Director of Programming James McNally is attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival from January 20th to February 1st.
Festival Day 5
It’s getting harder to post good photos since my days now are mostly spent at the Film Office or seeing films, but I’ll keep trying to put up at least one a day. Today was the first day we haven’t had any premieres, but I did attend two events and saw a film.
First, I had been invited to the Canadian lunch organized by Telefilm Canada and Hot Docs, and I was excited to go because it was being held at Riverhorse on Main, which TripAdvisor assured me is the best restaurant in Park City. Meals have been hard to schedule and finding a good place has been difficult too, so I was looking forward to the food almost more than the “networking.” But as is usual at these things, it was finger food, and though everything was delicious, I struggled to fill my belly. I’m also not a great person at events where I don’t know many people. As a result, I drank two glasses of wine, making me very sleepy. I did get to talk to a few people, including some of the shorts filmmakers with films in the International Shorts lineup. I also got to congratulate Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson, from The Seventh Art, whose feature Diamond Tongues was selected for Slamdance, which is taking place here concurrently with Sundance.
After a quick trip back to HQ to retrieve my bag and battery-drained laptop, I stopped at home and had to decide between a 20-minute power nap or a can of Red Bull. I opted for the sweet chemical rush, fearing if I put my head down, I’d end up sleeping for an hour. It was back to HQ by 4:00pm to help host all of our shorts filmmakers at a Happy Hour.
At first, I was happy to circulate and chat but as it got more crowded and loud, I retreated to our sign-in desk to avoid the chaos. The room was packed and everyone seemed to have a great time. It was a good preview of what tomorrow night’s Shorts Awards will be like.
After we were able to clear everyone out, just after 6:00pm, I was free for the evening. As I loitered in the Marriott lobby, I spotted my favourite New York publicist Gary Springer and spent a few minutes catching up with him. His chilled-out energy is very attractive during crazy festival times, and it was nice to re-connect after working with him at TIFF. Then I had a good talk with Rachel, the FOC for the World Documentary and Spotlight sections, and her volunteer Julie. We just compared experiences and it felt nice to share a few stories at this point in the festival.
I had planned to see Welcome to Leith at the Temple Theatre at 9:00pm so I grabbed a quick meal at the Burger King near the Yarrow Theatre, which is the transfer point for shuttles to Temple. As I was eating, my FOC Kevin walked in and we ended up eating together. Park City is really that small.
Encouraged by my Temple screening yesterday, where the volunteer told me that the allotment of volunteer tickets had never run out, I braved the small inconvenience of getting out there. I got one of the first tickets and ended up getting into the cinema quite early. I knew the film’s subject matter was a bit provocative (white supremacist moves to small North Dakota town, alienating his neighbours) but it was still a bit alarming to see two police officers stationed inside. Certain festival screenings have the capacity for, shall we say, disruptive behaviour and it made sense that there would be some additional security. Luckily everything went smoothly and there was no trouble.
The film is a tension-filled account of what happens when a man with hateful views tries to take over the local government and establish a haven for white supremacists. Free speech and democratic institutions face challenges every day, but this very tightly focused story was more chilling for its specificity. The town of Leith, North Dakota has a population of just 24 people, and so it presented an attractive target for a takeover, especially because of its proximity to the well-paying oilfield jobs nearby.
During the Q&A, the directors admitted that they went to North Dakota thinking they were going to make a short film, and it gradually expanded. If I had just one criticism of the film, it would be that it sometimes does feel like a short film expanded to feature length. A few sequences feel a bit padded, and lingering shots of the landscape can become a bit repetitive. But overall it’s effective in revealing the nasty underbelly of hate groups still very much active in the United States. Hearteningly, it also celebrates the basic decency of the vast majority of Americans, and when the mayor of Leith was introduced after the screening, he got a rousing ovation.