How To Dance In The Sun When Snow Is All You Know

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

So far in Park City, not even the winter snow has stopped avid filmgoers, vacationers, stargazers and the curious from going with the flow at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.  The Egyptian Theater on Main Street is one of several theaters where Festival goers congregate.  (Photo: Omar P.L. Moore)

PARK CITY, Utah -- January 24, 2008

As one of the many shuttle buses loudly proclaimed today on its signage board, "let it snow!"

Care for a snow dance?

It would be easy to rename the Sundance Film Festival the Snowdance Film Festival.  Everyone who is anyone has been skating on the slick surfaces and walkways, some taking a tumble, others literally skidding on thin ice along Main Street, where the bustle and atmosphere of Sundance is lively, spontaneous and communal.  It snowed vigorously here today, and the wintry conditions did not keep people away from Main Street, where much of the action and random meetings between the famed and the fascinated occur.  Sundance is one of those rare places in American filmdom where you simply never know whom you could be walking behind or in front of.

Take Darren, for example.  Darren is a school teacher who lives in this neck of the woods.  Each year, he says, he comes to the festival to see films and the faces of the familiar.  The really familiar.  "I got pictures of Neil Young, who was really nice about it," Darren said.  "'It's so cold out here, and I'm not stopping, so you best go ahead of me and get your picture,'" Darren recalled Mr. Young saying.  (Mr. Young's "CSNY Deja Vu" film shows here on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and a musical offering from Mr. Young took place this evening.  David Crosby apparently wasn't able to show up for the jam session.)  "I got Ben Kingsley," added Darren, who continued to document a list of hallowed film names for his photo album.  (Mr. Kingsley, or Sir Ben, as he apparently likes to be called according to those in know, was here for "The Wackness", about a drug-addled youngster and a psychologist played by Mr. Kingsley, who form an unlikely bond in New York City in 1994 during the era of rap legends Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.)

Rene, a driver for one of the city's local transportation shuttles mentions that he sighted Bruce Willis, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba among the celebrities at a hotel in town here.  Ms. Alba has "The Eye" in theaters everywhere next week in North America, while at the Festival Mr. De Niro has "What Just Happened?", in which he stars as famed film producer Art Linson, a film which also stars Mr. Linson's frequent collaborator Sean Penn, as well as John Turturro and Stanley Tucci, whose own "Blind Date" is showing here.  Mr. Willis, an ever-present actor in various film guises whether cameo or otherwise, hams it up in Brett Simon's "Assassination Of A High School President", a film which has received a lot of audience acclaim here.  (Other feature films and documentaries of note: "Sugar", "Choke", "Hamlet 2", which was acquired by Focus Features for $10 million, "Phoebe in Wonderland", "American Teen", "Gonzo", "Frozen River", "A Good Day To Be Black and Sexy", and "The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins", to name a few.)

Even when it is snowing here, the sun is shining. 

In fact, for most of the Festival in this mountain town, the sun has been shining very brightly, illuminating the mountainous splendor of this state, one which skiers relish.  Amidst the grandeur of this frenetic pace of twelve days though, there are some who cared little for all the film festivities.  Several, even a few of those working at Sundance, confessed that the festival has changed so dramatically as to be a shell of itself.  One woman used the words "what Sundance used to be," in a sentence as she commented on some of the things about the festival she liked and didn't.  She added that what she gets most from the Festival is the feeling "satisfaction that I've managed to make it through to the end of it all," she smiled, as she talked enthusiastically about the Festival's Short Films program which is a major hit for her this year.  (Anyone with access to a computer can watch ten of the short films from the current Festival from January 18 through January 27 on iTunes free of charge.)  One man said, "I've been doing this for 17 years, and every year I say that I'm going to call it a day, I come back the next year for more," he confessed.  It is this allure of the Festival, which Robert Redford created in the early 1980's as a vehicle to promote and highlight independent filmmakers and their visions, that has dazzled even the jaded types. 

At the same time, it is said that many of those local residents distressed by the Festival's largess clear their calendars for the twelve day extravaganza by going on vacation.  Some travelers voiced the opinion that Sundance has outgrown Park City.  Despite the caution expressed by some, Sundance has been an essential jewel in the minds of the hundreds of thousands that descend, or rather, ascend here (since Park City is more than 7,000 feet above sea level, making for especially thin air amongst the taller members of humanity.)  The Festival continues to bring millions and millions of dollars of revenue to the city and surrounding areas, and in the age of a severely flagging U.S. economy, Sundance, with its sponsors and its events, does its part to lift those from a cold, wintry slumber.

Temperatures here have been chilling, especially in the evenings where the mercury has plunged to negative numbers, but the filmgoers have been happy.  Between the inability to park a car here in the ironically titled Park City, where one is always best advised to venture on foot, to the publicists who work near 24-hour days (one of the many here spoke of working 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. shifts during his time here), to the sometimes sniping exchanges between some journalists and the Sundance staff and assorted volunteers, Sundance thrives on.

As one woman who works with the Festival said, "you just keep smiling and attending to each (media) request, and do the best that you can." 

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  2008.  All Rights Reserved.

The Popcorn Reel 70-second Audio Report:  Thursday, January 24, 2008


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