All This Sun Has Gone Straight To My Head

Who Are These People, And What Are They Doing In My Vacation?

You could pick out the ones from L.A. very easily. They wore black, and lots of it, drank tons of high-octane coffee, talked on cell phones incessantly and wore bad designer ski outfits, outfits which back in southern California looked very smart but once up in the mountains were not very smart at all.

But they didn't come all the way from Hollywood to Park City to make a fashion statement; that comes naturally for these guys. They are here for America's premier independent film festival: Sundance.

Conversation heard on Park City's historic Main Street late Saturday night:
'Gary, this is my friend Ray from high school.'
'Hi, nice to meet you. What brings you to Sundance?'
'I left Chicago two years ago for L.A. I am an aspiring producer.'
'Well, the great thing about this town is that everything just seems to work out.'

All along Main Street, almost all day long, that is the sort of thing that is going on. Behind all the black clothing and non-stop cell phone yacking (Who can they all be talking to? Each other?) there are really a lot of desperate people here, people desperate to be found. In softly falling snow, their breath floating up, the talk is of scenes, of who made a splash, of which premier was best, of who to talk to and who to stay away from.

Something About This Sounds Familiar

Sundance is the story of Robert Redford and independent films. Independent films emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as opposition to dominant commercial - sometimes saccharine - cinema. Robert Redford, of course, is the Sundance kid. He has his own place called Sundance, a ski area and eco-friendly artists' haven, which is a few miles away but is too small to host many screenings or crowds. So the majority of the festival is held here, in Park City, although some screenings are held in Salt Lake City and Ogden. The festival began in 1978 - then it was called the United States Film Festival - and today is generally considered to be the county's premier festival of independent films.

Nearly 1,700 films applied to be a part of this year's festival with more than 800 entered in the drama category alone. Just 16 made the cut. Of the 350 documentaries which entered this year, just 15 got in. But getting in is not a ticket to success; most estimates say that less than 10 percent of Sundance's films ever get significant distribution, and as the popularity of indie films grows, of course, things get tougher for the film makers. A lot of life savings are lost in this business.

Part of an overheard cell phone conversation: 'Ray wants to know if you've stopped crying.'
Sticker in Cisero's window: Sundance is going to hell.
Handbill for festival movie stapled outside Starbucks: 'The Blair Bitch Project': 'In October of 1799, three student filmmakers set out to make a documentary. Unfortunately, film was not yet invented.'

There are really two Sundances. There is the one where all the stars go cavorting around from screenings to parties, doing what ever it is stars do. You've really got to be inside the scene to be a part of that. Then there is the Sundance where normal people and film students stand in line and try to watch movies. I did this once, about seven years ago, before things got crazy. About six friends and I drove up on a Saturday night, waited in line, and were able to get last minute tickets to a film about a man who gets in a motorcycle wreck and is paralyzed in this unfortunate way. I forgot most of the details, except he had a lot of screws in his head and had all sorts of difficulties with his sex life. But I saw it back in the good old days. Things are a little more difficult now. There are a lot more people, a lot more tourists, and a lot more Californians.

Actually, there are more than two Sundances; there are probably a dozen different film 'festivals' going on here this week. Some, like Slamdance, are relatively well established. Others work, literally, out of the backs of battered vans. Some I have heard of this year are No Dance, IndepenDance, Skin Dance (just guess what they are screening), and I think there is even a Spamdance. But they are all here for only one reason: to leach off Sundance's popularity and ability to draw films and crowds and publicity.

Most of the movies that are shown in Park City, well, you will probably never hear of them. Witness: 'Ruby Chaos', 'girlfight', 'Blink of an Eye', 'Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel', 'Ponticello', '7-teen Sips', 'Snow Dogs', 'System Noise', 'Could Be Worse', 'Snow Days', 'The Smokers', 'Show Me the Aliens', or 'Gray Matter: The Story of the L.A. County Coroners'.

Sundance does make stars. Take 'The Blair Witch Project' for a recent example. While most indie films pass through Sundance and are never heard from again (at least in Utah) some do become hits. And Sundance does draw stars. This year we've got (by rumor, at least) Danny DeVito, Kevin Spacey, Maria Domei, Vincent D'Onofrio, Kathleen Turner Ethan Hawke and (oh my God) Dominique Swain, among others. And the bands and singers show up: Johnny Rotten, Third Eye Blind and Matthew Sweet are a few of the ones I heard about.

Stop It! You're Blinding Me!!!

This year will make some stars, too. There is already talk about 'American Psycho' as well as 'Everything Put Together', 'Trixie', and 'Joe Gould's Secret.' 'Love and Basketball', 'The Virgin Suicides' and 'Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her' have already been picked up by major companies and will open nationally later this year.

In the meantime, we can sit back with a coffee of our own on Main Street, watch the parade go by, watch a big black dog with no visible owner walk into Ami's, an upscale jeweler, watch people posture and promulgate, and hope silently to ourselves, oh please oh please oh please, that all these people don't decide to get up early tomorrow and go skiing.

A 30-something man wearing a ridiculous poncho: 'I don't know why I ever agreed to that.'
Cell conversation: 'Ronnie wants to know when you are going to pay him.'
One man to another: 'Let me give you my number.'
Woman to daughter: 'That's better than nothing.'
Man at 750i, looking at Navigator: 'That double-parking bastard.'
Woman to man: 'She was the head writer for 'Axe to Grind.' Man: 'Well, we should get together with her.'
Inevitable clan of local teenagers: wearing miniskirts.
This year's fashion have-to-have: No Depression '50s-vintage two-gallon cowboy hats.
Man to man: 'For $20 I could get you any girl in there.'
Man to man: 'I've heard she's married.'

A special thanks to East West Resorts and RSI

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