Tag Archives: Sundance 2015

Sundance 2015: Day 12

Sundance HQ

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

Festival Day 10

Kevin had asked me to come into the Film Office by 10:00am but at 6:30am I was just getting off a couch in the condo of the Object team. The Polish Pool Party of the night before was incredible, but getting up was not so much fun, especially since I’d slept on a couch and not in the massive king-sized bed that I’d paid for at the Zermatt Resort, half an hour’s drive away. I raced over to the Eccles in time to get the 8:00am shuttle back to the resort. I was there around 7:30am and luckily the driver was there and had nobody booked so he just drove me back right away. That gave me an hour to shower and dress and get back on the 9:00am shuttle back into Park City. I gazed longingly at the untouched bed for a minute, but just for a minute.

It was the last day of the festival for me, and all of the Film Office staff were working the Awards Ceremony that night. At 4:30pm we all piled into a few cars and headed for the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse, where after taking a huge group photo with about 100 other staff and volunteers, we each separated to our posts. My FOC Kevin had a special job during the awards: he was one of the onstage people who handed the award trophy to the presenter (that’s him on the left in the picture below.) That meant that I was covering the entrance by myself. My job was to look out for our film teams and make sure they had the right number of tickets and that they got inside without any hassles. I had a list of about 20 of our teams that were still in town, but I didn’t know who was coming. It turned out that I think about five of our teams came, and although I wanted to socialize a bit with them later, I really only got to spend a little time with the Object team.

Sundance Awards Ceremony

The Awards Ceremony itself was hosted by comedian Tig Notaro and there were some special awards presenters, too (Adam Scott, Kevin Pollak, Edgar Wright, Winona Ryder). It was nice to be so close to an event like that. I actually ended up standing next to the guys doing all the editing, lighting, and camera direction.

Our job as a Film Office team when the ceremony was over was to clear a whole section of chairs as quickly as possible so that the party could begin. The seated area became the dancefloor and it has become a bit of a competition between different Sundance departments to see who can clear their section the fastest. I think it took us just about five minutes, but there was no way to determine if we won or not.

After that was over, all of our jobs were essentially complete, and we could just enjoy the party. Unfortunately for me, the venue became very crowded and very loud very quickly, and it was hard to find people or even to get to the bar. I had to keep my eye on the clock in order to catch a shuttle back into Park City (the Fieldhouse is in Kimball Junction, a little north of town) in order to connect with the last Zermatt shuttle which was at 1:00am from Eccles. This made the “party” a little more stressful for me than it should have been. I wasn’t even able to enjoy my third drink ticket since the bar lineups were so insane.

Sundance Awards Party

I did run into my good friend Lindsay, though. I worked with her at Hot Docs last year and she’s recently moved to Brooklyn, so it was great to see her and meet her new boyfriend, too. And I briefly got to say goodbye to Kevin, but my good intentions to say goodbye to everyone I’d met in the Film Office came to naught. On top of that, I lost track of the Object team pretty early on and really wanted to hug all of those beautiful Polish women goodbye.

My meticulous planning worked out a little too well, and I found myself outside the Eccles by about 12:30am, shivering in the frigid cold. There wasn’t really anyone else around, and I admit I worried a little bit about whether the shuttle would show up or not. I was a very happy man when I saw the little white van pull into the nearly empty parking lot. And then strangely enough, someone else popped out of a parked car and got in. It was a guy I’d met on the way in that morning, an aspiring filmmaker from Orange County. He’d been out at a party or two, and talked to me non-stop all the way back. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was exhausted and almost completely unable to engage with anything he was saying.

By 1:30am on the last day of my festival, the untouched bed in my room never looked so good…

Sundance 2015: Day 11

Lobby of the Zermatt Resort

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

Festival Day 9

Up pretty early (7:00am) to pack and move to the Swiss-themed Zermatt Resort for my last two days here (that’s the lobby in the picture above.) I got myself over to the Eccles in plenty of time to be picked up by the Zermatt shuttle at 10:00am. In fact, it arrived around 9:35am to drop off people, so I got on. The driver had another passenger to drop off at the Canyons ski resort so I went along for the ride. She stopped back at Eccles at 10:00am again, but nobody else got on.

