A phrase often heard at the Sundance Film Festival is "how to fest," and lesson number one that I've learned is that being on time isn't good enough, be early. A few times I've had ample time before an event, and filled in the gap with the frivolity of eating a meal. What I've then found is that I miss a couple of small events that fill up -- nothing major, but not the ideal scenario. Thankfully Sundance has so much to experience that flexibility is key, as you never know who you may meet on the shuttle bus or in line at a screening.
A highlight of my Sunday: Day Four was the Texas Party, presented by the Austin Film Society and Texas Monthly, and crowded with Austin and Texas filmmakers such as the Arts + Labor crew (seen above) including cast and crew from Pit Stop, Hearts of Napalm and Black Metal. Pit Stop and Black Metal screened at Sundance, while short films Hearts of Napalm and Spark were shown at the concurrent Slamdance Film Festival here in Park City.
I spent a short time at the party so I could ride with the Arts+Labor crew out to the Redstone Cinema for the premiere of Black Metal as part of the Shorts Program 4. This particular program featured several high-caliber but darkly toned short films, including On Suffocation by writer/director Jenifer Malmqvist, whose films Peace Talk and Birthday have previously screened at Sundance. On Suffocation centers around the execution of two homosexual males in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, relying solely on visuals with no dialogue.
[Editor's note: Please welcome Natalia Ciolko, who's writing about Sundance Film Festival coverage for Slackerwood while she's in Park City. If you've been looking for Chale's coverage, unfortunately he's been sick and never made it to Park City.]
What inspires people to spend their vacation days and a mess of money to trek out to Utah in the middle of January? It's not really about the films -- many of those will be out in a matter of months -- but the opportunity to meet the artists behind them.
In honor of that mission, the Sundance Film Festival hosted a reception Wednesday afternoon just for members of the press and filmmakers. No agents, no industry. Sundance Institute director Keri Putnam (@kputnam) and Director of Programming Trevor Groth (@trevorgroth) were also en scene, mingling with the talent and international journalists.
As welcome as the exclusive access was the fabulous buffet, a sight for sore eyes after a week of subsistence living on Clif Bars and white wine. Being an official Sundance event, there was plenty of the latter, too -- I certainly wouldn't wish this festival on a recovering alcoholic.
I didn't go to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival this year. I know I'm missing lots of good movies, but on the other hand, it was 70 degrees in Austin yesterday, while Sundance festgoers are dealing with single-digit and even negative-number temperatures. I'm too delicate a flower for that kind of weather.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways in which we in Austin (or anywhere) can have a taste of the Sundance experience from the comfort of our homes. Before you enjoy the videos below, if you want an authentic Sundance experience you could crank up the air conditioning, put on some thermal underwear, and consume only power bars and coffee. If you want to simulate the press-and-industry experience, you might get a jerky friend to sit next to you and play with their smartphone the whole time, but I think that's going too far.
- The Screening Room -- Sundance has posted a dozen of the shorts from the 2013 festival on YouTube, at no cost to you. Debbie has already mentioned that Austin short film Black Metal is one of them, which I watched the other day and can't recommend enough. But there are also 11 other short films, and that's an enjoyable evening right there.
- Focus Forward Films -- Focus Forward is a series of three-minute shorts that are screening at a number of film festivals, including Sundance 2013. You can also watch them online from the project's website. Filmmakers include Morgan Spurlock, Albert Mayles, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, Steve James, and Alex Gibney. There are 30 total, which is another 90-minute slot of entertaining shorts.
I hit the ground running on Saturday, my third day of Sundance, which isn't as easy at it sounds with early morning temperatures below zero and lungs still acclimating to 6900-foot elevation. Lots of water and rest plus a well-researched press and industry screening schedule allowed me to catch several films before my top priority -- the Mud red carpet with stars Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan, as well as writer/director Jeff Nichols (pictured above).
First up in the morning was the documentary I'd missed the previous night, Pussy Riot -- A Punk Prayer. Directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin present a well-balanced and intimate view of the three young women who were arrested for performing at Saint Basil's Cathedral. Friday's premiere at Sundance was sold out, and it was announced the next day that HBO Documentary Films acquired U.S. television rights.
Next on my schedule was Andrew Bujalski's locally filmed Computer Chess, a black-and-white mockumentary set around a man-versus-computer chess tournament in the 80s. Several familiar faces as well as real computer programmers are featured in this slow-paced dry oddity, including Wiley Wiggins, who effortlessly portrays experimental psychologist Martin Beuscher. I also caught a glimpse of fellow Slackerwood contributor Rod Paddock as an extra.
The most important rule of any film festival is to treat it as a marathon rather a sprint, to prevent hitting the wall. Don't get me wrong -- I'm still indulging free drinks at parties and late-night conversations about film and music -- but with the fear of altitude sickness and flu, I've been sleeping at least seven hours. My "sleep is the enemy" mantra is only effective for short-timers who are here for a long weekend.
My second day was fairly light as I continued to deal with the commute into Park City. I attended the press screening of Austin filmmaker Jeff Nichols' feature Mud, which seemed well received and which I thoroughly enjoyed. Afterwards I headed down to the Library for my first Sundance red carpet for The Spectacular Now, with a quick stop by the Stella Artois Studio for complimentary beer and a glimpse of spokesperson and British actor Noah Huntley.
The Spectacular Now red carpet featured director James Ponsoldt (seen above), lead actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Winstead also appeared in Ponsoldt's film Smashed, which debuted at Sundance last year, and appears in the comedy A.C.O.D. that also debuts at Sundance. She also produced the dark comedy Cub -- a short film also premiering at Sundance as part of the Midnight Film Series.
