Tag Archives: Sundance 2016

Sundance 2016: Day 8

Keegan-Michael Key - Sundance Film Festival 2016

Director of Programming James McNally is attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival from January 19th to 31st.

Festival Day 6

Another 8:00am to noon shift in the Film Office this morning. Then Jackie and I checked out local restaurant the Grub Steak, where we used our volunteer “grub stubs” to enjoy the salad bar lunch. From there, I headed down to Main Street for a 2:30pm screening of Nicole Holofcener’s 1996 film Walking and Talking at the Egyptian. I’d seen the film a few months ago on Netflix, but it was special seeing it almost exactly 20 years later in the same cinema in which it premiered at Sundance. Both Holofcener and star Catherine Keener were in attendance, and neither had been in the Egyptian Cinema since the film played there 20 years ago, so it was an interesting atmosphere. I found myself feeling nostalgic for the indie film scene of the 1990s, in which so many directors began their careers at this festival. I’ve loved all of Holofcener’s films, and wish that she was better-known. The film also made me nostalgic for my own younger years, especially with its Billy Bragg soundtrack.

After the screening, I raced home to sleep for an hour before heading back to HQ. I grabbed some pizza at nearby Este Pizza and was ready to head up to Jupiter Bowl to prepare for the Shorts Awards and Party. This was such a fun party last year and I was really excited. Our team of FOCs and category volunteers (Kevin, Corrine, Celine, and me) were working the door, making sure our film teams had their tickets and got inside quickly. We really were only supposed to have a small role in running the actual event, since the festival’s events team was also onsite, but there was a fair amount of anarchy at the door, with everyone trying to check IDs, rip tickets, and attach wristbands. Despite the 9:00pm start time, I didn’t really get away to have a drink until nearly 10:30pm.

I was delighted that several of the film teams I’d connected with most personally were among the winners. Special shout-outs to Toronto filmmakers Sol Friedman and Ben Petrie:

  • Short Film Grand Jury PrizeThunder Road (Dir: Jim Cummings)
  • Short Film Jury Award: US FictionThe Procedure (Dir: Calvin Lee Reeder)
  • Short Film Jury Award: International FictionMaman(s) (Dir: Maïmouna Doucouré)
  • Short Film Jury Award: Non-FictionBacon and God’s Wrath (Dir: Sol Friedman)
  • Short Film Jury Award: AnimationEdmond (Dir: Nina Gantz)
  • Short Film Special Jury Award for Outstanding Performance – Grace Glowicki in Her Friend Adam (Dir: Ben Petrie)
  • Short Film Special Jury Award for Best DirectionPeacock (Dir: Ondřej Hudeček)

I was a little bit frustrated by the bar service (how about an express line for guys like me just ordering beers?) but had a good time nonetheless, especially in the stiflingly hot VIP room, where I got to watch jury member Keegan-Michael Key as well as a few of the directors bowling (picture above). Last call was a very early (for me) 12:20pm so I think I was actually home quite a bit earlier than last year.

Sundance 2016: Day 7

Complete Unknown - Sundance Film Festival 2016

Director of Programming James McNally is attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival from January 19th to 31st.

Festival Day 5

Forgot to set my alarm last night and was just lucky to wake up at 6:20am on my own. I was definitely a little worse for wear this morning at the Film Office. My shift was from 8:00am to noon, and I got to check in our last two film teams, so that tied a bow on things. At noon, I was able to walk over to the Blind Dog restaurant for the Telefilm Canada lunch. I ate a couple of small ham and cheese sandwiches and had a glass of Chardonnay. I talked to the director of Mobilize, a mesmerizing short film created from NFB archival film. She was flying home right after lunch, so it was good to make that connection. And I got to spend some quality time with Danny Lennon, the Short Film Pope of Quebec. Seriously, though, Danny has been a great supporter of Shorts That Are Not Pants and of me personally. He sort of (jokingly?) offered to become my agent so that I can find more paid festival work. He certainly has the experience and the network. I got to enjoy his deadpan sense of humour, too.

I also got to chat briefly with Shane Smith, Hot Docs’ new director of programming, and The Chickening co-director Nick DenBoer. I saw Don McKellar briefly but didn’t say hello. He’d been in the Film Office just before noon asking if he could store his luggage for a few hours. International Shorts category volunteer Celine had been joking around with him all weekend and so she gladly took possession of his bags, while I warned Don to put a lock on them or he might find his underwear missing.