I didn’t catch her name, but she’s a young, presumably Mormon, woman who works as a bellhop for the resort. She told me she’s lived in Heber (the town near where the resort is located) almost all of her life, and has never attended a Sundance film. She also told me she’d never seen a drunk person until a year ago. She was incredibly friendly and sweet, but you get the feeling that for her, Sundance is kind of a freakshow.

I had enough time to check in and eat a filling though expensive ($20!) breakfast in one of the hotel’s restaurants, but misjudged the next shuttle back to Eccles. I thought it left at noon but it actually didn’t go until 1:00pm so I was late getting into the Film Office.

But of course there was nothing much to do at the Film Office. I got through the afternoon, helped by the arrival of an invite to “a small swimming pool party” that evening from the lovely team behind documentary short Object, which had won a Special Jury Award for Visual Poetry at the Shorts Awards two nights before. I had met producer/sound designer Kasia Szczerba at Hot Docs last spring when she was there as part of the team with The Supreme, another documentary short film. I’d enjoyed meeting that team and had drinks with them a few times. When I saw Kasia for the first time at Sundance, we both recognized each other but it took a few minutes to figure out from where.

Utah beer selection (3.2%)

In any case, she and her team have been incredibly friendly and a social invite, especially to something small, was just what I needed. I’m not a swimmer, nor did I bring any suitable swimwear, so I didn’t expect to actually be in the pool. When I arrived at their condo, it turned out to be just their film team and my FOC, Kevin. I’d brought some beers and snacks, which I’d bought at Fresh Market. Interesting observation: beer is for sale in the grocery store but it all has to be 3.2% alcohol. The same brands bought at a Utah state liquor store can be whatever alcoholic strength they want. Odd.

We chatted and drank beer (and Polish vodka!) for an hour or so and then we headed for the outdoor heated pool! It was more of a large hot tub since it wasn’t very deep and it had jets to churn up the water. It had been snowing steadily all evening and so I went out in my coat while the rest of them got into the pool. It wasn’t long before they were encouraging (maybe begging is more accurate) for me to come in. I’ll have to admit that the prospect of joining four beautiful Polish women in a large hot tub was impossible to resist, and so I stripped down to my underwear (!) and joined them.

Polish Pool Party

It was the best experience I had at Sundance and might be hard to top for best experience of 2015.

We spent almost two hours just soaking, chatting, and drinking while the snowflakes drifted lazily down into the warm water.

Getting out wasn’t as much fun. I’d hidden my clothes under a blanket but everything was still very cold and running through freshly fallen snow in bare feet was painful. But it was worth it.

Kevin left soon afterward to go another party with some of his Sundance colleagues from last year. I stayed and shared some of my personal stuff with the women. It was the kind of connection I’d been craving and it was wonderful to share our real lives and not just our professional ones for a while.

Shorts programmer Jon Korn and his wife dropped by for a little while, since they were staying in the same condo complex, and I soon realized I was going to miss the last shuttle back to Zermatt. Luckily, the ladies had a spare couch, which I happily occupied until about 6:30am the next morning.

Sundance 2015: Day 10

Cast and crew from Tangerine

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

Festival Day 8

I had vague plans to get up early this morning and get out to a 9:00am film, but when presented with a choice between Don Verdean at the large Eccles cinema or Homesick at the more distant Temple theatre, I chose sleeping in again. I did head down to the Main Street Deli for some eggs and potatoes, though. Then on a lark, I headed to the Prospector to see if there were any last-minute volunteer tickets left for Tangerine. Despite me arriving just before 11:00am for an 11:30am screening, I got lucky. Really lucky.

