The Steps to Sundance
The Sundance Film Festival just ended. As usual, Jason and I eagerly added our bodies to the masses of movie aficionados during its 10 day stint. We’ve been attending this world-famous at hand event for almost a decade and we always look forward to its star-strewn madness.
Our enjoyment of Sundance has improved in recent years by going the locals route. Yes, if you’re a Utah resident you can get tickets to the Sundance Film Festival before the general public. How does a native do this one might ask? First, you have to remember to register in October. If you forget to sign up then you’ve lost your chance at passes. Second, you have to wait for your appointed timeslot to purchase your ticket package, not individual tickets mind you but just your ticket package of choice. The chance to buy a package works like a lottery. So far fate has smiled on us and we haven’t been denied this acquisition but there’s a first time for everything. Next, about a month after buying your package, your timeslot for picking individual tickets is revealed. This window is based on another system of chance, you might get lucky and be in the first group to get tickets or less fortunate and be in the last. Either way you can’t complain because, no matter what, you’re choosing your seats before the crowds get a chance. When your ticket opening hits you’d better be fast. Identifying what you want beforehand and having a strategy is paramount or you will be left in others’ box office dust. You never know what will be sold out so you have to be flexible and have lots of backup plans. Jason and I usually draw up a complex ticketing diagram beforehand to aid us in this part. Finally, a couple weeks later, you get to pick up your tickets but only during a designated timeslot. (You getting a feel for how many timeslots are involved in this process?) This must be done at the Salt Lake City Sundance box office with a Utah driver’s license in hand and there is often a wait. This year Jason ended up standing in line for about an hour. But at least at the end of this queue you are, at last, the gratified holder of passes to some exclusive events. Hallelujah! Yes, the locals method is a complicated procedure but it makes getting into popular screenings possible for us nobodies and the nobodies we know. Jason and I are nice; we buy an extra-large ticket package every year so that we have some passes to spread to our friends. Hint to friends: if you want us to continue purchasing tickets for you in the future be grateful that we let you benefit from our toil.
All that ticket commotion happens before Sundance starts. What happens after it begins is also crazy but much more enjoyable. Here’s what transpired for us after the festival commenced this year:
The Crash Reel was the first show we attended and what a way to kick things off. It was a documentary that followed the fall and rise of snowboarder Kevin Pearce. You may recall that Kevin Pearce was an Olympic favorite in the half-pipe for the Vancouver Olympics. He had beaten Shaun White on multiple occasions so it was anyone’s guess who would come away with the gold. Unfortunately, about 2 months before the Olympics Kevin Pearce wrecked while training in Park City and suffered a traumatic brain injury. With a damaged noggin, Kevin’s continuance of competitive snowboarding was unacceptably risky to the loved ones of this talented rider but he found the overwhelming danger harder to acknowledge. Being a snowboarder myself, with injuries that have made riding the slopes impossible at times, I think I can understand to a small degree the devastation that Kevin felt when he realized he’d have to give up boarding.
This was a fantastic film that had elements of a cool boarding movie along with touching inspirational moments. It’s supposed to premier on HBO during the summer and I would highly recommend checking it out. As an extra treat we got to meet not only Kevin but Scotty Lago, the American that received the half-pipe bronze medal in Vancouver, and a whole bunch of other amazing snowboarders like Mason Aguirre, Luke Mitrani, Jack Mitrani, and Danny Davis. Lucy Walker, the academy award nominated director, was also present. Wow!
The Summit was a documentary that shed some light on the tragic events that occurred near the peak of K2 in August of 2008. K2, the second highest peak in the world at 28,251 feet, is far more dangerous to climb than Everest. Did you know that 1 in 4 mountaineers that make it to the top of K2 die during their descent? That dwarfs Everest’s 5% and is hard to wrap your mind around. Any hike up K2 is apparently a gamble with death but during this particular disaster, the worst in K2 history, 11 of the 24 climbers that attempted to reach the summit never made it back to camp. As you can imagine, this documentary was intense and disconcerting. It was hard to understand why these climbers would risk so much for an unnecessary achievement. One of the saviors of the catastrophe, a Sherpa named Pemba Gyalje, surprisingly showed up for the Q&A after the show and got a standing ovation. It was a pleasure to be in the presence of this heroic and humble man.
These first two documentaries really made an impact on me. More than a week later my dreams were still invaded by troubling rides on powder or unsettling climbs up insurmountable mountains. Even now I find myself daydreaming about the images, characters, and music from these films that moved me. I believe movies like these, great movies, linger with you and continue to change your perception of the world long after the credits have rolled.
Computer Chess was an unusual flick that imagined the inner goings of the world of computer programmers in the early 80s, specifically programmers that were trying to teach machines how to play chess. It was quite nerdy and, like many indie films, a bit slow but I enjoyed its randomness and appreciated its geeky humor.
We Steal Secrets: the Story of WikiLeaks was an insightful and interesting documentary. It portrayed Julian Assange pretty fairly but not favorably. The WikiLeaks organization, on the other hand, it presented as more idealistic and less hypocritical.
The last picture we saw was The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete. This film followed the lives of two project kids as they tried to survive a summer without their junkie parents. While it was told from the perspective of the kids, it was not meant for a young audience; these children faced obstacles that no kid should have to. Yet, it was somehow endearing and sweet while maintaining its harsh reality.
It was another great year for us at the festival. We saw a variety of flicks that made us giggle, gasp, and grieve. Attending Sundance may take work but it’s nothing compared to what goes into putting this festival on. We met the program director for Sundance at one of our screenings and learned that 12,000 film submissions, about 1,500 of which are documentaries, get sent in every year. They all have to be watched in order for the best hundred or so to be selected. Holy movie overload Batman! I’m not sure how you could view that many every year and come away still enjoying films; I’d never want to see another movie in my life. Good thing I get to watch 11,995 less than those programmers. We’ve found that catching 5 Sundance films each year is just about right for us. It’s enough to get the flavor of the festival without getting burnout. See you in 2014 Sundance!