After lunch, I saw my second film of the festival, or I should say films. Shorts Program 3 at the Yarrow featured a few great comedies, including How To Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps and Her Friend Adam. It also featured Kasia Gondek’s Figure, a sort of remix of her 2014 film The Supreme which we screened at Hot Docs. I met her that year and it’s been nice to reconnect with her and her editor Kasia Szczerba (who was also here last year with Object). Hopefully we can spend more time together as the festival slows down.

I headed home for a nap, intending to eat a proper dinner later, but I ended up meeting up with Jackie and lining up for a volunteer ticket for Complete Unknown at the massive Eccles Theatre. It was my first time seeing a film there, and this high school auditorium (really!) is Sundance’s largest venue and home to all the big premieres.

The film itself left me with mixed feelings. Michael Shannon (that’s him in the camel hair coat on the left in the picture) and Rachel Weisz are both good, as are all the supporting cast, but the story of a woman who constantly reinvents her identity didn’t quite know what tone it wanted to strike. The funny parts were very funny (especially the extended scene with Kathy Bates and Danny Glover) but overall the story needed more weight to develop the unease that the premise begins with.

Home to bed by just after midnight, after a good long chat with my roommate Joel. He’s the category volunteer for Premieres and it’s his first Sundance. He’s from Australia and works at the Melbourne International Film Festival. We’ve not crossed paths too much at work, but he’s been a great roommate and we’ve had several long talks whenever we’re at home.

Tomorrow I’m back in the Film Office at 8:00am until noon. I have the afternoon free but then it’s the Shorts Awards and Party in the evening, which I’m really looking forward to. Last year it was a great party and I really got to talk to the filmmakers in an environment where everyone’s not so stressed out.

Sundance 2016: Day 6

King Woman - Sundance Film Festival 2016

Director of Programming James McNally is attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival from January 19th to 31st.

Festival Day 4

Our last day of shorts program premieres today. I had to be in at HQ before 8:00am, though, to take care of a ticket request for one of our film teams. Then it was up to the Redstone multiplex again for the press line for the Animation Spotlight program. They’d already had their first screening last night but because of yesterday’s Directors’ Brunch (with Robert Redford!) which took place about half an hour away at the Sundance Resort, they pushed any press lines until today’s screenings.

We left very quickly after the programmer’s introduction to get back to the Prospector, where Shorts Program 5 was premiering. The screening right ahead of us was the feature documentary Eagle Huntress, which featured the presence of two huge live eagles as part of the post-screening Q&A. I’d never before been aware of what an “eagle diaper” was but it was a phrase I got to hear over the radio.

There was barely time for a breath after that screening before we had to rush down to Main Street where we were hosting a short filmmakers’ reception at the Sundance TV Lounge. We were supposed to be working the door with a guestlist, but Celine and I (the category volunteers) ended up arriving several minutes late for the 4:00pm start time due to shuttle delays. International Shorts FOC Corrine was holding down the fort, but it quickly grew confusing since there were a few different guestlists in play. In the end, Corrine sent us in to enjoy ourselves and the venue didn’t exceed its capacity, so we could be a bit liberal with our door policy.

That marked the official end of my working day so I enjoyed a few beers, and talked to a few of my heroes, including Don McKellar and the Zellner Brothers (David and Nathan). I also spoke to Colin Geddes, TIFF’s Midnight Madness programmer. He was hosting an event for Shudder (a horror streaming service available in the US) later that night at the same venue. I had tried to help him with a last-minute logistics request and was happy to be included on the guestlist for the party, which featured a performance by King Woman, a band I’d been hearing great things about.

I went home after the shorts party for a badly-needed nap and then headed out to meet Jackie around 9:30pm. We got into the party early and met up with my FOC Kevin. A few of our film teams (especially from the Midnight Shorts section) were also there. The band set up right in front of us and it was pretty great being literally inches away from singer Kristina Esfandiari. Kevin and I were definitely into the doomy metal stylings of the band, though I’m not sure about the rest of the crowd, whose lack of applause could just have been indifference. Jackie and I had some silly fun with the photobooth, though I will definitely not be sharing any of those photos here.

I think I got home sometime after 2:00am with a plan to get up again at 6:00am. These 8:00am Film Office shifts aren’t so much fun right now.

Sundance 2016: Day 5

Sundance Film Festival 2016

Director of Programming James McNally is attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival from January 19th to 31st.

Festival Day 3

Got a little bit more sleep since I didn’t have to be in the office until 10am, and it was a fairly quiet morning in the Film Office since the vast majority of teams have already checked in. From now on, our office hours are mainly for handling questions and special requests. At 1:30 we all went back out to Temple for Shorts Program 4. This lineup featured Peace in the Valley, a short doc from Mike Palmieri and Donal Mosher, who have become a couple of my favourite filmmakers with their creative approach to documentary storytelling. Their feature docs October Country and Off Label are well worth seeking out, and this latest one is available to see online through a new digital journalism initiative called Field of Vision, backed by Laura Poitras, Charlotte Cook, and AJ Schnack. Among the attendees was director Kevin Smith, who wandered in late in his usual outfit of trenchcoat and backwards baseball cap.