Relying on public transportation in an unfamiliar town while staying on the outskirts has its disadvantages. I only attended an hour of the Sundance Film Festival opening-night party since my last bus departed at 11:15 pm -- but the bus is a great place to meet both helpful locals and filmmakers in Park City.
On the way in I met screenwriter/director Tal Granit, who traveled from Israel to premiere his short film Summer Vacation at the festival. I made it to fest headquarters to navigate the press office and pick up credentials, before heading to the Egypt Theatre for the Day One press conference. Salt Lake Tribune film critic Sean Means moderated a discussion with actor, filmmaker and Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford, Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam and Sundance Film Festival John Cooper (seen above).
Watch the press conference its entirety after the jump.
I'm passionate about short films -- as evidenced by my role as a programmer for Austin Film Society's ShortCase series -- and hope to see quite a few at Sundance this coming week. A record number of 8,102 short films were submitted for the 2013 Sundance Short Film program, with only 65 short films making the cut.
You don't have to trek to Park City to enjoy some of these shorts -- a dozen of the best are now available online in The Screening Room, a YouTube channel curated by Sundance short film programmers. Austin represents with local writer/director Kat Candler's Black Metal, starring Jonny Mars (Saturday Morning Massacre, Hellion) and Heather Kafka (Lovers of Hate). This short yet powerful and evocative piece leaves viewers wanting more of the story of Ian, a death metal rocker who must deal with the consequences of a fan's actions.
Watch Black Metal here after the jump.
I'm looking forward to seeing up close how the Lone Star Films will shine at Sundance 2013. If last week's press preview at the Austin Film Society Screening Room is any indication, audiences will not be disappointed, especially with Pit Stop and Black Metal. Filmmaker Yen Tan's story in Pit Stop comes from his curiosity while on road trips between Dallas and Houston, wondering whether gay people lived in the small towns along the route. His research led to a story of individuals who live their lives normally in rural environments, and the preview I saw of a few dramatic scenes was thought-provoking.
Another thought-provoking film was Kat Candler's Black Metal -- check back for a full review on Friday as well as info about how you can see it even if you're not in Park City. Black Metal shows tragedy rarely seen, of how blame laid on multimedia -- music, horror films, shooter video games -- can affect the creators as well. I spoke with lead actor Jonny Mars and writer/director Kat Candler about their short film as well as Sundance 2013 projects, including the development of Candler's Sundance 2012 short Hellion as a feature through the Sundance Feature Film Creative Producing Lab for creative producer Kelly Williams. Mars credits the genius and unique approach of Candler for directing the "little humans" of Hellion and Black Metal.
I'll be in Park City for the next 10 days, covering the red carpet for the major features from Texas filmmakers including Jeff Nichols' Mud and Before Midnight, as well as premieres for any Austin film that my and the shuttle schedule will allow. I'm also planning to see many, many movies. Here are some of the features and documentaries I'm especially looking forward to viewing.
I can't abide prolonged cold weather, so I have avoided the Sundance Film Festival every year. Until now. Austin Film Society Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick has persuaded me to go this time. After looking over the titles, I have gotten excited about the prospects. So, off I go today to Dillard's to add to my paltry "winter wardrobe" rarely worn in Austin. On Thursday, I fly to Utah for six days of movie-watching. Among the 21 films I propose to watch are a dozen (eight documentaries, four narratives) that I must see, provided I don't slip on the ice or get deterred by a flash mob surrounding a celebrity.
When I Walk -- Filmmaker Jason DaSilva had been making films since he was 17, but when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 25, he kept on making films. In his latest, he has turned the camera on himself and his struggles to pursue his craft.
Running from Crazy -- Born four months after her famous grandfather's suicide, Mariel Hemingway eventually followed her older sister Margaux into acting. After Margaux committed suicide in 1996, Mariel began to contemplate the self-destructive family trait. Veteran documentarian Barbara Kopple (Shut Up & Sing, Harlan County U.S.A.) explores the Hemingway family history and Mariel's mission to prevent suicide.
The Sundance Film Festival has announced most of its 2013 film program, which includes a pleasantly surprising number of films from the Lone Star State. Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater will premiere Before Midnight, the sequel to Before Sunset (2004) and Before Sunrise (1995), with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (pictured above) reprising their roles as their characters cross paths again. Local company Stuck On On was involved in the movie's post-production.
Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols' new film Mud, starring sometimes-Austinite Matthew McConaughey, native Texan Joe Don Baker and Reese Witherspoon will have its North American premiere at the Utah festival, having wowed audiences and critics alike at Cannes earlier this year. Young actor Tye Sheridan (Tree of Life) from Elkhart, Texas, stars as one of the young boys who befriends McConaughey's title character. As with Take Shelter, Nichols utilized Stuck On On for sound post-production and Austin composer David Wingo for Mud.
Writer/director Andrew Bujalski's locally shot movie Computer Chess features man versus machine during a chess tournament in the 80s. To create a more authentic look, Bujalski located old computers through local hobbyists as well as Austin's Goodwill Computer Works Museum, which features more than 100 working vintage computer systems. The cast includes Wiley Wiggins.
Dallas filmmaker Yen Tan's Pit Stop, shot in Austin, features local actors John Merriman, Heather Kafka and Jonny Mars as well as native Texan Amy Seimetz (Tiny Furniture, Sun Don't Shine). David Lowery co-scripted; he first worked with Yen Tan on the 2005 dramatic anthology Deadroom, which Lowery edited and both he and Tan produced and directed. As you'll learn below, this is not the only Sundance 2013 film in which Lowery is involved. Nor is it the only Sundance film involving Mars and producer Kelly Williams.