Sundance 2015: Day 6

Morning View

Director of Programming James McNally is attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival from January 20th to February 1st.

Festival Day 4

Even though my boss, FOC (Film Office Coordinator) Kevin had offered to cover off the morning office shift, I was still up pretty early. Today it warmed up into the 50s Fahrenheit (not even sure what it is in Celsius, but it was nice) and I didn’t mind getting out early for a walk and some coffee. That’s my morning view in the picture above. I had my first success with the eWaitlist, grabbing number 61 for a noon screening (the premiere, actually!) of Bill and Turner Ross’s new documentary Western. It was out (up?) at the Temple Theatre which is on only one shuttle line so I made sure to get there in plenty of time. And then I found out I could line up for a volunteer ticket and the line only had four people ahead of me, so I cancelled my eWaitlist number as advised, and had no trouble getting a ticket. The volunteer handing out the tickets said they haven’t used up their allotment for any screening so far, so it might be worth taking the slightly inconvenient trip out there more often.

Western is as beautiful and immersive as you’d expect from the filmmakers behind Tchoupitoulas (2012). Nobody can immerse you in the “placeness” of a place as wonderfully as the Ross Brothers, and they deftly capture the spirit of a border region in southwest Texas. But I think the film frustrated me a little bit, and will likely frustrate mainstream audiences even more. Their previous films were patient observations of people in specific places, and the new film is no exception. But in this case, there are a lot of external forces at work, from Mexican drug cartels to anti-immigration Texas “Minutemen” and with only the barest of contexts, the characters in the film (a border town mayor and a cattle broker) remain a little too mysterious. I’m hoping to watch it again (hopefully at Hot Docs) and maybe my opinion will change. It’s certainly a worthwhile addition to their oeuvre, and the goodwill displayed between the people of Piedras Negras and Eagle Pass may put the US immigration debate in a different light. I just wish I knew a little bit more about all the political currents that were buffeting our characters. Now that I’ve used that word, I’m reminded of the many scenes of ominous lightning and then finally a storm in the film. Perhaps the forces I’m trying to understand are just as mysterious and unknowable as the lightning and the floods. In that case, I’m sure the film will creep up on me as time goes by.

Ross Brothers and Baby

I’m disappointed to have had to miss the Q&A to rush to work my next screening. I’m curious as to what the audience thought. But I was already on my way back to the Yarrow Hotel Theatre, where we were premiering Doc Shorts Program 1. I recognized one of the producers for Polish short Object and it turned out that I had met Katya at Hot Docs last spring, when she was the producer of The Supreme, another great short film from Poland. I also recognized Joe Callander from the same Hot Docs, where he brought his feature doc Life After Death. This time he was presenting a short called Midnight, Three & Six. And we had yet another Hot Docs alumna in Kitty Green (Ukraine is Not a Brothel, 2014) here with her short The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul.

After our screening got underway, we went back to the Film Office to be available for any filmmaker requests, but I was able to leave before 5:00pm to get to a Press & Industry screening of another documentary, The Russian Woodpecker, directed by Chad Gracia. This is one wild magic carpet ride of a film. Its protagonist is an eccentric Ukrainian artist and theatre director, and when he comes up with a rather outlandish conspiracy theory about the cause of the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, the film takes a real theatrical turn. Placing this in the context of recent protests and war in Ukraine makes it even more surreal. It’s a fantastic film, but it’s difficult to know how much “truth” there is in it. It’s a bit like seeing a 9/11 “truther” narrative in a more volatile setting. It’s unsettling and extremely compelling.

I’m back at the condo I’m sharing with the team from the Montclair Film Festival. It’s just 9:00pm but I have to go back out to the Library Theatre at 11:00pm since we’re presenting a short film in front of a Midnight section film. Luckily, the Library Theatre is less than five minutes walk away. Luckier still, the feature is Hellions, by Canadian legend Bruce McDonald. I’m doubtful I’ll get to stay and see it, but it will be nice to meet him in the green room beforehand.

Also, for the next two days, I have the early shift (8:00am onward) at the Film Office and so I’ll want to get to bed as soon as I can tonight. So glad I’ve finally been able to see some films, and tomorrow I’m looking forward to a lunch put on by Telefilm Canada. Lots of people I know will be there and it’s being held at the nicest restaurant in Park City.

Sundance 2015: Day 5

Stand Here and Think of Someone You Love

Director of Programming James McNally is attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival from January 20th to February 1st.

Festival Day 3

I had a slightly better night’s sleep last night (thanks earplugs!) but was still up around 7:30am. I didn’t need to be at the Egyptian Theatre until 10:00am but ended up down on Main Street around 9:00am. However, trying to find coffee in downtown Park City is tough! Lots of the Sundance venues have free coffee but they don’t open until 10:00am. In any case, I found a nice breakfast spot called the Main Street Deli that serves breakfast stuff from 7:30am-11:30am, so I’ll probably have a proper breakfast at some point next week. There was a pretty big lineup but it was shorter than the lineup at Java Cow, the only other place I found that had coffee. I ordered a bagel with cream cheese which for some reason took about as long to arrive as if I had ordered a full breakfast. By the time I took it to go, I was racing to get to the Egyptian by about 9:45am.

This morning’s premiere was for the Doc Shorts 2 lineup, which consisted of just two longer films, but one of them (It’s Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise) featured Lena Dunham as producer (she’s also in the film), so we had a pretty robust press line. Lots of cameras, and interviews not just of Lena Dunham and director Matt Wolf (who directed the excellent TEENAGE) but of the other film team, from Abandoned Goods, which was great for them. They had the “opening band” slot which might have made them feel overshadowed, but instead brought them a bigger audience and more press interest.