Back to the office where I covered for Kevin until closing time at 6pm. He’d given me the night off to see my first film with my friend Jackie. We were very excited by the title The Greasy Strangler and, at least for me, the film did not disappoint. Very very funny, and very very dumb. A sort of over-the-top horror film that might have more in common with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (or especially Bobcat Goldthwait’s Shakes the Clown), it won’t be for everyone. Actually it won’t be for most people at all. But for those who enjoy ridiculous humour that goes on just a beat too long, it will surely become a cult classic.

After the screening let out around 10:45pm, we headed from the Yarrow Theatre downtown to try to get into the afterparty. We’d only heard about it a few hours earlier, and weren’t able to RSVP in time, but we had a ridiculous idea of trying to pass Jackie off as Keira Knightley and talk our way in. She does bear a remarkable resemblance.

But it was snowing and the lineup wasn’t moving fast, and we lost our nerve a bit, and by just after midnight, we were ready to call it a night. There will be other parties, hopefully. And other movies, too. As the festival cools off just a bit after the weekend, I’ll get more chances to see films. I’ve been so busy I haven’t even really looked at more than the day in front of me.

Sundance 2016: Day 4

Sundance Film Festival 2016

Director of Programming James McNally is attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival from January 19th to 31st.

Festival Day 2

Well, true to expectations, today was long and difficult. We were still expecting about 20 film teams to check in today, and we had four premiere screenings to cover as well. Our first, the Documentary Shorts program, was held at the gorgeous Temple Theatre. It was nice to catch up with Sol Friedman and his wife Sarah again, and the irony of showing Bacon and God’s Wrath at a Jewish temple was not lost on them.

At 5pm, Corrine (International shorts coordinator), Celine (her category volunteer), and I got a lift to the Redstone Cinemas in Kimball Junction, about a 20 minute drive north of Park City. It’s a huge shopping complex, with lots of restaurants and stores. In the exact same scenario as last year, we hit a surprising amount of rush hour traffic and we knew it might affect our filmmaking teams, many of whom were taking the festival shuttles. To make things worse, Kevin had to attend another screening, and many of the US Shorts teams attending were unfamiliar to me. When we check in film teams, we usually try to do it together so that we both get to meet the filmmakers, but for some reason, I didn’t know many of the teams for Shorts Program 2. And as usual, there were several last minute requests for tickets, which in the end proved impossible for us to accommodate. It was also the first day of the festival for the Redstone team, and the rough edges were showing a little bit. They have the unenviable job of having to co-exist with the regular cinema team and programming, so there were people heading in to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the same time we were trying to load in or load out our Sundance films.

Our next screening was Shorts Program 3, also at Redstone, but I was able to step away for about 45 minutes to enjoy a burger and a beer at the nearby Red Rock Brewery. The festival provides full-time volunteers with four “grub stubs” which are good for a meal at several places around town, and luckily Red Rock Brewery was one of those. I did have to pay for the beer myself, though!

Shorts Program 3 ran a little bit smoother, though I had still not met all of the US teams at check-in. Notable, though, was Jungle. Young Ghanaian-American director Asantewaa Prempeh was accompanied by her mother, who had flown all the way from Ghana to the festival. After initially not knowing what Sundance was, as soon as she found out what an honour it was for her daughter’s film to be accepted, she was determined to make the trip.

Ironically, I knew two of the international teams for this program. I’d met Damian and Keith from Irish short A Coat Made Dark at the YouTube reception on Thursday evening, and found it very easy to chat with them. And Polish short Figure was made by my friends Katarzyna (whom I’d met at Hot Docs in 2014) and Kasia (Hot Docs 2014 and last year’s Sundance).

But there wasn’t time to stay and enjoy the films, since we had to get back to the Prospector cinema to welcome a large number of film teams for the Midnight Shorts program. Each team also had a lot of people, so the green room (or “theatre lounge”) was uncomfortably packed. But the press line went surprisingly smoothly, even though some of the teams were quite late in arriving.

By that point I was running on fumes. I’m used to 14-16 hour work days during TIFF but I have a lot more control there, and I know my colleagues better. After a day like that at Sundance, where I’m running or being dragged around all day to different unfamiliar venues and teams, my head was spinning. I got home to bed around 12:30. From here on, though, things should be a little bit easier each day. Crossing my fingers!