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The Mathematics of Sundance, or Size Doesn’t Matter; Inverse Proportionality in Park City

The Mathematics of Sundance, or Size Doesn't Matter; Inverse Proportionality in Park City

With the Sundance Film Festival right around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to re-publish a little post I wrote some time ago in the waning days of the 2008 fest. Originally published at the now defunct FilmCatcher.com, the post, titled “The Mathematics of Sundance; or, Size Doesn’t Matter: Inverse Proportionality in Park City, Utah” seems just as timely on the eve of this year’s event.

The main thrust of the piece was this: “Someday, statisticians will study the ‘Sundance inverse-proportional-law,’ which can be applied in two, equally, but converse rules: 1) the greater the magnitude of buzz that a film goes into the festival with, the lesser quality said film will be, and 2) the lesser the magnitude of buzz surrounding a film, the better it will be.”

Comparing a number of hyped films with a number of small films that actually turned out to be very good, I wrote:

“Perhaps the “expectation variable” gets in the way of the “commercial viability” constant, but whatever the reason, Sundance 2008 offered the proofs once again: Variety’s 25 pre-fest “Target Titles” were filled with duds (“The Great Buck Howard,” “Incendiary,” “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” “What Just Happened?”), while the festival’s revelations (“Ballast,” “Momma’s Man”) were nowhere to be seen. To be fair, Variety did include “Sugar,” Anne Boden and Ryan Fleck’s follow-up to “Half Nelson,” one of the festival’s strongest films. But rather than stay up all night in a bidding frenzy for “Sugar,” initially buyers seemed attracted to the festival’s worst titles likes flies to, well, excrement.”

And one more thought, that I hate to say will probably remain just as true next week:

“Here’s another inverse-proportional law: the bigger the festival gets, the less fun it is. More crowds, more traffic, more lines. The sub-freezing Park City event may very well be the least pleasant film festival in the world. Attendees, bundled from head to foot in Arctic wear, stuff into shuttle buses like Japanese salarymen, waiting to be taken on serpentine routes throughout the back roads of this oxygen-deficient Mountain town. Keep hydrated or headaches will seize the brain. And the festival’s most attended venues, the Racquet Club and Eccles Theatres, provide the same paltry nourishment between screenings: how many flabby turkey sandwiches can one person eat for dinner in a week?”

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