A Sundance Volunteer Blogs All: Part Two
Therese Shechter responds to readers' questions in her second dispatch from SundanceJanuary 26th, 2008 | Therese Shechter
Number of narrative fiction films out of 3,624 submitted that got into the fest: 125
Number of documentary films out of 1,573 submitted that got in: 41
Number of shorts out of 5,107 submitted that got in: 85
Percent likelihood that an indie filmmaker will submit again anyway: 100
I'm writing to you from New Frontier on Main, the Sundance venue for new technology and experimental video. The lights are low, there are no windows and the whole sprawling venue is illuminated by the glow of dozens of screens and installations. I hear Olivia Newton John singing "Xanadu" on the soundtrack of a rather mind-blowing work of the same name (more about this later), giant electronically-generated trees are swaying on two of the walls, and the DJ station is covered with recycled plastic bottles lit by fuchsia lights. I'm still sick so I'm trying to be polite and avoid sneezing directly on the keyboard.
It's day eight of the festival and everything is winding down on Main Street. The hordes are gone, the universally swag-deficient sponsor venues are closing down, and even TromaDance's Toxic Avenger is heading back to his nuclear waste site. I've gotten a bunch of questions from you loyal readers so I'll try to answer them as well as fill you in on all the shenanigans of the last few days:
How easy is it for Jane Doe to go to Sundance -- to find a place to stay, attend films, attend parties -- if she is not a volunteer, merely a moviegoer? -AS
It's pretty easy, really. All you need is boatloads of money and some luck getting the all-access passes and tickets by lottery. Housing is expensive but if you start early, you can rent a mogul-worthy chalet in the heart of town for a couple thousand dollars. It's actually not that different for us volunteers. Our best perk is free housing (usually shared with four or five others), but contrary to popular legend, we get no advantage on tickets or parties. The films are free for us, but we're standing in the same three-hour-long wait-list lines as any other poor slob with a bad lottery draw. As for parties, if you're not a celeb, it's pretty much word of mouth, charm and/or begging. Am I making it sound hard? Never mind -- just come!!! It's incredibly fun and worth every bit of the cash and bullshit.
Are your fellow volunteers like you? Trying to sell films? Or are they would-be actors, or what? -MS
We're not ALL slacker mumblecore wannabees looking for our next free drink. The international volunteer staff, which ranges in age from 21 to 80+ is a diverse crowd of filmmakers, actors, and screenwriters; but also dentists, accountants, photographers, ski instructors and all the other people in your neighborhood.
Will you please tell us all about the Butch festival, too? -AS
Hmmm...is that taking place at the Queer Lounge?
I definitely want details about the quest to score (a.) some filmic action without benefit of your own hot tub, (b.) the quest to score film $ without benefit of a sugar daddy, (c.) and the quest to meet and bed either Colin or Diego. -JP
a.) You don't really need a hot tub, but charm and a private room don't hurt. Also, in the spirit of environmentalism, you can always recycle last year's Sundance special-friend (from back when you DID have a hot tub). And on that note, I want to send love out to my special fella, who I've nick-named "The Boy Scout" for his skillful foraging and preparation of wild Utah herbs.
b.) The annual pitch sessions are sort of a cross between speed dating and American Idol, with the advantage that no one will tell you that you have to lose weight. You sit at a table with eight other filmmakers and pitch your doc projects, one at a time, to a very patient commissioning editor or funder (this year PBS, HBO, A&E, Participant, Sundance, etc.). I chose PBS and the Ford Foundation for my pitches for The American Virgin (a doc about how bad we are at talking about sex in this country, except of course in this blog). It went well, although it was just as valuable to chat with someone after their panel or as they were trying to have a quiet glass of wine at happy hour. It’s mostly about making people familiar with your work so that when it “officially” lands on their desk, they might put it closer to the top of 200 DVDs they need to watch this week. By the way, if you're a producer looking for a timely, funny doc project, email me...
c.) I can only confirm that Diego is quite sexy, although the presence of his girlfriend (who's not all that) made it hard for us to have sex in the middle of the “Latin Resurgence” panel he was on. But a photo of his heavy-lidded hotness is attached. He's actually very smart and passionate about filmmaking, but I know no one wants to hear about that.
Any time to see some good films? –MN
Here are more of my favorites in no particular order:
Trouble the Waters. Even if you've seen every single film ever made about Katrina, you have to see this doc anyway. I mean it. Lower Ninth Ward resident Kimberly Roberts shot much of it with a used Hi8 camera. Footage shot before, during, and after the hurricane shows incredible humanity as victims tried to help each other survive, mostly because no one else was bothering. Real devastation. It's like nothing you've seen before. Go see it.
Bigger, Stronger, Faster is a very smart, entertaining and intensely personal doc about steroid use, male body image and America's obsession with being number one. I saw it at 11:45 pm and was wide-awake and loving every minute of it.
The Linguists is a doc about two linguists who travel the world to seek out and document dying languages (ones with just five living speakers left on Earth). It has a lot to say about dominant cultures overwhelming minorities, and the remote places the linguists visit are just plain fascinating. Although the pair described themselves as “geeky scientists” at the Q & A, I think they're rock stars! Regular reality series? Hello...Discovery? National Geographic?
Baghead is by Sundance favorites Mark and Jay Duplass. It's a comedy about four actors trying to write a cheap indie film over a hormone-soaked weekend in the woods (and a send-up of every indie and/or horror film you've ever seen). It's not as emotionally complex as The Puffy Chair from Sundance 2005 and I really hate when stuff jumps out and scares me. But it's still hands-down one of the funniest films here at the festival. Why aren't these guys more famous?
Incendiary, written and directed by Sharon Maguire, has an amazing performance by Michelle Williams (heartbreaking to watch after Heath Ledger's death). The story, which has to do with terrorism and a mother's love for her child, goes to some odd places, but overall it was very powerful and lovely.
Xanadu is probably the strangest and most disturbing thing I've seen here (but in a good way, if you can imagine that). It's an experimental rapid-cut video montage of apocalyptic images, cult leaders, and fundamentalist ranting -- all set to disco music. I don't know how else to describe it, but the artist is Robert Boyd so check it out for yourself.
Still with me? Maybe one more dispatch after the awards.
High on life and Vitamin C,
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