Sundance 2008

Sundance.

For filmmakers, the very name conjures up a myriad of feelings: Longing, expectation, hope.  And desires: Acknowledgement, acceptance, success!

The reality is, as always, much more interesting.

To refresh your memories, “Reversion”, the feature film I just cut, premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.  Considering the film was only shot at the end of August, it’s an amazing feat that we were not only accepted to the festival, but actually finished the film on time to screen (hand delivering the print the day before the premiere).

I had never been to Sundance before.  I always said to myself that I wouldn’t attend the festival unless I had a film in it.  That my first experience there be in the role of editor and not director isn’t something I might have anticipated, but in actuality proved to be surprisingly beneficial.

I would have to say that I was nervous on the flight up (or rather flights, considering the stopover in Denver).  I hadn’t anticipated being nervous.  After all, I’m the editor and don’t have the stress and anxiety that the director has prior to screening.  But there I was, finding myself more and more annoyed by the flight delays, the fact that I had to check my bags after boarding, and my middle seat.  Staring my bad mood in the face I had to chalk it up to pre-festival jitters.  Every festival has its own energy, its own way of doing things, and it always take a day or so to figure it out and find your place.  Until you do, you are prone to a feeling a little untethered, a little out of sorts.  And that was precisely how I felt on the plane.  Mercifully, most of that anxiety melted away once I touched down in Salt Lake City.

Snow capped mountains are beautiful, majestic and proud.  Snow capped mountains at night are all that and then some.  From my seat in the shuttle bus up to Park City, all I could make out in the darkness were the vague shapes of these sleeping giants, the snow reflecting what little moonlight there was and filling me with awe.

I got to the condo in Park City around 2am, and crashed on the couch in the living room.  With our first screening at 9am the next morning, I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep.  What I wasn’t expecting was the strangely disturbing dreams that plagued me all night.  I’ve been told that it is a product of the thinner atmosphere, the lack of oxygen.  I hope that’s true because I’ve never had dreams like that before, and I’m wondering if I should be worried.

By 8:45 the following morning I was standing outside the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street, bundled up against the cold, and catching snow flakes in my mouth.  Yes, I’m from Scotland and people might assume that I am used to snow, but I’ve spent most of my life in hot climates and snow is as exotic to me as anything.  Or maybe it reminds me of my early childhood in Glasgow, a period so ancient that it has acquired the romantic patina that distant memories often do.

But enough of all this sappy self-reflection and on with the story.

At the screening I made a point of sitting towards the rear of the room, on the aisle.  This was the first time I had seen the film on the big screen, and I must say it looked incredible.  I’ve spent months staring at it on the computer monitor, but films are intended to be viewed at larger than life proportions.  The sheer size of the image is part of the magic that the image exerts over an audience.

Throughout the film I was naturally critical of my own work, but more importantly I was looking to see how it was affecting the people watching.  And there they were, responding viscerally to the film, laughing in all the right places, and even jumping at one moment.  It does the heart good to watch your work with an audience.

Following the screening, I ventured out onto Main Street and spent the rest of the day hanging out with people I knew were going to be in town, bumping into people I didn’t know were there, and generally just reveling in the ease with which people talk to one another at a festival.  You can pretty much sidle up to anyone and say hello.  Everyone there is looking to meet new people.  Call it networking (and yes, I suppose that’s what it is), but the reality is that you get to meet a bunch of interesting people that you wouldn’t run into otherwise.   For someone like me, who thoroughly enjoys meeting new people and hearing their stories, a festival is fertile ground.  And you don’t have to worry about forgetting someone’s name midway through the conversation, because you can always casually glance down at their credentials, hanging beacon-like around their neck

But, your may ask, didn’t you see any films?

There was a point where I realized that it was perfectly possible that I could have journeyed all the way here and go home without having seen a single film.  Everything is sold out by the time you arrive and I didn’t have the wherewithal to buy tickets in advance.  On Saturday morning, Rebecca (Reversion’s producer) and myself make a half-assed attempt to see something.  Figuring we might be able to score one of the “waitlist numbers” handed out before a screening, we took a shuttle out to the Eccles Theatre, the largest venue in town and therefore the one most likely to yield an empty seat.  As soon as we disembarked, we realized our folly.  The waitlist numbers were all gone, and there were even people waiting on the off-chance that more people than those on the waitlist would be admitted.  You do need to be a die-hard moviegoer to see anything, or just lucky.

Actually, at the get together the “Reversion” gang had at the condo for cast and crew, one of the film’s actors sold me a ticket to that night’s Short Film Program.  Making shorts myself, I was particularly interested to see what had gotten into the program so I got back on another shuttle and headed out to Prospector Theatre for Shorts Program IV.  The films were mostly solid, with two films that I thought were particularly strong.  These were the Australian film “Dugong”, by Erin White and “Soft” by UK director Simon Ellis.  Both films painted a portrait of honest human emotion, an honesty that is not always flattering but utterly true.  And for that I am grateful, as it is something I strive for in my own work.

My biggest stroke of movie-going luck came the following morning after breakfast with friend and DP Lisa Wiegand.  She was meeting up with Lorette Bayle, the Kodak representative, someone I had yet to meet in person despite the fact that she had been extremely generous with the film for “A Little Night Fright”.  We had been playing phone tag all weekend but I had mostly resigned myself to the fact that she would remain the one person I didn’t get to see.  Lisa suggested I go with her to meet Lorette at the Eccles where the two of them had tickets to see “Sunshine Cleaning”, a much-coveted screening.  Even though I didn’t have a ticket, I didn’t mind hanging out with them in the ticket holder line, as it meant I finally got to meet Lorette in person.  At one point the theatre started letting people in, and when we got up to the ticket takers, I bid them farewell.  Before I could leave, Lorette handed me a ticket for a different film and suggested I use that one to try and get in to the screening.  And I did.  And it worked.  And the film was pretty good too.  I probably shouldn’t be admitting that I “snuck” in to a screening, or that the ticket takers in some way didn’t do their job properly, but I’m gambling on the fact that they probably won’t read this.  I hope not.

After the screening, I had just enough time to head back into town with Lisa, go back to the condo and pack for my return trip to LA.  We boarded a shuttle and fell into a conversation about this, that, and the other, assuming that we would eventually find ourselves back up at Main Street.  At one point Lisa pointed out that we had surely already passed this point and we realized that we had gotten on the wrong bus, and were going around in circles for about an hour.  I’m guessing that this is an experience shared by many a Sundance festival-goer and I’m happy to have been initiated into the club.

Overall, my time at Sundance far exceeded my expectations.  As the editor on a project, I was much more relaxed than I have otherwise been at a festival.  Subsequently, I had more fun. It felt good to hang out with old friends, make some new ones, and generally just enjoy being surrounded by like-minded people.  I did have one moment of panic, however, during a meet-and-greet for the Sundance labs.  All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with how difficult it is to make a movie, how completely impossible it is to get it done.  And having made it, how totally ludicrous it is to think you can get it seen, let alone sold.

And yet here I am working towards that very goal.  I know the obstacles but I’m not daunted by them.  If I were, I would have to give up and do something else.

And besides, I’m going to Berlin with “A Little Night Fright” in a couple of weeks, so what have I got to worry about?

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