It may be one of the biggest film festivals in the world, but I would not like to live in Park City when Sundance rolls around.
I mean, a week or so of seeing celebrities as you’re going to the grocery store could be cool and all, but it seems like the streets clogged with hundreds of extra cars, businesses filled with yuppies from who knows where, and reporters and paparazzi and gawkers constantly taking pictures would be a big drag.
Even if you are one of the thousands to flock to the normally quiet city, it’s hard to get past the pretentiousness of it all. No matter how big of a cinephile you are, you will never be the biggest fan of movies in the room — there will always be someone who can reference more obscure films or actors or directors than you can. It doesn’t matter what credentials you have, because there’s constantly someone within spitting distance who will scoff at them.
I went to school with a guy who scornfully referred to everyone with less “refined” tastes in entertainment than he had as “uncultured swine,” which quickly earned him the nickname of “The Cultured Swine.” Going to Sundance is like plunging into a pool of Cultured Swines, all deriding, say, Wes Anderson’s recent work as proof of him selling out.
Even if no one talks, there’s the sheer number of people. It’s impossible for a regular schmuck to park anywhere near downtown Park City, so you park a few miles away and take a shuttle. Unfortunately, lots of regular schmucks have this same idea.
I’ve ridden in some pretty full subways and buses in my time, but nothing quite so claustrophobia-inducing as the shuttle I recently took there. It was so packed and took so long — 50 minutes for a 20-minute drive because traffic was so bad — that a guy actually passed out. Amazingly, people moved enough so the poor unconscious guy could actually fall to the floor.
People can just be considerate like that.
And the movies…man, that’s chancy. Many haven’t been seen by anyone besides the festival personnel, and some of them shouldn’t be released on the world at all. Former Transcript -Bulletin photo editor Maegan Burr still tells horror stories of a 3-hour long documentary of Russian juvenile detention centers, in Russian, at 7:30 a.m., or a film from Bulgaria that spun the camera so much — presumably for artistic effect — that people actually got motion sick.
Current Transcript-Bulletin photo editor Francie Aufdemorte has her own horror story of going to a good-sounding film that turned out to be done completely in the nude and without a discernible story.
I’ve really lucked out.
There are more things I could highlight — the ridiculous dress code, the hours-long wait for food, the insipid One Direction groupies blocking one’s view of actual celebrities — but I think I’ve made my point. Sundance is kind of a pain in a lot of ways.
But it does have an actual purpose. There are lists of pop culture gems that were screened at Sundance, like “Reservoir Dogs,” “Clerks,” “Donnie Darko” and “Napoleon Dynamite.” Award winners like “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” and “Winter’s Bone” were also screened at Sundance. And the sheer variety — and unpredictable quality and content — of the films screened means it’s likely viewers will stumble onto something they wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.
There is an obvious benefit, too, for those involved in making the film. There’s an obvious benefit to having such a variety of people, including those with all the right connections, see your stuff. And then if they like it…well, that’s how careers get made.
One of the most rewarding things is seeing, say, a director of a short, not even a whole movie, beam with excitement even as they have to take the bus with the rest of the regular schmucks to get to their own screening. Some of them go on to make it, while others fade into obscurity. But for all of them, Sundance is a literal venture out of the shadows and into the warm light of their dreams.
Seeing that makes all of it — the cultured swines, the ridiculous waits to get a sandwich, the sardine-like bus rides — seem more worthwhile.