Woke up to thin snow that got heavier and heavier until the air was thick with it. Jon was rushing down to Main Street for an interview at the Sundance Co-Op. I caught a ride with him, then slogged up the inclined street to the top, where Slamdance is held at a hotel called Treasure Mountain Inn. On my way up, a guy with a camera runs across the street and almost knocks me down as goes past. I look back to see where he goes – he joins a line of four or five photographers standing outside the ‘Bing Bar’ where supposedly all the celebrities have been hanging out. It’s been strange to keep hearing about big ‘premiere’ events and celebrity sightings – it feels like some different Sundance happening somewhere else. Maybe it’s the films I’ve chosen to go see. Now as I watch, the photographers start snapping pictures of someone in sunglasses going up the steps and into the bar.
I went on in to the Slamdance building for a 3D panel, which was a bit of a disappointment. It was focused exclusively on one piece of color correction software, which was nice but pretty high-end for an indie director. I would have been surprised that this pitch was being made at Slamdance, because it involves an expensive hardware-and-software package, except there was a pretty rapt audience that seemed to be tech guys or editors or people who have production studios. I went because I’ve been working for years on an idea for ‘the first 3D arthouse film’. When I started, I thought I’d have to build my own rig of two cameras and do everything from the ground up. Now I can’t believe how much is automated.
On my way back down the street, I walk back past a line of what seem to be paparazzi. The thing that catches my eye is that they all have this stone-cold expression – they look like grim soldiers with the thousand-yard stare. It’s disconcerting, and the unsettled feeling sticks with me down the street. Overhead, it’s gloomy and gray, with clouds hanging around the mountain peaks. I head into the Filmmaker’s Lodge and get gouged for an 8-dollar turkey sandwich, and I randomly run into Jon. He was about to have one of his most important interviews, but the journalist had a family emergency and had to rush to the airport.
Starting this morning, whenever we’re all together we have been constantly checking Twitter and Google for responses and articles about the movie, laughing at ourselves the whole time. I think most of us have never looked at Twitter or a Tweet before. Resurrect Dead premiered last out of all the competition docs, and there hasn’t been much press yet, and there were other counterproductive events – Oscar nominations were announced yesterday morning (the morning of the premiere), and some article about Sam Raimi ‘resurrecting’ his Evil Dead movies has been retweeted about a million times, which is sucking up all the searches for the movie. There have been maybe a dozen VERY positive tweets. I can’t believe I just wrote that.
Jon and I hit the ‘New Frontiers’ building, with film- and video-related installation artwork. There were some amazing pieces, like electronic bugs projected from the ceiling onto a sandbox; when you carve lines into the sand, the bugs follow them. There were some truly beautiful installations. But we had to get back to the condo to prepare for the second screening of Resurrect Dead. Jon and crew are expected to be at very screening, as far as I know, and this one will be at the Prospector Square theater. It’s very large, much bigger than the first screening – we think 300 or 400 people. We stand out in the lobby and just gawk at the unbelievable crowd of people who have showed up to watch this film. Just months ago I remember Jon wondering if anyone would even care about this topic, if anyone would ever see this film – and now this mass of total strangers are waiting, not just showing up but waiting in line, to see it. It’s kind of a surreal, sleep-deprived euphoria as we take pictures of the crowd, walk down the length of the line videotaping, taking pictures with the official poster. I feel a simple total happiness seeing my filmmaker friend live this moment which is everything I work toward, to play to a big expectant audience. There’s talk that two current or former NY Times writers are in the audience.
During the show, the audience seems even more responsive and pleased than at the premiere. There are some wonderful questions, even after the Q&A – another film composer thinks Jon used a live orchestra for the music (he didn’t – it came from electronics in his bedroom) and another filmmaker asks if he shot on the Red camera (he didn’t – it was a frickin DVX-100.)
After the show, Jon and several others went to his friend Peter’s film ‘How To Die In Oregon’ (Peter gave us the ride home after the opening night party). I met up with them immediately afterwards to see the doc ‘Shut Up Little Man’. There are some ironic parallels between ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Resurrect Dead’: both deal with exposing a somewhat-unwilling subject to the wider world. However, ‘Shut Up’ was a portrait of people who seem totally unbothered by ethical concerns thanks to self-justification and greed. If the Toynbee investigators didn’t already come off as Boy Scouts, they don’t suffer by comparison. It’s not unexpected that some people are raising ethical questions about the Toynbee film, and though it’s a valid question to pursue, the answers are ultimately cut-and-dried. And though it doesn’t take a hidden motive to raise those questions, I think they will be pursued mostly for their sensationalism. As those questions do come up, I wish people could see what I’ve seen this week. Just minutes after their incredible world premiere, and often again in the following 24-plus-hours, the Toynbee team have had many many discussions on the repercussions of the film for their subjects, and the ethical choices they made in the process (they unarguably erred on the side of ethics). These discussions aren’t taking place out of self-concern, or strategic wagon-circling. These filmmakers are some of the most thoughtful and scrupulous people I’ve met. They seriously care about the subjects of their film, they seriously care about the repercussions of their film, and although they finally believe that their work and process were correct, they care enough to be conflicted, and they are aware of the questions that will come up. One of the toughest things is that Jon is often the first to identify with his critics, to take their perspectives to heart and concede everything to them. I often find myself arguing his own case against him. It would be tough for me to persevere like that.
Getting to bed around 2:30am, the condo was a lot emptier. Colin and Doug have left for the airport, and someone else is catching their shuttle in a couple of hours. Upstairs in the loft where my sleeping bag is now, there’s a sweeping view of the mountains over the town. The last thing I saw dropping to bed were the lonely lights clinging to the slopes, sleepless drivers grooming slowly up and down the mountains.