Sundance '13 Blog: Surviving Seeing 30 Films in 10 Days at a Festival
by Alex Billington
January 27, 2013
I unabashedly, unequivocally love film festivals. Even after 7 years straight of attending 11-day long fests all over the world, I still love them. Sundance 2013 has just wrapped up and I'm on my flight home from Utah now, thinking back over the last 10 days, the 30 films I saw, the people I met, the experiences that defined this year at Sundance. It was another unforgettable, exciting, iconic year for me. In fact, one of the best in a long time. I saw a grand total of 30 films, something I haven't done since 2007/2008 when I first started attending this fest. Everything worked out perfect, and while I'm exhausted, I'm extremely happy.
30 films in 10 days?! You read that right. I'm incredibly proud of hitting the 30 film mark this year. While some of my colleagues usually end up seeing upwards of 35 to 40 films, for the last 4 years I've struggled to see barely 25 films at Sundance. The balance between seeing films, working on the site, writing reviews, attending parties, staying healthy and meeting up with friends is a constant challenge when any/everyone in the film industry descends on a small mountain town for two weeks in January. I guess I got lucky this year, or maybe my 7 years of experience finally paid off. Even though I'm not an attendee who has been coming since the 80's, I feel like a Sundance regular now. I know the ins and outs of every theater, the entire town.
One of the comments I often hear whenever I mention how many films I've seen is "are your eyeballs tired?" Nope. Never. This is what I live for, this is what I love. And when I get home and begin a week long recovery process, I'll probably be watching TV/movies just the same (luckily from the comfort of my own couch, on my big screen HDTV). But I understand the question. 30 films in 10 days is an average of 3 per day, though sometimes I see 5 in one day, other days just 2, and it is mentally exhausting more than anything. Do they all start to blur together by the end? Yes. But do the best films really start to stand out? A very big yes here.
This is why I love the experience of film festivals. Over the course of a year, I attend at least three major film festivals: Sundance, Cannes and Toronto. Even after 7 years, I rarely leave a fest early (like some other colleagues of mine), I stick it out all the way to the very end. Where else could I watch the best independent films this world can offer back-to-back for 10 days? Where else can I see these films right now, before the buzz, without knowing anything going in? Staying all the way through is important. It's an achievement, for one, but it also helps define the festival on a whole, all the films in it, and what's truly worth the attention after it's over. This is part of a big discussion I've had many times with my festival friends over the years.
After the third of fourth day of the fest, the films do start to somewhat blur. The really good ones stand out and can easily be recalled when anyone asks "what are your favorites so far?" On the opposite end, any bad or even mediocre films get lost in the mix, they fade away into our dreams as we sleep every night, getting ready for another set of films the next day. I've learned over the years this is one of the best ways to truly filter out the
good great from the bad. There may be that one film you thought was amazing at first, but two days later you can't even remember the name. There also may be that film you thought wasn't that great, but five days later still can't get it out of your head. It sticks with you even after seeing more and more each day.
But that's when you know you've really encountered an incredible movie. One that, even after 10 or 20 or 30 films, continues to stand out amongst so many. Whatever it is about it. Maybe it's one of the performances, maybe it was a certain gripping scene that left an emotional dent you can't shake, maybe it was the score, or such vivid cinematography, or some story that really connected with you in a way that you didn't think was possible. There's so many different ways and personal reasons that films can stick with you, and I've come to recognize how valuable it is to understand that's the key component to great cinema. If it moves you, leaves an impact, sticks in your mind, there is something special about it, even if it doesn't seem that way at first.
One misconception about Sundance is that it's impossible (or you need to be in the industry) to get tickets. Out of these 30 films, I only went to one "press" screening the entire time. Press screenings at Sundance are boring. They're fairly unexciting, they're held in small theaters, they're filled with (mostly) stuffy industry folks and critics, and to me they don't represent the real experience of this festival. So I had to get "public" tickets, 29 of them. There are so many ways to get public tickets: from publicists, from the Sundance press office, buying them from the Sundance box office, begging friends. I won't give away all my secrets, but it's not as hard as many think it is. Sundance would not be as amazing as it is if I couldn't see public screenings.
So how do you survive seeing 30 films? The easy answer is all the obvious: plan smart, eat healthy, get sleep, skip pointless parties (I know, I know), know your way around, rent a good condo, spend as much time with your friends as possible. Above all, never lose your passion. The very same passion that brought you there to begin with. That undying love for films, for great cinema, for the emotion and excitement that comes from incredible experiences like this. We lucked out this year finding a perfect condo right near the Marriott HQ, which is just a 5 minute walk from the Eccles Theater venue where I spent most of my days. A good place to stay is extremely important, but beyond that it's mostly a staunch commitment to seeing films—all day long.
