Back at the Sundance Film Festival for My 10th Year of Films & Snow
by Alex Billington
January 21, 2016
It all began in 2007. I drove 9 hours from Colorado across the Wyoming plains, down through the Wasatch Mountains into Park City. It took three days of begging the press office to get a press badge (we'd only been up and running for 7 months at that point), but I luckily had tickets to see films. Now I'm back, for my 10th year in a row, to attend and cover the Sundance Film Festival. (Thankfully I don't have to beg the press office for a badge anymore.) I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it - I love this festival. I feel like I grew up here, made so many friends here, saw so many of my favorite films here. To borrow a line from my friend Peter at /Film, "the Sundance Film Festival isn't just a film festival, but a look into the future of cinema."
For some of the first few years I went to Sundance, I was part of the infamous "blogger condo" behind the Racquet Club (now know as The MARC). It was essentially 10 "movie bloggers", including my good friends Peter of SlashFilm and Neil of Film School Rejects, under one roof for 10 days. There was always a party at the end of the festival, but I won't dare tell any of those stories. I remember my very first year at Sundance I met and interviewed the man behind of one of my favorite movies – Luc Besson, director of The Fifth Element (you can still read that interview). I remember the next year chasing down "Rob" from Cloverfield on Main Street, because we all had just seen the film a few days before, and were surprised we found him.
Over the years, I've interviewed a number of talented storytellers at Sundance. Filmmaking brothers Jay & Mark Duplass in 2010, director Duncan Jones in 2009 after the premiere of his film Moon, director Marc Webb and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Zooey Deschanel from 500 Days of Summer, director Greg Mottola in 2009 for Adventureland, actor and filmmaker Mark Webber for his personal film The End of Love, actor Larry Bishop from Hell Ride in 2008, actor Ed Helms from Cedar Rapids in 2011, filmmaker Derek Cianfrance in 2010 for Blue Valentine, and one of the best of all, actor Nathan Fillion in 2007 talking about the indie drama Waitress. (As well as the aforementioned Luc Besson and star Rie Rasmussen of Angel-A.) It's exciting to talk to them at this moment in their career, in the middle of the fest.
Sundance is about more than just films (and, no, I don't mean parties). Actually, maybe that's not true. It is ALL about the films, but it's also about the people there for the films. Not only the many storytellers, screenwriters, producers, cinematographers, actors and filmmakers behind all of these movies, but also all the passionate cinephiles, critics, bloggers, journalists and supporters that make the journey up to Park City. During the fest it gets cold, there's (sometimes) snow everywhere, it's expensive, crowded with people from LA wearing all black, but I still wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I still love meeting people on the bus, chatting about what films they've seen and loved (or hated). I still love emerging from two hours of staring at a screen in a darkened room to snow falling beautifully while the mountains around glow in the twilight.
Despite attending for 10 years, I have not yet had a chance to meet Robert Redford. I just want to shake his hand and say, "thank you." Thank you for supporting this festival year after year, thank you for believing in independent films, thank you for making Sundance what it is and never letting it become anything else, thank you for creating the Sundance Institute and nurturing artists, thank you for encouraging the "Focus on Film", thank you for still being a prominent part of this festival year after year. I also want to say thank you to every last person that has given me their time, introduced themselves, talked with me, argued with me, sat with me, held a spot in line for me, laughed with me, or had a drink with me. You warm my heart.
The person I was at Sundance in 2007 is not the same person I am now at Sundance 2016. I've evolved in so many major ways, but what hasn't changed is my love for the festival. I will confess that this festival changes me every year. To gear up, go in, see 30 films, spend time with so many of my colleagues, and emerge after 10 days, exhausted, but invigorated by so many great stories - this is how I grow, this is how I learn. These films, these stories, these people, these characters, these scenes, these emotions leave a lasting impression.
In 2015, I ended up seeing an impressive 32 films and lived to tell about my experience, including Z for Zachariah, Cop Car, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Digging for Fire, True Story, Don Verdean, and Tangerine. Some of my favorites from last year included James Ponsoldt's The End of the Tour, Marielle Heller's The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Rick Famuyiwa's Dope, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, the doc Finders Keepers, Bobcat Goldthwait's Call Me Lucky, Alexandra Shiva's How to Dance in Ohio, and Robert Gordon & Morgan Neville's Best of Enemies. What will I fall head over heels for this year? I'm ready to find out. Find all posts here as coverage begins today. Bring on the cinema.
I love stumbling across great docs I've heard buzz about, I love being surprised by something I didn't expect, I love the experience when the entire audience goes wild for a film at its world premiere. These are the reasons why I always love returning to Sundance, in hopes of similar and, of course, unique experiences that I won't be forgetting. We already named our Top 10 Most Anticipated Sundance 2016 films earlier this week, but there's so many more yet to be discovered, yet to be seen, and I can't wait to start screening. So with that said, let's hope this turns out to be another incredible year of soon-to-be-classics, but for now it's time to toss on a jacket and head out into the snow for these first two screenings on Day 1 of Sundance 2016.