Brandon's Sundance 2010 Experience: That's It, That's All
by Brandon Lee Tenney
February 1, 2010
I'm sitting here in what was dubbed "The Blogger Condo" as one-by-one the bloggers who made the condo what it was file out and head home. The kitchen is clean (sort of). The bathroom is clean. The living room is rearranged, but fairly clean. And I'm here, having just finished my last review, waxing on what I've learned throughout Sundance 2010. This is my final Sundance Experience blog (you can find the previous blogs here and here) collecting my thoughts as a first-time attendee of Sundance. Here's a few important nuggets of info (and tips for future attendees) that my brain has managed to soak up over the past ten days.
Number 1: Boots are a must. Seriously. I came with only my All Stars; I bought a pair of North Face boots on my second day in the snow. Keeping one's feet warm above all is an invaluable lesson for this Floridian transplanted in Los Angeles.
Number 2: 35 films in ten days is far more challenging a task than it seems. Don't get me wrong, having the opportunity to see that many films and write about them and talk with the filmmakers all during the same week is incredible. But at an average of four films per day (some days with as many as five), it takes a toll. I take notes during films that I plan on reviewing anyway, but the note-taking process is invaluable at Sundance. For one thing, it reminds me that I did, in fact, see the film. For another, I usually didn't write my reviews until that night or the next morning, after I'd seen three or four other films. Most often I would jot down at least the intro paragraph in my composition book during the credits. Having three or four intros on paper made it possible for me to have three or four reviews turned in every couple days.
Number 3: The movies that stick with you are the most important ones at the fest. Films like Enemies of the People, The Company Men, and Winter's Bone are all good films (for different reasons), but Blue Valentine, Catfish, and Splice all stuck with me throughout the week. They became touchstones by which the films that played after I saw them were judged. I place a lot of emphasis on my own emotional involvement in a piece of art. Never has that been more telling than here at Sundance. One can only analyze the quality of the filmmaking for so long until an emotional response is necessary. A film like Winter's Bone is an example of stellar filmmaking, but it never evoked an response beyond my own intellectualization. Please Give is another film in that vein. Now, I'm not saying that I completely ignored these films' filmmaking prowess, but if I'm unable to feel anything, well, I more than likely not going to commit the film to memory as easily as, say, Blue Valentine.
Number 4: The Sundance juries have an agenda. And that's okay. I saw 35 films during my time at Sundance 2010 and still managed to miss nearly every Grand Jury prize winner. The juries want you to know that the winners exist. Sometimes, they're the best representation of the year's theme. Other times, they're films that, for one reason or another, are deemed socially, culturally, and artistically important. The Audience Award is the best representation of how everyone not at Sundance will react to the films shown at Sundance. Does winning a Grand Jury prize mean anything? Yes and no. It's a great honor, without doubt. It will give the awarded films a bit of attention. But a prize does not equal a wide release -- or even a limited release, for that matter.
Number 5: The best new voices were predominately female. Sundance 2010 was a phenomenal year for female filmmakers. From The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko) to Please Give (Nicole Holofcener) to Obselidia (Diane Bell) to 12th & Delaware (Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady) to Night Catches Us (Tanya Hamilton) to Nowhere Boy (Sam Taylor Wood) to the numerous short films written and directed by women, the ratio is beginning to shift. Sundance has always been on the cusp of the freshest voices in film; it's almost by definition that Sundance be so. Within five years, hopefully we'll see more female voices in wide release and not just on the festival circuit.
Number 6: Meeting people who you've only known via the internet is a wonderful experience. There's only so much you can really know about a person from their 140 character quips and Facebook photos. But after ten days together with the guys from Gordon and the Whale (Chase Whale, Rusty Gordon, and James Wallace with a guest appearance by Kate Erbland) and Neil Miller from Film School Rejects among others, it makes me wish we all lived in closer proximity and were able to rent some office space and work together all the time. It's the people as much as the films that make Sundance. And because of that, I'm eternally grateful for the people that made Sundance 2010 such a joy.
And that's that. I can't wait to be back for Sundance 2011. But, most of all, I can't wait to be back in my own bed. In Los Angeles. Where there's not a bit of snow outside. Seriously, it's beautiful for a bit, but I'll take the balmy, temperate SoCal climate every time.