Wednesday, which seems like it was months ago, was the first day of rest. I wrote, I answered e-mails, and I generally caught up. Rest was much-needed, as that night was the Competition Filmmaker's dinner and party. After a charming welcome and short speech from Sundance Film Fest Director John Cooper
, he encouraged each of us to "Meet and talk to at least five filmmakers in this room." It did get the ball rolling and loosen us up. Me, anyway. The food and drink were excellent. I met several cool people and ran into a bunch I had met earlier in the week. Mostly, I hung with friends Charlie and Lisa. Laughing it up, jokingly encouraging them to spread rumors about me to other Sundance people. "But only cool/dangerous ones, like I was in jail for five years, or I've got women in every state."
At this halfway point, the festival tends to die down a little. A welcomed lull. The streets empty; the parking lot prices get slashed in half. Even Drake and Jon Alberts were out of town, screening Like Crazy
in Madison, Wisconsin, as part of the Sundance USA program. With some spare time for the first time, Gules and I were determined to get some movies in. Wednesday, we saw three . . .
1.) Terri, directed by Azazel Jacobs. It was absolutely my favorite U.S. Dramatic Comp film of those I saw. It's subtle, it's funny, it's off-beat while remaining uncontrived, and it showcases completely unaffected and thought-provoking performances by the four primary characters (including John C. Reilly as an unorthodox high-school vice principal). The film plays unconventionally, more like a novel might read (it was written by a novelist/first-time screenwriter). The real winner here is director Azazel. Potentially mistaken for a member of the Mars Volta or the Strokes, the AFI grad is amazingly talented and humble to boot. . . . The humor. His sensibilities. The balanced nuances. Terri is great. I hope I can work with Aza some day.
2.) Life In a Day, a YouTube presentation. Hands down, the best film I saw at Sundance this year. You may recall YouTube ads asking for submissions of your footage recorded July 24 of last year. Any footage. In short, several filmmakers received 4,500 hours of footage from around 190 countries of people doing everyday things, showing us their world. All recorded on the same day. Once the footage had been collected, this talented team of filmmakers cut together one of the more poignant and human films I have ever seen. In the spirit of Koyanisquatsi or Baraka, there is no narrative--only themes and emotions. The footage and the way in which it was complied was enough to make me reel. To cry, to laugh, to smile, to fear. Then every 10 minutes or so, I remembered, "My God. And this was all shot on the same day." Please see this movie upon its release (I'm told July 24 this year). It's about life and how we live it on this planet. This is an important film.
3.) Then there was The Oregonian. I'll begin by saying WTF!?! I was looking forward to this midnight screening, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We met up with producer Roger Mayer (who also has a role in the film--and steals the show) in the green room, and as soon as I laid eyes on the squat, bristle-bearded, tooth-missing, flannel-wearing producer, I knew I was in for something nuts. I'm hesitant to elaborate on it, except to say, if you have a sick sense of humor and like weirdo-gonzo-laugh-your-ass-off movies set in the woods, with no discernible narrative structure, lots of blood, people coughing up black slime, masturbating sports mascots, motor-oil frappes and a sound design that demands you plug your ears at times . . . see The Oregonian! It was actually amazing. I'm still thinking about it . . . "Happy Birthday." See it.
The next day brought a little more rest, as well as time to catch up with old friends. New ones, too. I chilled, I drank coffee, I had a fancy and delicious dinner with an old friend of my Mom's and his son, who is an aspiring filmmaker. I met some ladies from Boulder while warming up by a fire ring, smoking a cig. We roamed together for a while and got a drink. I seemed to click with one of them, a sweet-hearted young woman with rich brown hair. We exchanged contact info, and I wondered if I'll ever see her again. I feel like I will for some reason. . . . At once, the town was alive again, streets full for closing weekend. It also brought the return of Drake and Alberts. I found them dining with Gules. With tickets to a midnight screening of Hobo With a Shotgun
at the Egyptian in hand, we decided it was time for a few drinks. We drank fast and hard, in anticipation of the neo-gridehouse-exploitation flick with a surprisingly (considering the absurd premise) solid and truthful performance by Rutger Hauer
as the titular "Hobo."
The audience was electric, exploding with energy. I've not experienced anything like it since catching the premiere of Drag Me to Hell at SXSW in 2009, when a bat got loose in the theater. . . . But I was tired. And to be honest, after The Oregonian the night before (a film surely made for a mere fraction of Hobo's budget), it had a lot to live up to, but the music, the style, the design, the inventiveness and tone were incomparable to anything else I'm aware of. It will be big a hit, if it can dodge an NC-17 rating. Really, the winner of the night was the short film that screened before Hobo. Titled The Legend of Beaver Dam, it's a horror-musical-comedy directed by Jerome Sable. Best short I've seen in ages. There was nothing serious and everything outrageous about this warped little-big film. It put the camp in campy. Literally. Shit, now I'm starting to write like a journalist. . . . Anyway, seek it out.
