Brandon's Sundance Film Festival Experience: Where to Begin
by Brandon Lee Tenney
January 21, 2010
This year's Sundance Film Festival, held in the picturesque town of Park City, Utah, also happens to be my first trip to one of the landmark celebrations of independent cinema. The mere prospect of such an experience and the potential being projected on the myriad screens around the city is enough to cause any cinephile to lapse into a diabetic coma. That is to say, it's pretty cussin' sweet. Some romanticize the fest -- something that, even after two days, appears all too easy to do -- while others do their best not to lap up the sweet nectar too quickly. These folks are measured and resolute. Warriors set about a battlefield centered around the very brink of these films' buzz. For Sundance is a proving ground. It's where films like Clerks and Little Miss Sunshine and last year's Precious first made their mark. There's history here. But for all intents and purposes, for us writers, the filmmakers, the stars, it's very much the future.
Since this is my first trip to this fest, there's a bit of a learning curve. The sheer amount of films on display is staggering. On my schedule I have thirty-seven films that I'm hoping to see over the course of the next ten days. And that's a mere fraction of the films showing. Amongst the journalists here, there's been much debate about how one should go about choosing how to whittle a list of upwards of one hundred films to a reasonable thirty or so. My process has been to simply read the short plot synopsis, check out the director, and if it's intriguing, it goes on the list. This is where one's tastes and proclivities become vastly apparent. I love documentaries, so I've included a ton of them on my list. I'm also a sucker for films that lean in a more romantic direction, are a bit irreverent, and, of course, anything sci-fi. While there's not a much sci-fi fare, Splice being perhaps the only one, my other criteria is in great effect. It's all about taste. And it's the fest's ability to be personalized that's so charming.
Some people argue that by seeing films that are only in one's wheelhouse, so to speak, that they're ignoring an entire group of films that may, in fact, be better than those they've selected. While true, there are two points that make this argument moot. The first is that even though one may be able to decrease the amount of total films via one's own tastes, those films are by and large still an unknown quantity. Just because something looks great on paper, by no means proves that it'll will be great on screen. Or so I'm told. The second point is that with so many people attending Sundance seeing so many films, those couple of films that are overlooked by one person are more than likely going to be caught by someone else. That someone else is going to tell everyone they come in contact with. Or, you know, Twitter everyone they don't know. That makes it nearly impossible for one to miss a film that's truly great. That's the power of the collective. The power of the Sundance buzz.
But, as I said, it's the personalization of the fest that's most appealing thus far. I'm currently staying with eleven film writers, and none of our schedules are exactly the same. That's incredible. There are films we're all excited to see -- Howl, Splice, The Company Men, Welcome to the Rileys, Hesher, Buried, Frozen -- but there are films that none of this group have on their lists that I'm especially psyched for: Bhutto, A Film Unfinished, Catfish, and All My Friends are Funeral Singers. Of course, it's the nature of the fest for everyone's schedules to evolve constantly. As my grandma used to say, "You make plans, and God laughs." Never has that been more true than at Sundance. And I haven't even seen a single movie yet.
Tomorrow, that'll change. And so will begin my coverage of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. I'll be writing as many reviews as I can muster and so will Alex. Hopefully these reviews will provide both insight into the possible Oscar-hopefuls and the sleeper- and smash-hits alike of 2010 -- as well as those inevitable indie misfires -- along with providing you a first-timer's Sundance experience vicariously through me. As for my state of mind right now, well, it's a heady mix of excitement and anxiety. It's about time I saw some movies. Of course, I may have to go on an all-book media diet come February 1st.