This year, over any prior year, brought about a sense of nostalgia for all the year’s past. I kept thinking to myself, “Man, I have seen some great films at Sundance…” The years have proven to be as terrifying as they have been liberating. It is no surprise that I can name the movies that “scarred me for life” so to speak far easier than I can name my favorites. 2010’s hit with Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, and Jessica Alba, for example – The Killer Inside Me ; or 2013’s hit with Nichole Kidman – Stoker.
My first opportunity to attend Sundance was 2006 – the year The Illusionist and Little Miss Sunshine graced the stage of Eccles Theater and wowed us all. I didn’t attend. I was a little confused as to how it all worked and being as young as I was, I was a bit caught up in who I would go with and what it all meant if we were to attend Sundance together. *rolls eyes*
2007 was the year. 2007 was a great year. This was the year that my life went from the doldrums of third shift Quality Assurance point-click-click-point-click-point to a “larger than life appeal” (as described by my friend Sean Phoenix). In many ways, it began with at the start of the year with Sundance and quickly molded into being commissioned to write a screenplay for a movie about my now friend, Gannon Hollywood which landed me in North Carolina sometime around April of that year despite firing the director and leaving him in L.A.. My being in North Carolina, sitting on my brother’s couch and thinking what it was I really wanted to do with my life that led to being hired by Sony Music Entertainment in May of that year, getting started officially as a Salt Lake City Marketing Rep after a brief stint in Dallas, Texas to complete my college math credits. By October of that year, I was on my way to New York City for my first round of Sony Music meetings and my first year ever attending CMJ. October was also the year of the greatest-concert-ever-attended, Vegoose. This is where I saw Rage Against the Machine (my second time that year, let’s be honest… I stalked them in their return to the stage), Muse, and the one… the only… Daft Punk share the same stage with a handful of other, amazing great musicians from Thievery Corporation and The Shins to Public Enemy and Cypress Hill. It was an eclectic group and well worth driving my brand new Benz all those miles not even able to stand by myself at the concert (that’s another story, for another day). October 2007 is also when I became the first ever Sony Marketing Rep to be allowed to transfer cities let alone commute half a country away for months. I moved to Dallas and by February, 2008 became the official Sony Music Rep for a much more lively city (sorry Salt Lake, I gots no love). So in a very tight nutshell, 2007 truly was THE year.
To be honest, I don’t know what films I saw that year other than Great World of Sound. Great World of Sound was the first feature film created by The Brothers Chaps – aka Homestar Runner himself. I remember being pretty stoked about it for that reason alone. I was giddy at the chance to meet my cartoon idol! Being my first year of Sundance, I signed up for individual ticket sales only. I was likely at the bottom of the list despite being a local. It was all I could do to navigate the website and figure out the Park City transportation system. The films? Don’t ask me.
2008 was a year I signed up for and planned on attending, but by January 2008 I was living in Texas and I had been sick for many months. I thought January would be no big deal, but I was still only a temp at my new job, unable to take any real vacation, and far too weak and tired to continue traveling like I had been doing every other weekend for 2 1/2 months.
2009 marked my first year of buying an official Sundance Film Festival package. I started out with the student package and saw many films with my good friend Natalie. If my memory serves me right, this was also the year that one of my very best friend’s, Mo came from Texas with his then-girlfriend to attend some films and do some snowboarding. January 2009 was one of the worst months of my life. I had just been “uninvited” from our first family Christmas together in most of a decade because of my siblings feelings towards my boyfriend at the time. But my boyfriend didn’t show up over all the drama so I did end up spending the time with family. However, he also didn’t show up on my birthday – which was our backup plan. It was also the birthday that, already in tears and expecting a call from Mike (the boyfriend) to explain why he hadn’t gotten on the plane, I instead received a phone call from my brother telling me that he was getting a divorce. I remember it as the most shifting moment of my entire life. I went from being overly concerned with what was happening in my life to being reminded, very suddenly, that it can always get worse. I was devastated. My brother practically raised me. He was my biggest influence for most of my life, so it came as a bigger surprise to me than if my own father had called to tell me he was divorcing my mother. 2009 would mark a year of even more transition – not quite as exciting and life-starting as 2007 had been, but a year filled with the best of times and the worst of times all rolled into one.