Cut to five hours later. We were back at the Egyptian for the final screening of Like Crazy. Josh Leonard (actor from Humpday and The Blair Witch Project, and at Sundance with a film he directed and stars in called The Lie) walked in. We had only formally met a few days prior, but we were familiar with each other from festivals past. More me with him. The freakin' Blair Witch Project, for crying out loud! Amazing. It was great to see him and others there supporting us so early. This proved to be our best screening--something about the size of the Egyptian. Also, those who had gotten tickets wanted them enough to get up and see it at 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday. They wanted to be there. We were told 80 wait-listers were turned away. That made me feel bad. I hope they'll still go see it when it comes out.
After the screening, the Sundance programers hosted a breakfast for all filmmakers. It was delicious. Eggs, sausage, pancakes, "Screwdriver, please." I'm set for the day. My favorite Park City photographer Fred Hayes and his assistant, Britt, were there and took some cool pics of us. Felt good to be together with all the filmmakers. Just the filmmakers. No agents or managers, just us.
Then a miracle: I took a nap. We all did for about three hours, waking just in time to get ready for the Awards Ceremony. As we all began to stir, the question became "Do we dress up or down? Or Just throw on whatever we want?" In an act of solidarity, we opted to dress slightly up, but kept it practical.
We arrived at the ceremony without a care. We were there to have fun. Pre-ceremony, New York filmmaker Sean Durkin
and I agreed we had all already won by virtue of being in the room. Ironically, modest Sean ended up winning a prize as well: Best Director for his film Martha Marcy May Marlene
. It was a cavalcade of faces from the nine days prior. You could feel the love and mutual appreciation in the massive venue. We took our seat, and the show began with an intro from host Tim Blake Nelson
. The show moved quick. Presenters included Ray Liotta
, Matt Groening
and Kim Peirce
, among others. When Felicity Jones
was announced as being awarded the Special Jury Prize for Best Actress, Team Crazy went bananas. Sitting next to Drake, we agreed that was as good as it gets. That's all we need! So deserved. Felicity is about to become a superstar, and I can't think of anyone smarter or more beautiful from all angles to be in that position.
Finally, we came to the last award of the night. The Grand Jury Prize for Best Film, U.S. Dramatic Competition. Jason Reitman
took the stage to present. The accomplished director of Juno
and Up In the Air
and 2011 jury member had been giving us extremely subtle hints throughout the week as to how much he enjoyed the film. When I saw he was presenting the prize, my palms became instantly soaked. "Wait a minute . . . what if we do win?" Unlike most awards shows you catch on TV, at Sundance, rather than just say "And the winner is . . ." they first explain why the film was chosen (without fully giving it away), building tension in the most dramatic of ways. "This is a film about love," Reitman says. Both Drake and I dug our fingers into each other's legs. Jason fed the audience another tidbit, hinting at the winner to be announced in just seconds. Another gasp. "Oh, my God." I welled up with an unexplainable mix of emotions. Almost dizzy. My body was telling me, "This is it." Time slowed down. . . . "The Grand Jury Prize goes to a film we love: Like Crazy.
" Team Crazy, once again, exploded--this time out of our seats. Jumping and howling, we were lost in the purest form of ecstasy. Validation. Hard work. Art. WE JUST WON SUNDANCE! We storm the stage. Producer Jonathan stepped up to the mic and spoke for us all. Then Drake said a few words; like the film we wrote and he directed, his words were heart-felt and genuine.
Applause. We ran backstage, and POP!!!!! Champagne! Constant camera flashes. Drake doused Jonathan in champagne. Our new Paramount family offered us congratulations. I called my mom, my dad . . . The party continued, and within minutes, pictures and headlines hit the Internet. IMDB front-page news. Calls, e-mails and texts flooded in. We partied with friends old and new. I reminded myself never to forget this moment. . . . This may never happen again. This is our moment. This is our voice being heard. This is a dream realized, but it feels nothing like I imagined it would. It's more tangible. It's not one moment. It's what we make of that moment, now that it has passed.
I now sit at SLC International. My flight is behind. Apparently, they lost the plane. No big deal. Tomorrow will be a day of rest. All day. Can't thank you enough for sharing the experience with me by following along. I want to thank Matt Coker
for providing this opportunity and outlet. It has been great. Much love, friends and readers. Ben.