If you have a press pass at Sundance, you can go to all the “Press & Industry” screenings you want with no ticket required – provided you line up in time. But lining up in time is an art: depending on the day, time and buzz, there maybe nobody in line for a film a half-hour before it’s supposed to start, or it could already be filled.
Anyway, press screenings have very little of that special festival energy. But that energy can also be misleading; so many films have blown a Sundance audience away only to flop at a lower elevation. There are a lot of theories about this phenomenon; I think the truth is some combination of all of them. There’s the altitude, as I said, and the things it does to your brain. And the general, uh, festiveness of a festival. Plus you’ve most likely fought for your ticket and waited in a long line to see the movie, so you’re just psyched to be there.
The one public screening I’ve attended turned out to be – unbeknownst to me – the insanely hopping premiere (see pic at right) of A Most Wanted Man at The Eccles Theater, the largest venue at Sundance. I got there a little early, threw my bag down on a seat in the middle of the converted high school auditorium and out to get a snack. By the time I got back, the theater was largely filled – and I had put my stuff down smack dab in the middle of the producers and some pretty big-name talent. I was feeling very VIP sitting there until I realized I was going to have to leave right when the credits rolled in order to get to my next movie on time (see “lining up on time” above). And that meant crawling over those same producers and that same big-name talent to get out. Which is what I did, apologizing profusely as I stepped on toes and trying to keep my bag from smacking Rachel McAdams in the face.
Anyway, the John Le Carre’ thriller was super entertaining, and probably my favorite film in a day filled with interesting, diverse, well-made, deeply watchable but not totally successful movies, including The Skeleton Twins, I Origins and Difret, a movie about an Ethiopian girl’s fight to change the status quo after she kills a man who – by tribal rite and right – abducted and raped her. Though I need to see Difret again; its understated score was often replaced by thumping electronica bleeding over from the doc playing in the theater next door to surreal effect.
The real highlight of the day was introducing myself to Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) at a party, one of my cinematic idols. He’s here showing his homage to Roger Ebert called “Life Itself,” which I probably won’t get to see though I’m hearing amazing things about it. I love Steve because he’s such a great documentarian, but also because he played a pivotal role in a radio piece I produced that I’m really proud of, called “Ministry of Presence.“
But I ramble. I’m going to sleep to get ready for my last day in film heaven.