The 2009 Sundance Film Festival influenced me and meant more to me than any year of this festival I have attended before or since. Perhaps it was the seriousness of my own life at the time. I was more passionate about the time I was able to spend at Sundance. It was, in some ways, my final days of living on top of the world (for the time being).
The 2009 Sundance Film Festival debuted probably my most favorite documentary film of all time – It Might Get Loud. The film brings together Jack White (White Stripes, Raconteurs), Jimmy Page (Led Zepplin), and the Edge (U2) in three separate interviews about their lives, their influences, and how they have paved the way for a new sense of music. Towards the end of the film, these three greats get together for a jam session and there has never been a more influential moment of my musical life. Truly. I was overwhelmed as I sat on the edge of my seat, watching the film in Park City’s Library Theater while my friend Natalie sat beside me somewhat amused by my eagerness.
Sundance 2009 also brought us notable films such as Art & Copy, The September Issue, Sin Nombre,and an intense documentary about The Doors, When You’re Strange. Likely the most notable film of 2009 was (500) Days of Summer – the film that truly ignited the intense crush we all have on Joseph Gordon Levitt today.
As you can see, 2009 was a high quality year for Sundance films. I felt lucky to have such an amazing pick of a handful of movies for my first Sundance pass-holder experience. By the end of Sundance 2009, despite having taken off the time from work “officially,” I came back to work to be put on probation for something I had not done and despite my ability to prove it, all HR did on my behalf was have my manager rewrite the purpose of my probation so rather than being on probation for a non-existent blame, now I was on probation with no blame at all other than “try harder.” I was furious. Being on probation was the last thing I needed in that moment of my life. I was getting sick again. I was trying everything I could to hold it all together. But instead, as a result of this probation I was kicked out of school for those six months. I eventually chose to look at it all as a good thing. I needed the motivation to be less of a stranger to my new coworkers (having just moved back to Utah and taken a new job that paid $10,000 less than my previous job within the same company, my motivation was blah to say the least) and to focus more on my work for a short while than on my schooling – something I could always do easily and do right despite any situation.
2010 at the Sundance Film Festival was the first year I truly got it. Call me slow, but the Sundance Film Festival ticketing process, in my opinion, takes years to truly master. For me, 2010 was the year of the master. Grabbing another full 20 ticket package, this year I at least understood what my credential would do for me. In 2009, I had a credential and did absolutely nothing with it. 2010 would be different!
By 2010, my brother had a temp job just up the street as a jitney driver at the Canyons. He lived in Heber, just around the corner from Sundance which would make attending early events easier than most years. Together, we took full advantage of our passes – splitting up tickets based on each others schedule. It was an odd time of life for us both and even more odd that we were both going through a similar phase together. We both reserved dual tickets for a handful of movies, thinking whatever relationships we were in at the time would be as eager to attend Sundance as we were. Long story short, neither of us spent Sundance with anyone we expected to see such grand movies with. But we had each other and at times, a few extra tickets. We made the most of it and it was still an outstanding year!
Sundance 2010 unveiled the talented Josh Radnor as director of Happythankyoumoreplease.
Although I didn’t get a chance to say “I saw it first” with Radnor’s Happythankyoumoreplease, I did score a bitter mix of noteable movies than I had ever before. I was able to see – Winter’s Bone, Hesher, Howl, The Runaways, and Sympathy for Delicious during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. 2010 was also the year of The Killer Inside Me – the one movie I have seen that has made me want to walk out almost instantly over the amount of mind-boggling violence, yet somehow glued me to my seat in hopes that it would all be over soon and leave me with a happy-ending, somehow. I can promise you this, the movie leaves NO happy ending and only later did I read that Jessica Alba walked out during her first showing of the movie (also at Sundance), furious at how violent the movie was.