Tangerine was an exhilarating and very funny ride through a Los Angeles Christmas Eve in the company of Sin-Dee and Alexandra, two loud and sharp-tongued transgender sex workers. Much of the film is taken up with Sin-Dee’s search for her cheating pimp of a boyfriend, and this quest is kinetic and accompanied by some great beats. But the quieter moments achieve real poignancy as we see the hardships these women have to face at every moment. There’s a parallel story of an Armenian cab driver with a secret, and it provides breathing space and a different perspective on LA than Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s. Amazingly, the whole thing was shot on one or more iPhone 5S cameraphones. Director Sean Baker (Starlet) succeeds in grabbing the audience by the lapels, shaking us around, and finally tugging at our heartstrings. Did I mention it’s also hysterically funny? Watch out for Tangerine.

I got into the Film Office just around 1:20pm for another long afternoon of not doing much. I can understand why we need to have people there, but there really just isn’t much activity anymore.

At 6:00pm, I headed for dinner at Good Karma, and despite it being rather expensive, their chicken curry was exactly what I was craving. Then home for a refreshing nap, yet another can of Red Bull, and then out to the Native Forum party at a bar cleverly called Downstairs.

The venue for this party was tiny, and it quickly got crowded and loud. I stuck around until about 11:30pm but only talked to a couple of people. I spotted a few of our filmmakers (Una from The Chicken, Pia and William from Abandoned Goods) but really was only able to wave at them. On my way out, I saw that there was a substantial lineup to get in and spotted Kasia and Michalina from the Polish delegation (here with Object and Starting Point). I’d hoped to have a drink with them before we all went home, but it will have to be tomorrow or Saturday night.

Home before midnight, and ready to pack up and move tomorrow morning to the Zermatt Resort in Midway. It’s going to be a bit of a hassle getting back and forth for the next couple of days since I’ll need to coordinate with the Zermatt shuttle connecting to the Park City shuttles.

P.S. I ran into my FOC Kevin again on the shuttle home tonight. He was at Eccles seeing Z for Zachariah. I’ll just mention again how small Park City feels sometimes.

Sundance 2015: Day 9

VR Birdly installation

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

Festival Day 7

Things are winding down as far my volunteering is going. I spent an extremely quiet and slow afternoon in the Film Office. From 1:00pm until 6:00pm, I didn’t have a single enquiry or thing to do. It’s tough to be sitting there doing nothing when there are films playing, but at least I didn’t have the early shift. I was able to sleep until 10:00am and catch up on yesterday’s blog post before heading into the office.

Absolutely NOTHING happened while I was there, however. Being busy is always better since it makes the day go by faster and today dragged. I had no real plans for the evening, either. After work, I just came home for an hour and then headed to Squatters Roadhouse for dinner. It’s a local brewpub I’d been meaning to try. I had a cheeseburger (I’ve been craving meat for a few days) and fries and a pint of one of their cask ales. At 9:00pm, I’d been invited to a trivia night at the Yarrow Hotel bar by my friend (and housemate) Tom Hall. I stopped by for a while, but left before the actual game began. Instead I headed down to Main Street to check out the New Frontiers party.

Paradise installation

The New Frontiers exhibits are all interactive and many feature some form of virtual reality. There was supposed to be a filmmaker party there tonight, but it was a cash bar and so it wasn’t quite the draw that, say, the Shorts Awards party was. Still, I got to see some interesting things (including an Oculus Rift immersive experience among yak herders!) and met up briefly with US Shorts FOC Meredith (who was out celebrating her birthday), her category volunteer Shayna, and Jamie, the FOC for Premieres. I also ran into Toronto film publicist Daniela Syrovy, which was nice.

I likely would have stayed out longer if I had bumped into Kevin or someone else male or closer to my age. Sometimes being conscious of being the “old man” is a bit socially crippling. The truth is, after a week here, I’m physically and mentally exhausted. I want to get the most out of the experience, and meet lots of people, but I’m not at my best. As an introvert, I feel like my social batteries are drained. And some social experiences, no matter how minor, can have a ridiculously magnified effect. This happened to me last year at Clermont-Ferrand, and again at the Sheffield Doc/Fest. It’s tough for me to come to these festivals alone, but I prefer to put myself into these uncomfortable situations rather than just sit at home in my apartment.

