Where is Lil Jon?

We were woken up at 7:45 a.m. by massive gusts of wind screaming past the condo. I had tentative plans to ski today, and by the time I decide to stay off the mountain, I’ve missed my chance to see the one movie on my list for Saturday – an intriguing Slamdance doc called ‘Shunka’. I have to come clean over the guilt I feel about this: how can I be here on Sundance opening weekend and not have anything on my list for Saturday?

Thank god I’ve stumbled on this perfect segue to talk about my mission at Sundance. I am trying to see the films that are the most adventurous, the most hard to categorize, the most easily-overlooked, the least likely to be pre-sold or to show up in theaters later. (I’m not going out of pity; in fact I hope that these are the best films here). Admirably, these films do exist at Sundance alongside several other categories: A-list Hollywood faux-indies; docs whose fates are ensured by their pre-existing access (the NY Times doc ‘Page One’); ‘serious’ films that have a niche or a hot topic that will feed them attention and viewers. I don’t have unlimited funds, in fact the fewer movies I see the less I will be in debt after this trip, so I will focus my attention on the films that may need it the most. That leaves me with a curious gap on Saturday, but on Sunday I’ll be back in the theaters.

With nothing to do right away, I resolved to finally learn how to buy tickets to movies. The festival headquarters is at a Marriott even further out from town, a low lodge-like building in a dense labyrinth of strip malls. The circular drive is a traffic jam of minivan shuttles, the lobby a constant flow of prosperous-looking people in parkas, some settling for a moment by the fireplace. The volunteer at the info desk didn’t think that tickets were sold there, but I pressed on upstairs. Down a long hotel hallway, past the Press Office and the Industry Office, I found the Film Office. Tickets! I could buy tickets! The deal: every day you can get tix for that day and the following day. A chart on the wall has stickers for the showings that are sold out, and there are a surprising number open, even for today’s films. I immediately feel a lot better about my Sundance chances; I’ll be able to get into pretty much whatever screenings I want, if I show up regularly to get morning tickets. In a euphoric haze I buy my Sunday tickets and screw it up royally. My plan was to leave a hole in my schedule to get in line for a music event with Lou Reed, but I manage to buy a ticket for exactly that time. Thirteen hours later I realize what’s happened.

I snag a ‘Variety’ (everyone says you have to read this if you want to make movies) and sit down with a complimentary Shasta to people-watch. I hear an announcement for directors in the building: the busses to the directors’ brunch are leaving. Jon is on his way there, where Robert Redford will speak.

Later our whole ‘Resurrect Dead’ entourage is walking down Main Street, taking in the circus that Park City has become. It’s almost unrecognizable from two days ago, except for the thick layer of ice and slush on the streets and sidewalks. They’re too much like the ski slopes hanging above us; this sidewalk could easily be a double-black-diamond. There are very few ‘Film’ credentials like ours to be seen; there are hordes of tourists and people of uncertain function. We see a twelve-foot-wide mob being herded off the street, with cameras held in the air pointing inward – murmurs indicate that James Franco is in the middle.

Sundance Channel HQ, right on Main Street, offers one of the few alternate-life experiences for those of us who aren’t (yet) famous and rich. Inside we get some free food, free espresso, then go upstairs for free cocktails and swanky merch and lounging, courtesy of a Vegas hotel. Fun stuff – a photo booth with funny hats; cookies and milk; boot cleaning and waterproofing, and some freakishly attractive people. We stood around in the warm lounge sipping ‘hot mules’ and watching giant snowflakes plummet past the windows, hiding and revealing the mountain peaks. Across the street is the ‘Sundance Co-Op’, a collection of free stuff from vendors; the only explanation we can think of for the name of it is that it’s where indie film is being ‘co-opted’ by various corporations.

It strikes me that the presentation of Sundance to the rest of the world is a lot like the creation of a film’s narrative world. To manifest a fictional time and place, you put a frame around certain things and block out others. It doesn’t lessen what Sundance is, but it’s not a sort of movieland Biodome filled with movie stars – it’s laid out in a suburban town filled with the same kind of things you find where my parents live in Michigan. The streets are gross and there are lots of regular folks around. But you put a frame around the Hollywood sparkles when you send your live feed. The notable thing about this is that I stopped being intimidated by Sundance after being here an hour, which is maybe valuable in itself.

Jon and Doug return from a long day of networking; Jon tells stories of meeting a whirlwind of people he can barely remember. He did a series of interviews, including Popular Mechanics for some reason. Doug has been leading him around introducing him to everyone. Tonight they went to the Oprah party, where Jon met Rosie O’Donnell and gave her a screener of the movie.

Colin and Steve, the other members of the Toynbee Tile investigation team, arrive in Park City. Everyone gathers in the condo, reminiscing about the tiles and speculating on the future of the film.

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