Thankfully we recovered from the Killer Inside of Me. JAB* and I were able to attend the Roundtable Discussion of Music in Film at the Sundance House, the Music in Film Showcase, and the BMI Snowball event. We discovered the amazing, interactive art at Park City’s New Frontier and we were among the first to find Banksy’s Park City tags in promotion of his documentary – Exit Through The Giftshop.
Sundance 2011 I tried something new, I volunteered. My brother volunteered with me and together, we helped run Salt Lake City’s first year of having their own New Frontier featuring the interactive work of Sundance artists.
Having not been accepted as a new volunteer yet, I had already bought a package. Between my day job, working for Sony still, and attending school full time, I was already wrapped up in at least 70 hours a week of work. For Sundance, the lowest level of volunteering means that you dedicate 20 hours over only a few shifts. For me it was about five days of four hours shifts, mostly at night, directly after work and during weekend events. I have never been so worn out in my entire life. Not having the time to take off from work, but wanting to do as much as I could – I only had the chance to utilize my credential for a few shows at the ASCAP cafe and the tickets I had already bought. My volunteer voucher went entirely unused.
I will forever remember this year being the year that I robbed a bank and The Wilderness Downtown hit browsers across the world as one of the most successful viral music video campaigns ever created. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you are probably the only person. You can check out Arcade Fire’s Wilderness Downtown here http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/
This interactive music video was one of the areas of the Salt Lake City New Frontier that I was over. Every time someone played the video and was unsure of what to do next, it was up to me to hit “refresh” and direct them how to use the simple computers. I must’ve heard that music video 10,000 times over the course of those 20 hours.
As for robbing a bank, that was me and hundreds of other people leaving Park City’s New Frontier in randomized groups of four. None of us knew each other. I was called in prior to Sundance even started to help test Blast Theory’s interactive anarchy where they sent us out the back door of the New Frontier with only a phone number in hand. For the next few hours a random, digital caller would call me periodically, giving me instructions of where to walk to in Park City and what to do. Most of the time I was alone, but in one of those moments I had to run across a street, to a near empty parking lot and get into an empty car that was parked unnoticeably. In that car I was asked to wait for the next person. I didn’t know who. With every passing person, my heart skipped a beat then resulted to pumping harder than ever before. I was about to bail when two strangers jumped into the car at nearly the same time. Our directions were randomized after that. The directions came more quickly until I found myself on my cell phone, running across the street towards the outside door of a Park City bank. The point was to rob the bank. The caller was saying, “Go go go go!” and at almost the exact moment I reached for the bank’s handle the caller suddenly announced, “SHIT! They see you… RUN AWAY! NOW!” I about lost it. I was the only person walking around Sundance as no one had yet arrived for the busiest week of their lives. The directions stopped for a while, sending me to the Rite Aid down the street. I had walked miles at this point and was thankful for the sunny day. Wandering through the Rite Aid card isle, a complete stranger walked up to me, embraced me, and mumbled something I couldn’t understand. My first thought was that she was hitting on me and I stood, confused and blankly starring at a display of Valentine’s cards when I got my final call. Now I understood. I too had to hug someone… and somehow it all came full circle. That was the end and the bank remained safe, for now.
My most memorable film of 2011 was Vampire – causing me to nearly pass out at the intensely realistic display of draining someone fully of six quarts of blood. Still! Good movie. And, somehow I wound up seeing Margin Call twice.
Somehow most notably, 2011 was the year that Manchester Orchestra came to the ASCAP Music Cafe and I did everything in my power to be there among the body-crushing sense of overcapacity.
Sundance 2012 was the first year Stark and I attended Sundance together. This marked one of many things that would be a “first” for at least one of us – Sundancing, surfing, rock climbing, snowboarding – 2012 was a year we really put ourselves out there. But we weren’t the only one’s putting ourselves out there in 2012. 2012 marked a debut for Joseph Gordon Levitt’s HitRecord at Sundance. The most noteable films of 2012 were Safety Not Guaranteed, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Searching for Sugar Man.
