At the box office, they’re sold out of everything I want, except tomorrow’s 11:30 pm screening of ‘Hell And Back’. I’d met the editor of this doc at a PIFVA event in Philly just days before leaving for Sundance, and it was already on my list to watch. I guess I’ll be trying out the waitlist system (once again, that’s when you show up in the 2 hours before the screening to get the last available seats). It had already worked for ‘Shut Up Little Man’ – we got great seats that way. My friends are off to participate in some interactive storytelling activity, based out of the New Frontiers exhibits, and I need to go sleep. Starting to feel run-down. But Jen tells me about a filmmaker-and-press reception that lasts for another hour, just a few blocks away. Purely out of guilt, I drop in. I’m a filmmaker and I need to network, a voice in my head tells me. It’s a swanky spot; I check my coat (the free coat checks at these things are really nice) and immediately bump into the director and producer of ‘Shut Up Little Man’, who I’d just seen do the Q&A the night before. Their doc had a really impressive budget and post-production effects. We talk about gun violence in Philadelphia and other topics for about ten minutes. After that, I wander around with a free beer (it’s almost always Stella Artois) but I start to feel like a big yellow freak (the color of my hoodie). My advice: don’t go to parties alone.
Later at home, I woke up with a sore throat that felt foreboding. It takes a lot to head out but I really want to catch a Slamdance film this week. I’m going to see a presentation of fragments and films by the little-known avant-garde and trash-filmmaker J.X. Williams. Things seem slower in Park City now – there are lights strung up all over Main Street, but there are far fewer people, at least in the early evening. Little two-man crews run around all over the place with cameras and gear.
Of course Slamdance is smaller than Sundance, but at some point you realize how much smaller, or maybe just how big Sundance is. Slamdance’s box office and all the promotional stuff is in a really small lobby in its hotel. The screening rooms are down a little hallway. It takes a few minutes to shake off the daze of Sundance’s scope and polish, and remember that these guys are really more my speed. The film selection and the whole vibe have a specific taste: a little wild, less concerned with tastefulness, embracing camp and outsiders and violence. Every time I go in the building I see the same people. Once again, it’s a bit shocking to see how small the audiences are, because Slamdance is such a well-known fest, at least in my world. I happen to duck into their filmmaker’s lounge and see they’re having another free happy hour. The mood is awesome – a dense crowd of people my age, who all seem friendly and mellow, and a dim warm space like when you turn off everything except the Christmas lights.
When I get my ticket for the J.X.Williams show, I realize there are signs up all around: This show is for ages 21 and over due to extreme content, please have your ID ready. While I wait in line, a policeman comes to the desk to make sure that ID’s are being checked. Going into the theater, one of the Slamdance folks videotapes us all as proof that we are presenting our ID’s. The show really does live up to all the caution, I have to admit. Most people were averting their eyes at certain points.
Rushing from the J.X. show to my next movie, Lord Byron, was a test for the whole Sundance waitlist system. Lord Byron started around 30 minutes after I walked out of the J.X. show, at the far-away Prospector Square theater. But I got in and got a great seat. I was feeling even worse, definitely getting sick.
Fortunately Lord Byron is my favorite film at Sundance so far (if I ignore Resurrect Dead). This is exactly what I came here to see. It’s a film that takes its low budget as a given and rides its exceptional storytelling, acting and construction. If more filmmakers contented themselves with working in this scope with such straightforwardness, maybe more audiences would accept it. It wasn’t even shot ‘film style’ with film lights, a tripod, etc. In fact, it takes video, with all its commonly-perceived ‘flaws’, as the premise of its aesthetic – it manipulates its base with layering, time distortion, strange sound effects and melodramatic music: this is the movie that Inland Empire wanted to be. The story is minimal but the characters and performances are incisive without aspiring to ‘say anything’ or delineate any social ‘types’. And at the same time, it doesn’t content itself with a good foundation: it really embraces the visual medium. And it’s funny on top of everything else. Its intent seems to be a portrait of people seeking meaning, in various fumbling ways recognizable to anyone who’s been in high school or the suburbs in the last ten years. A lot of people were leaving during the screening; I’m not sure why.
On the way back from the film I buy oranges and chicken soup. At the condo, everyone’s back from Salt Lake City. The screening there was great. There is some discussion of the film’s reception in the press, but people seem to be taking it in stride. Jon, Justin and Steve go to a ‘competition dinner’ – an event for the filmmakers of anything in competition, an event they all really like, citing good conversations. I’m lying at home – dying?