between being balls-out unprofessional and simply wiping that put-upon look off your face like you’ve got so many more interesting places to be, or like you’re so much better than the line you’re waiting in.

I’m not going to take Crucchiola’s on one at a time. (For that, you may check my Twitter feed, where my colleagues have been hashing it out for hours.) She evidently had a lousy Sundance, which I fully concede is a total bummer. Based on Crucchiola’s previous articles and her Twitter feed, she saw some pretty good movies, and apparently managed to connect with plenty of civilian filmgoers — which, even as a hardened and terribly, terribly cynical writer is still one of the most enjoyable parts of going to a film festival. But she apparently got no love from her fellow journalists, they of the put-upon faces and pretensions to cool kid-dom. So on behalf of all journalists, the ones I know, the ones I don’t, and those I awkwardly struck up an initial conversation with this year: I’m sorry.

I’ve been where Crucchiola is, or at least where, reading her piece, I can imagine her to be. I would guess that most of the colleagues I now count myself lucky to know have as well. When I started going to festivals, I knew almost no one, and for a year or two, it stayed that way. In the era before social media, it was difficult to identify any but the most prominent critics on sight, and though I might have struck up (or more accurately timidly consented to) the occasional conversation while waiting for a press screening to start — after first fighting a prolonged battle to get into those screenings in the first place — the chances of my neighbor being someone whose work I already knew and admired were minuscule.

That state of affairs was disheartening, and I’m sure I even resented it. When you don’t know anyone, it’s easy to feel as if others have closed ranks against you. I remember reading an innocuous quote from a New York critic about how she and her colleagues, all critics I admired, would go out for drinks after screenings, and subsequently sinking into a funk. They knew each other and they didn’t know me, and that was never going to change. Years later, I have at least a nodding acquaintance with most of the people in that once impossibly-distant group, and I’ve found a few friends of my own to have post-screening drinks with.

The thing is, most of those friends don’t live where I live. Film festivals are where we connect, cramming a year’s worth of socializing into bus rides and unhealthy meals, or at least wedding a flesh-and-blood presence and a handshake to a Twitter avatar. We are not, as a group, the most socially ept of humans: Imagine a middle-school dance with no popular kids. But I like to think we recognize that in each other, and that we try to make allowances when some new face edges cautiously up to the group. Are we always as welcoming as we could be? I’m definitely not. And I still often find myself of being the one awkwardly extending a hand and sheepishly muttering words to the effect of “I love your work.” But I’ve done it enough to learn that, vastly more often than not, the writer on the other end of that painfully awkward gesture will smile and say thanks. Sometimes they’ll talk for a minute, and if you’re really lucky and you’ve built up a body of work — or at least launched some reasonably perceptive tweets — they might even know who you are.

I don’t know Jordan Crucchiola, and based on her nebulous account, it’s hard to tell what steps if any she took to get to know her fellow journalists. But I don’t know how you can spend a day, let alone three or more, at a film festival and not hear a critic raving about something they’ve seen. The praise for “Dope,” “The Witch,””Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “Z for Zachariah” and “The Diary of Teenage Girl,” to name only a handful of breakout hits from this year’s Sundance, may not have been uniform, but throw a rock in the Yarrow Hotel bar and you’d hit a critic who loved it. (Per “Barton Fink,” throw it hard.) Critics can be cynical and short-tempered — the long, often frustrated wait to get into movies in Sundance’s crammed first few days occasioned plenty of inflamed outbursts — but they love what they do, even if not always the conditions under which they have to do it. I don’t know of any figures to this effect, but I’d wager that a substantial percentage of Sundance’s accredited press, maybe even a majority, struggle to turn a profit on covering the festival, no matter how hard they try to keep their expenses down. I shared a two-room apartment with three other critics, all veteran writers; last year, I shared a bed.

We are, nonetheless, the lucky ones: Crucchiola is right about that. There are people who would kill to be in our shoes, although they might think twice after a few years walking in them. Maybe the critics she ran into were tired or hungry or oxygen-deprived; maybe they’d just gotten urgent emails from three different editors or told the interview that was going to pay for their trip had just fallen through; maybe a few of them were jerks. (Some of us certainly are, and we can all act like one at times.) But as Tomris Laffly put it in her excellent guide for Sundance newbies, one of the primary rules for festivalgoing is “Be nice to people.” Do that, and people, even journalists, tend to be nice back.

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