Sundance 2012 was the first year that I attended Park City at Midnight as The Middles, Stark, and I witnessed the midnight premiere of V/H/S at Prospector Square Theater. This film definitely turned Stark on to the Park City at Midnight premieres. After now three years of Park City at Midnight, we can both agree that these films are the hidden gem of the Sundance Film Festival. An entirely different, more laid back and incredibly involved crowd comes out for these usually horror-centered films. I definitely recommend the midnight films to anyone attending Sundance.
This year I was on the ball and made sure not to miss Josh Radnor’s second Sundance film, Liberal Arts. We were also thrilled to see Red Lights with Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, and Robert De Niro. Unfortunately there are no complete lists anywhere of what movies played what year, so I don’t really recall what else we saw this year.
Notable movies that we were able to see at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival were After Tiller (a documentary on late term abortions), Dirty Wars (nominated for an Oscar Award this year), Stories We Tell, V/H/S/2, Stoker, and Big Sur.
This brings us up to date on my Sundance Film Festival journey. This year we revisited the idea of buying a pass after trying years of individual ticket purchasing, day-of purchases, and craigslisting. We were discouraged when it came time to choose our films and only in that moment did we realize our Package B landed us priority ticketing only for the second week of Sundance. Still, we made the most of it and made this year another year of firsts as we learned to navigate the eWaitlist lines for the first week of Sundance and made sure to attend a handful of theaters we had never been to before – covering all but two theaters that I have attended over the years.
The list of extraordinary films we were able to see at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival are the: Animation Spotlight (Yearbook, The Obvious Child, Passer Passer, Phantom Limb, Piece, Peace, The Present, White Morning), Calvary, Cooties, The Double, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, Land Ho!, Listen Up Philip, The Signal, The Trip to Italy, What We Do in the Shadows, White Shadow, and Wish I Was Here.
Somewhere, I am forgetting something as I know we attended 13 films and a handful of events. We attended my favorite events – the BMI Snowball and the Music in Film Showcase. We attempted only one panel that we ended up leaving early. We finalized the entire week with a short visit to the Awards Night Party. For everything more I wanted to do (panels and events), I’m not sure either of us could have handled the back and forth between Salt Lake City and Park City any longer. Sleep was a must!
Now for those inevitable “best of” lists that everyone searches for….
My 10 Favorite Sundance Films (meaning I actually saw them first at Sundance) in order of importance:
- It Might Get Loud – 2009 Documentary
- An Education – 2009 Drama
- What We Do in the Shadows – 2014 “Documentary”
- Hesher – 2010 Drama
- Cooties – 2014 Drama/PC at Midnight
- Howl – 2010
- Wish I Was Here – 2014 Drama
- The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz – 2014 Documentary
- Liberal Arts – 2012 Drama
- Vampire – 2011 Drama
Sundance films I have missed over the years and have yet to see:
Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten – 2007
Great World of Sound – 2007
If I Had Known I Was a Genius – 2007
Patti Smith: Dream of Life – 2008
In Bruges – 2008
August – 2008
Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech – 2009
Smash His Camera – 2010
Waiting for “Superman” – 2010
Holy Rollers – 2010
Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times – 2011
Another Earth – 2011
Indie Game: The Movie – 2012
Shut Up and Play the Hits – 2012
Don Jon – 2013
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer – 2013
Kill Your Darlings – 2013
Running from Crazy – 2013
Jobs – 2013
The Crash Reel – 2013
Before Midnight – 2013
Whiplash – 2014
Blue Ruin – 2014
Frank – 2014
God’s Pocket – 2014
I Origins – 2014
I Think This Is the Closest to How the Footage Looked – 2014
Infinitely Polar Bear -2014
The Measure of All Things -2014
Only Lovers Left Alive – 2014
A Most Wanted Man – 2014
SEPIDEH—Reaching for the Stars – 2014
The Skeleton Twins – 2014
Song One – 2014
To Be Takei – 2014
Viktoria – 2014
The Voices – 2014
Watchers of the Sky – 2014
We Are The Giant – 2014
Web Junkie – 2014