The second full day at Sundance 2007 was busy, breezy, and just plain cold. The snow started to fall again, and it seemed like we were headed for a nasty storm. Fortunately, it ceased by late afternoon but that didn’t raise temperatures by much. Am I just becoming older and whinier? For some reason, Sundance feels colder this year than I’ve ever experienced. Who knows.
The first film for me today was Uli Gaulke’s Comrades in Dreams, which is screening in the World Documentary Competition. It’s a meditative and meandering piece about four different cinema owners in four very different parts of the globe (North Korea, India, Burkina Faso, and Wisconsin USA). The link is supposed to be their shared love of uniting films with audiences. I found this point sorta dulled by both repetition and tiresome wandering, though the photography and certain moments, were really memorable. Expect to see this one play many more American festivals, because its cinephiliac heart is really in the right place, but overall it was a disappointment for me. Jarod saw the Austin-lensed Teeth, which certainly got people talking. I predict that will get distribution within days.
I hit up a few more screenings afterwards, and eventually found myself venturing to the Filmmaker magazine 15th anniversary party, which was a good deal of fun. Following that, it was off to the “Washington Party,” hosted by the state’s film programs plus Seattle-based record label Sub Pop (with music acts Low, The Album Leaf, and Death Vessel filling the bill). It was around this time that I needed to make a decision: would I see the buzzed-about feature, Grace is Gone at 10 p.m.? Or would I try to see Gregg Araki’s new film Smiley Face at 11:30?
Jarod and I wound up at the Smiley Face pre-party at Riverhorse and I was totally torn. I assumed Grace is Gone would be good, but unsure if it would really serve my programming duties (often times, the big Sundance buys are the ones that sit out later festival play). Only problem was, I could get into the industry screening of Grace is Gone with my pass, but required a hard ticket to access the public premiere of Smiley Face. And, I’m as big a Gregg Araki fan as you’ll ever find. Conflicted and preoccuppied, I then realized that my source for a Smiley Face ticket (First Look publicist Dan Goldberg) was nowhere to be found. So, I was due to miss both screenings out of sheer indecision. Defeated, I joined a small group headed to the United Talent Agency party. We had invitations, but the line was a nightmare… so no Grace is Gone, no Smiley Face, and no party. Saturday night was about to end a total bust… until I remembered that I was at a festival (dammit), and needed to get spontaneous.
With 15 minutes to go and no ticket, I left my group and hopped in a cab for the Smiley Face premiere. Got to The Library theater with five minutes remaining… spotted Dan Goldberg in the corridor, and he happily handed me the ticket I needed. It all worked! I settled in for Araki’s 420-ton departure. Smiley Face was well worth the journey. Starring Anna Farris, the film follows an out-of-work actress during a day spent wandering around L.A., when she’s very very stoned. In no uncertain terms, this is a stoner comedy… but a good one. Underneath the haze and hemp, lurks a heart and soul which keeps Smiley Face running smooth. There have been so many ill-advised attempts at stoner movies, but this one delivers in inventive ways. Not only do you have Araki’s spirited and playful style, but you also have Farris, in a tour de force performance as the perpetually baked Jane. I was particularly struck by the fact that this could be the first stoner comedy from a female perspective (even though it was written and directed by two men). Stoner movies usually focus on high guys (Cheech & Chong, Harold & Kumar, etc.), so it’s refreshing to have a woman take the reins of THC laughs.
A nice surprise in Smiley Face is an amusing supporting role by John Krasinski, in which he plays a complete and total nerd (in Office terms, here he’s more Dwight than Jim). Also, be on the lookout for the film’s eventual soundtrack. Like all Araki projects, Smiley Face boasts terrific song choices, with music from sources as varied as Ladytron, REO Speedwagon, Mojave 3, Styx, The Stone Roses, and more. In addition, I’m really happy for the film’s screenwriter, Dylan Haggerty, who was in attendance tonight. Dylan has screened a few shorts at SXSW over the years, including the classics Questions & Answers and Day 37 (both with Kent Osborne). Coincidentally, Dylan’s work always played in our “Midnight Shorts” section at SXSW… so just goes to show that his first produced feature would be a midnight film as well.
Biggest Buzz Films of the Day: Teeth, Grace is Gone
Film I’m Most Curious About Tomorrow: Robinson Devor’s Zoo
Party of the Day: the Filmmaker magazine 15th anniversary soiree
Best Swag: Complimentary cupcakes as we left the midnight sceening of Smiley Face (you’d understand if you saw the film)
The “I really sound like that?” Award: My video interview with Tamara from iKlipz, during our cocktail patrty.