Essays, opinions and rants

Sundance: The Aftermath

Sundance: The Aftermath

I fell down the rabbit fur-lined rabbit hole. By the second day of braving crowds to see new movies being screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, I was hooked to the point of beginning work on my own film script. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Working title: It Was Wonderful

Cast 

  • Family of 4 in Park City
  • Neighbor 1
  • Neighbor 2
  • Old Friend 1
  • Husband of Old Friend 1
  • Old Friend 2
  • Friend of Old Friend 2
  • Old Friend 3
  • Wife of Old Friend 3

Extras: Volunteers in silver Kenneth Cole puffy jackets, angry man, police, attractive people in black clothes

The plot: Old friends reconnect after an internet scam strands one without shelter during a film festival near the other’s home. The homeowner is initially reluctant to attend the festival, but the friends crashing at her house suck her into a vortex of cinema, popcorn, ewaitlists and freebies. The homeowner soon forgets what day it is or when the school bus is coming and is hopping shuttles to theaters and tossing out terms like ‘backstory’ almost like an insider. Good vibes ensue as everyone is charming as hell. More people drift through the visit who are also 100 percent cool. Neighbors 1 and 2 provide free movie tickets and even credentials to get into the music cafe.

Low-level hijinks involving parking build suspense, and there is a narrowly averted towing when Old Friend 1 and husband leave their car in the parking space at the scam rental property.  They also tempt fate by parking in lots reserved for pass holders even though they don’t actually have a pass, saying they’re “just dropping someone off.” The suspense is ultimately a tease because this works every time, and their car is never towed or ticketed.

A dreamy aura pervades the story, arising from sleep deprivation, a Wes Anderson-like moose-meets-tennis-ball encounter, a mysterious cache of shrunken British heads, and a recurring motif of gluten-free delicacies. At the end, departing flights are bizarrely on time and everyone promises to meet again next year. A coda involving Old Friend 2 rolling in to watch the Super Bowl and being served still more gluten free stuff even though she actually loves gluten is the final twist. (She had no idea those were lentil crackers!)

OK if you must know it’s a documentary, not a drama. Of course it’s real. Could you even make up something so cheerful? Who would believe it? 

It Was Wonderful is a handy metaphor for losing my Sundance virginity. I went in ambivalent and nervous about traffic and logistics, and came out in love and ready to commit to a future together.

While there was indeed some confusion and occasional desperation as people sought tickets or scrambled to figure out where they were supposed to be, there was also great energy. It is a profound thing to sit in a room with filmmakers who have devoted years of their lives, spent life savings and probably family members’ savings too, perhaps risked lives and limbs and generally gone through something resembling extremely protracted childbirth without anesthesia to make something to show you. And they’re hoping someone will buy their creation and share it with the world. Which may not happen.

Watching multiple movies in a day was an onslaught of storytelling that sped audiences around the world, through history and socioeconomic extremes, immersing us in the world of Other.

There was magic, too, in extra tickets dropping into our hands, volunteers’ kindnesses, the utter quiet inside theaters; Sundance films are not events where someone is going to eat noisily, talk loudly or neglect to silence their phone. People are mesmerized, filled with respect (except for occasionally in the lines to enter theaters, I heard).

A bunch of Sundance’s 2,200 volunteers travel on their own dimes to work the festival for free, and locals must enter and win a lottery for the honor of volunteering. Which now makes perfect sense. Really the whole thing was so delightful, Sundance’s next step could be to charge people a not-insignificant fee to volunteer.

To my knowledge we didn’t see anyone famous. One time I might have walked by Kirsten Dunst; who knows? We did see bunches of people who were extremely attractive, thin, well-coiffed, black-clad, serious-looking, of indeterminate age and deliciously fragrant as they hurried by. No idea who they were but their cologne choices were impeccable. Celebrity sightings were unnecessary, as it turned out. There was magic, mirth, energy and adventure in seeing old friends and new films, which was plenty to rock my world.

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