There were a LOT of publicists in the room, and I actually recognized one I first met at TIFF 2013 when she was a junior publicist in LA. She just moved to New York to take a more senior position, so it’s really nice to be following her career and see her doing well. And despite the presence of such a large entourage, Lena herself was really low-key and lovely.

Posters at Sundance

After the screening we had about 90 minutes to ourselves, so I wandered along Main Street and popped into a few of the little brand “venues” where you can get free coffee and swag. I ended up signing up for the SundanceNow Doc Club, described as a “Netflix for docs.” I’m not even sure it will work in Canada, despite the sales guy’s insistence. I have a 30-day free trial, in any case.

I headed over to the Yarrow Hotel cinema early and ended up going into Fresh Market, which seems like one of the only grocery stores in all of Park City. Luckily, I was able to use one of my “volunteer grub stubs” to get a free lunch: a ham and swiss sandwich, a small bag of chips and a can of pop. I bought a few other snacks for later and then headed to the cinema. Our press line for Shorts Program 5 featured Riz Ahmed and Gordy Hoffman (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brother), two fairly high profile directors, but everything went really smoothly. In fact, I was pretty happy to escort Gordy and his mum (who was using a walker) up to the green room in the hotel’s employee elevator. The hotel is only two stories high, like many buildings here, but they didn’t have a regular elevator. While in the elevator, Gordy looked at my credential badge and told me my name was familiar, which felt sort of nice. I wonder if he remembers this review I wrote of Love Liza, a film he wrote and in which his brother starred. If I remember correctly, he won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award here at Sundance for that film.

I also had another nice interaction with Riz Ahmed. He didn’t sit through the film, opting instead to give his ticket to a friend. While he was inside waiting to be acknowledged during the intro, I took his ticket to the lobby and waited for his friend to arrive. When the film started, he went upstairs to where the green room was, but just sat on one of the couches outside in one of the public areas of the hotel. A group of ladies drinking wine were up there and began to talk to him rather a lot. I grabbed him and put him back into the now empty green room, where he stretched out on the couch for a rest. Another happy filmmaker!

From there it was back to the Film Office to man the desk until closing time at 6pm. For the first time so far, I had a free evening and a chance to see a film. However, I’ve had no luck with the eWaitlist system, and I missed my chance at getting on the list for all three films I wanted to see tonight. It’s just 8:30pm but my chances of seeing anything are pretty slim, so I was rather hoping to go out for some food or drinks with some of the many people I know who are in town. Unfortunately there isn’t any great way to connect with everyone at once. I tweeted a couple of times, but if people are in a screening, the tweet scrolls away pretty quickly. Texting individually would feel a bit too intrusive, not to mention time-consuming.

So I’ll probably have an early night, and hopefully plan a little better for the days ahead.

Sundance 2015: Day 4

Inside the Prospector Cinema

Director of Programming James McNally is attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival from January 20th to February 1st.

Festival Day 2

Incredibly busy day today. We had the first screening of Shorts Program 2 at 11:30 but we were there at 10:30 for a press line. Before that, I’d been at the Film Office since 8:00am doing more filmmaker check ins. And where yesterday was pretty quiet, today was bananas. I think we had six film teams check in between 9:00am and 10:00am this morning, which left us racing off to get to the cinema for our press line. Luckily the screening was at the Prospector, which was only a 5 minute walk away.

After that, we were back to the office for a while and then we were able to attend a lunch reception for the International Shorts filmmakers. It was held right next to the Library Theatre, which is also conveniently right next to where I’m staying, so after some much-needed food and a beer, I popped back for a 45-minute nap. While at the lunch, I got to meet Riz Ahmed (most recently he played Jake Gyllenhaal’s sidekick in Nightcrawler), whose first short film Daytimer is playing in Park City tomorrow. He’s also a rapper back in the UK, and we talked about a Muslim punk band called The Kominas, who were featured in a doc called Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam which was distributed in Canada by KinoSmith when I was working there.

The nap was important because we had a very busy evening of back-to-back-to-back shorts screenings at the Redstone Cinemas, which are quite far from the centre of things. There was also a car accident on the highway on our way, which, combined with the beginning of rush hour, led to a considerable delay for us and for our filmmakers trying to make their own way out there. The press line for Shorts Program 4 began at 5:30pm with the screening at 6:30pm, while the press line for the Animation Spotlight began at 6:15 with the screening at 7:00pm. Then we had a press line at 8:30pm for a 9:30pm screening of Shorts Program 3.

Symphony 42 Poster

Getting back from the Redstone was also a bit of a challenge. Luckily, all four of us from the Film Office Shorts team were able to squeeze into a car sent by the Press Office to pick up our shorts publicist Susan and her associate. I was back home writing this post by about 10:30pm but it had been a very long day. I think, though, that it might have been my longest, and it feels good to know that we’ve now checked in all of our filmmakers and have had a chance to spend some time with most of them.

Tomorrow is the big Director’s Brunch with Robert Redford at the Sundance Resort, about an hour’s drive south of Park City. It’s really great that ALL directors with a film in Sundance get invited, which means that short filmmakers make up probably around a third of the guests. For many filmmakers, it’s the highlight of their time here, but the logistics are also tricky. They send buses but we’ve been advised to stress the importance of being early for the pickup. Every year there are filmmakers who miss the bus and who end up taking out their frustrations on the desk volunteers in the Film Office. Hopefully it doesn’t happen this year.