I didn’t see any films today, but I’m hoping to be able to see something tomorrow. If I can get up early enough, I have a good shot at one of the 9:00am screenings. We shall see. That’s early for me, and I’m really craving lots and lots of sleep right now. I’m also missing my cats, which is kind of surprising me. 🙂

Sundance 2015: Day 8

Team Shorts (James McNally, Shayna Weingast, Meredith Finch, Kevin Blumeyer)

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

Festival Day 6

I’m writing this the following day, since Day 8 was my longest yet. I think I got to bed somewhere around 3:00am but it’s a little bit fuzzy.

After putting in a few hours at the Film Office HQ yesterday (8:00am to around 11:00am), I was lucky to get tickets from Kevin to two of the shorts programmes playing at the nearby Prospector. It was my first chance to sit all the way through for Q&As, too. At 11:30am, I saw Shorts Programme 4 and found myself tearing up at most of the films. All were fantastic, but the programme was anchored solidly by Oh Lucy!, which went on to win the Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction (more about that later). I also was really moved by Myrna the Monster, which used puppetry and animation to tell a very poignant story about feeling like a stranger in a strange land. The final shot of Oren Gerner’s Greenland also packed an emotional punch.

At 2:30pm I returned to the Prospector for Shorts Programme 3, which featured one of the longest shorts in the festival (28 minutes), A Million Miles Away. I really liked this almost experimental exploration of female coming-of-age. It felt a little bit like a teen movie in which a middle-aged choir teacher is just another one of the girls. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and that’s a compliment. I also loved Hungarian animator Réka Bucsi’s whimsical Symphony No. 42, a series of scenes, many of them featuring absurd animal characters. It reminded me quite a bit of David OReilly’s work, especially The External World.

After a quick stop at home to drop off my laptop, I returned to the vicinity of the Film Office to grab dinner at Fuego’s. I was meeting Kevin, Meredith, Shayna and Courtney (Associate Manager of the Film Office) at 7:15pm to get ourselves over to Jupiter Bowling Alley. The Shorts Awards ceremony and party was being held there beginning at 9:00pm and we were working the door to make sure all of our film teams were able to get in and start enjoying themselves.

I’d heard that this party was one of the best at Sundance and that turned out to be true. The venue is huge and has bowling alleys and pool tables, which made it a lot of fun for everyone. The awards ceremony itself was plagued by some microphone problems, but I did get to hear most of the introduction by Jared Hess, director of Napoleon Dynamite (and whose new film Don Verdean is premiering here. I would love to see it.). He talked about coming to Slamdance with Peluca, the short film that went on to become Napoleon Dynamite and how he submitted to Slamdance because their submission fee was only $10 while Sundance’s was $30. It was a good inspiring story of scraping by and working hard until your talent is recognized. The awards themselves were handed out fairly quickly, by the members of the shorts jury (Alia Shawkat, K.K. Barrett, and Autumn de Wilde). In my job, I didn’t get to meet any of the jury members, but I did see them at a number of the premiere screenings we worked.

Here are the list of award winners. I’m proud to say that our International Shorts filmmakers took 5 out of 7 this year!

  • Short Film Grand Jury PrizeWorld of Tomorrow (Dir: Don Hertzfeldt)
  • Short Film Jury Award: US FictionSMILF (Dir: Frankie Shaw)
  • Short Film Jury Award: International FictionOh Lucy! (Dir: Atsuko Hirayanagi)
  • Short Film Jury Award: Non-FictionThe Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul (Dir: Kitty Green)
  • Short Film Jury Award: AnimationStorm Hits Jacket (Dir: Paul Cabon)
  • Short Film Special Jury Award for Acting – Laure Calamy in Back Alley (Dir: Cécile Ducrocq)
  • Short Film Special Jury Award for Visual PoetryObject (Dir: Paulina Skibińska)

I didn’t have to be in the Film Office until 1:00pm the next day, so I stayed until the bitter end of the party, catching one of the last shuttles back to the Yarrow around 1:30am. I do remember sitting in the back row with some of the guys from The Little Deputy team along with some of the ladies from the Film Office box office. “O Canada” may or may not have been sung. From there, I walked back to my place, stopping at 7-11 for a late night snack.