That was the attitude I took while at Sundance this year and kept to it all the way to the end, capping off my 30th film on Saturday afternoon with the doc Google and the World Brain. Unfortunately, I hated the doc and nearly walked out, but at least I hit the mark I was aiming for. On the other hand, scheduling interviews at this year's festival was a bit of a nightmare, and I couldn't get one together by the time the fest ended. Luckily, Ethan was able to chat with the director of Midnight film Ass Backwards, as well as stars Casey Wilson & June Diane Raphael. But sometimes it's just a bit too challenging to arrange time for an interview when you're sitting in lines waiting to get into show after show every day. It was a tough sacrifice to make.
As we wrap up our coverage of yet another amazing Sundance, I'll spend more time talking about my top favorites of the festival later, but I wanted to focus on the experience of the festival here. There's nothing like Sundance, it's one of my favorite film festivals in the world for so many reasons. As I mentioned in my self-reflection blog post, whenever I return home from Sundance every January, I feel like I'm a different person. I'm invigorated by the remarkable cinema I've had the honor of experiencing, inspired by the people I got to be around, and still in awe that I was just at the legendary Sundance Film Festival seeing 30 films.
One of the most crucial elements to a perfect Sundance experience is the people. Thank you to everyone who I had the chance of meeting, saving seats for, or chatting with. All of you are what make this even better. From roommates Peter, Germain and Russ of SlashFilm, our own Ethan, and guest Alicia Malone; to my friends Eric Lavallee of IONCinema, our own Ben Pearson and the GeekTyrant crew, Raffi, Dan and Jordan of The Film Stage, Allison & Kate from Film School Rejects, bloggers Tomris Laffly, Katey Rich, Matt Patches, Ryland Aldrich, Dor Dotson, Marco Cerritos, Cory Everett and Joey Magidson. Plus journalists Jeff Goldsmith, Jeff Sneider, Josh Dickey and Anthony Breznican (and anyone else I met along the way). Even the press office volunteer Greg, who helped us get our tickets every morning, was an integral part of the full experience. Thanks for making this year another unforgettable one.
I go to Sundance every year because I want to be moved by independent film, inspired by the power of love and the tenacity of humanity, through the sadness of tragedy, moved by the enduring hope for happiness. I want to discover great cinema, find stories that need to be seen (like Fruitvale, C.O.G., The Spectacular Now and Life According to Sam), and meet characters that challenge our beliefs and decisions. Of course, there's plenty of great entertainment too (like S-VHS, Toy's House, Newlyweeds and Don Jon's Addiction), and we all know laughter is the best medicine (especially to shake this nagging "Sundance cold"). The 2013 Sundance Film Festival has come to an end, but the memories and movies live on. And I'll be back next year.
Here's an updated list of all the films I've seen at the 2013 festival so far with a quick reaction for each one.
Alex's Sundance 2013 Films:
1. Who is Dayani Cristal? (dir. Marc Silver) - Liked It
2. Crystal Fairy (dir. Sebastián Silva) - Hated It
3. Shopping (dirs. Mark Albiston & Louis Sutherland) - Liked It
4. The Spectacular Now (dir. James Ponsoldt) - LOVED It
5. Don Jon's Addiction (dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt) - Loved It
6. Touchy Feely (dir. Lynn Shelton) - Hated It
7. Breathe In (dir. Drake Doremus) - Liked It
8. It Felt Like Love (dir. Eliza Hittman) - Just Okay
9. S-VHS (dirs. Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Eduardo Sánchez, Adam Wingard) - Loved It
10. Ain't Them Bodies Saints (dir. David Lowery) - Loved It
11. The East (dir. Zal Batmanglij) - Loved It
12. Stoker (dir. Chan-wook Park) - Liked It
13. Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater) - LOVED It
14. Upstream Color (dir. Shane Carruth) - Just Okay
15. The Way, Way Back (dirs. Nat Faxon & Jim Rash) - Liked It
16. Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman (dir. Fredrik Bond) - Loved It
17. C.O.G. (dir. Kyle Patrick Alvarez) - LOVED It
18. In a World... (dir. Lake Bell) - Liked It
19. Life According to Sam (dirs. Sean Fine & Andrea Nix) - Loved It
20. Circles (dir. Srdan Golubovic) - Just Okay
21. A.C.O.D. (dir. Stu Zicherman) - Hated It
22. Concussion (dir. Stacie Passon) - Liked It
23. Toy's House (dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts) - Loved It
24. Escape From Tomorrow (dir. Randy Moore) - Just Okay
25. Charlie Victor Romeo (dirs. Robert Berger & Karlyn Michelson) - Liked It
26. Fruitvale (dir. Ryan Coogler) - Loved It
27. Jobs (dir. Joshua Michael Stern) - Liked It
28. Kill Your Darlings (dir. John Krokidas) - Liked It
29. Newlyweeds (dir. Shaka King) - Liked It
30. Google and the World Brain (dir. Ben Lewis) - Hated It
Those are the 30 films I saw this year. If you're interested in any, ask me for more thoughts on a specific film, as there were so many I saw and I have something to say for just about all of them. A great year overall.