The Calm Before the 'Dance
by John Bernstein
Just before a tornado rips your quaint little farm home from it’s aging
foundations there is an eerie calmness and bizarre tranquillity in the air.
That’s what it’s like in Utah right now — the calm before the storm. It’s
Wednesday afternoon. I have already been here for more than 24 hours. This
year, I thought I’d ease into the Sundance experience for a change. I
thought it would be interesting to see all of the activity as last minute
preparations were being made for the 11 day non-stop barrage of films,
panels, parties, and P.R. While the Sundance staff is taking care of last
minute items on their big festival “to-do list,” it is quieter here than I
expected. No filmmakers. No press corps. No posters plastered around the
venues. Even the bulk the festival’s 500 volunteers won’t arrive until just
before tonight’s volunteer party at the Mercatto. I feel like the Neil
Armstrong of the independent film galaxy. I’m taking the first step onto a
uninhabited planet. Soon, Planet Sundance will again be colonized with
throngs of filmmakers, celebrities, publicists, members of the entertainment
press, film wannabees, and the plain-old curious.
“It seems like today’s biggest challenge is getting the main staff members
their cell phones,” says Sue Elston from the festival’s administrative
staff. “That, and just setting up the office.”
The office, located in Park City’s Kimball Arts Center, will be jam-packed
with festival-goers from Thursday on. During the festival, Kimball is the
nerve center of Sundance. It’s the home of the Sundance administrative
office, the press office, and the place where lucky package holders pick up
their tickets. It’s also where festival-goers can leave messages for each
other. Right now the normally overflowing message board is sparsely
populated with about 50 rainbow push pins, and one lone message scribbled on
the back of a business card (By the way, Matt, you’re supposed to call your
Most of the activity at Kimball right now consists of Rene, a volunteer from
St. Louis stuffing hundreds of plastic bags with a Sundance fleece
sweatshirt, Entertainment Weekly lip balm, a pen, a Gap hat, and an Absolut
key chain. These particular goodies are earmarked for only for volunteers,
but most festival-goers are bound to leave Sundance ’97 with their body
weight in freebies.
Over at the Sundance information desk, the number of phone calls is starting
to pick up. “Almost every call is from someone looking for tickets,”
explains volunteer Mercedes Westphal. “Everybody wants to know how to get
into sold-out screenings. Even somebody from David Copperfield’s office
called to finagle tickets.” Apparently even the guy who made the Statue of
Liberty disappear can’t get in to see a film at this year’s fest.
“Even though our deadline was in November, most pre-festival calls were from
people trying to weasel press credentials out of us,” says Lilliana Cabal,
Office Manager of the Sundance Press Office. “We get our share of strange
calls, too. One member of the press called just to ask if her calf-high
boots would be sufficient enough for getting from screening to screening.”
Whether you have the proper boot height or not, it is still possible to get
tickets. While most of the big premieres have been sold out for quite a
while, a few tickets remained for over 90 different Sundance screenings (as
of noon on Wednesday), but they will be snapped up quickly when the masses
start arriving on Thursday morning.
As the sun sets on Wednesday evening , the Utah calmness finally starts
turning into excitement and anticipation, and the local residents are
bracing themselves for the impact of the expected 10,000 people who will be
descending on Park City. Everybody to the cellar! There’s a storm a’brewin.
Here comes Sundance ’97.