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LAist at Sundance: The Big Wrap-Up

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A quick shot of postcards from the Press Office. | Photo by Josh Tate

The first time I attended the Sundance Film Festival in 2007, I stayed until the festival's conclusion on Sunday. Never will I make that mistake again. While it did allow for a more leisurely pace, all the excitement (and most of the people) had left Park City by mid-week. So this year I once again planned an early Friday morning arrival and a late Tuesday night departure. I was able to see thirteen films, party three nights out of four and sit five feet away from Damien Rice during his amazingly casual concert at the ASCAP Music Cafe.

Of the films I saw, three were big disappointments (Grace, Big Fan and The Messenger); one was compelling but also mildly annoying (No Impact Man); one was funny but a little broad (Spring Breakdown); two were ambitious and flawed (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Bronson); two were hilarious (Humpday and Dead Snow); and four were absolutely first-rate (The Cove, Adventureland, When You're Strange and Reporter). Of all the films I saw, The Cove was the true standout. It should be required viewing for everyone.

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Of course, I had to sit behind a woman with HUGE HAIR! | Photo by Josh Tate

I've already discussed all of those films in some depth (here, here, here, here and here), so I won't re-visit them again. What I would like to do is relate a few other stories that didn't really fit in with my earlier film coverage. I'd also like to throw in a few tips and ideas to those who might decide to attend the film festival next year. Sundance (in fact, any large film festival) is an experience that any fan of cinema should try at least once in their life. I hope my coverage has served as some mild encouragement.

It almost feels wrong to say it, but my best experience at Sundance this year had nothing to do with a film. ASCAP set up a giant tent at the bottom of Main Street and provided daily concerts every afternoon to all festival credential holders (full roster here). I'd planned to go to several of the shows, but time flows quickly in Park City and it wasn't until Monday that I finally had a chance to make it. By the time I reached the tent, though, it was already at full capacity and the line to get in snaked down the block.

I figured it was worth a try to see if I was on the guest list and, by sheer luck, some douchebag from the Black Dynamite entourage was berating a festival volunteer when I arrived at the entrance. The douche eventually walked away incensed; the volunteer stormed away, handing the clipboard to another volunteer; and I walked up with a patient smile and flashed my press badge. For whatever reason, the new volunteer said my name sounded familiar and waved me through without ever checking the list. I was in without having to wait!

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Of course, as I said the tent was already full. When I walked in, I figured I was about sixty feet from the stage where Wynonna was screeching something about her life sucking and being fat. I gently squeezed ahead about ten feet and when Wynonna's set ended and her small group of fans exited, I was able to get about fifteen feet closer. It's here where serendipity struck again. What had to be the cutest volunteer at the festival--one Elizabeth Lyle--pulled me out of the crowd and let me stand at the back of the stage section.

I was still about twenty feet from the stage when Damien Rice ascended it carrying only a guitar. Amazingly, though, two girls right at the front left after he finished one song. I looked back to Elizabeth, pointed out the newly available space and she urged me forward. By the time I sat down in my new seat, I was sitting five feet from the stage right behind Joshua Leonard (brilliant in Humpday). Rice, one of my favorites, played for a solid forty-five minutes. I sat Indian-style on the floor looking up. It was as if I were in someone's living room.

That's one of the weird things about Sundance: there are so many things going on that it's pointless to fret about what you might be missing because you never know how things may turn out. On one day, I ran to catch a bus that was pulling away instead of walking and waiting for the next one that was sure to arrive soon. But by reaching that first bus, I was able to sit next to a director named Frazer Bradshaw who was at Sundance with his first feature, Everything Strange and New. He was a great guy; it was a cool conversation.

Of course, there are things you miss that you really wish you could have seen. My friend Jonathan saw a whole slew of movies that I would have loved to catch: Brooklyn's Finest, Lymelife, 500 Days of Summer, Sin Nombre, Endgame and Taking Chance. Other friends of mine took a day off from the festival to hit the empty ski slopes surrounding Park City. That would have been a great way to spend a day, too. All in all, though, I'm completely thrilled with the time I had. I'll certainly be back next year for the fourth year in a row.

I hope some of you out there reading this might be there, too. Like I said earlier, any cinema geek should try the Sundance Film Festival at least once. If you do decide to come, here are a few things you might want to keep in mind. First, go with a large group of people. You'll have more people to hang out with and will be able to rent one of the many huge, more cost-effective condos that surround Park City. What's more, you'll have a better chance of scoring tickets since you'll have more people to enter the byzantine ticket lottery.

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Try to get a press pass, too. I think people might be surprised at the gracious latitude shown by the Press Office when it comes to issuing credentials. If you don't already write for a film site, start doing so now. By November (when press applications are due), you should have enough content to demonstrate your bona fides as a writer. Once you have that pass, you'll be able to see virtually any movie you want at the festival. You'll also stand a better chance of getting into other festival events and parties.

The last thing I'd recommend -- and it makes me a tiny bit squeamish to say so, but I've learned my lesson -- is try to get your name out there in front of the publicist crowd. They are the ones who compile the guest lists for all of the free, booze-laden events and parties. I know it sounds a bit tawdry to some, but if you know any publicists who have films or events at the festival, reach out to them and see if they can help you out. Trust me, you'll be happier at the end of the night when your bar tab is $0 instead of $100.

Other than that, just go and have fun. See movies; attend parties; meet people. Park City can be a real hassle sometimes: it's cold; you can't park anywhere; cabs charge obscene rates for very short journeys; tickets to high-profile films can be almost impossible to get; you still have to wait in line even when you're on the guest list. At the end of the trip, though, it always seems like it's worth it. We had a bunch of first-timers in our condo this year, and I'm pretty sure that each of them had the time of their life. I know I did. See you next year!

(a few last interesting Sundance links...check 'em out!)

http://www.tft.ucla.edu/videos/interview/2009_sundance_art-and-copy/

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http://www.tft.ucla.edu/videos/interview/2009_sundance_bill-barminski/

http://www.tft.ucla.edu/videos/interview/2009_sundance_no-impact-man/

http://www.itunes.com/sundance/

http://festival.sundance.org/2009/videos/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0b0eFXqRaw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v319aHuzt2Q

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKKII5c4BZA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hB7eXhee3M

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4KGKD3qUOg

http://www.ascap.org/eventsawards/events/sundance/2009/coverage/01.aspx