Basking in Sundance

Sundance is my “happy place”. It’s the place I go to in my mind when sh**t in the real-world gets too real. I fell in love with Sundance in 2016. When I was preparing to go to the festival in 2015, I started a blog dedicated to my exploration. I learned this practice when I was a child. Every vacation my mom would get me and my brother a blank book to write about our experiences, and add pictures of when we were on the beach or skiing in the mountains. I always treasured those experiences, and treasured having a book I could look back at and reminisce. Below are some thoughts in italics that I pulled from my blog, and I plan on taking with me.

My Takeaway from Sundance 2016

It is important to let yourself be rediscovered, you’re never finished. This journey has helped me realize that my life is not in a box, I can leave that box anytime, and my life is not spelled out, there are still many letters and boxes to discover that encapsulate me, and I should never limit myself because of this.

There are times in our life that our existence seems too limiting, that’s why movies have always been a great escape and inspiration. My life makes sense through movies, it’s where I can find meaning. Sundance has a treasure trove of meaningful films, along with film lovers like myself. What I love about Sundance are the gems that are hiding beneath the Hollywood starlets. Sundance started with the intention to pull out these treasures–these independent films–and elevate them. This will be my first time going to Sundance as press, but that’s not going to stop my treasure hunting mission to find the films that breathe life into my lungs and inspire me to spread this intoxicating air to my readers.

These actors are the instruments for these characters and this story. In someways the film falls a bit short, but communicating a dramatic story through quirkiness, they have achieved what these roles called for. What I got out of this film as my inspiration for Sundance is that I’m going to be on the lookout for these indies that need to breathe and the life Sundance gives to these films. I’m very excited to go and gather new perspectives about life. (“The Squid and the Whale”)

When I was at Sundance in 2016, “The Fits” was the gem I discovered, and the movie got me so excited about filmmaking again. The beauty in the motion of the human body, the play on music in story, and the collective performance of a passionate filmmaking team left me spellbound. Being at Sundance you see films before everyone else that are eventually going to seep into the collective consciousness of moviegoers. I wasn’t at Sundance 2019, but I wish I was there to see “The Farewell” and “Paradise Hills” before the rest of the population, and am lucky to have seen them both multiple times since their wide release.

“The Fits” (2016)

So the point is, you’re never finished, just as life stories are never finished. Sundance provides an endless array of rich stories that will impact your own.

A Look Back: Sundance 1994 and 2001

During my Sundance research for my 2016 trip, I studied past installments of the festival to see the ones that really were special and stood out from the others. Two that stuck with me were 1994 and 2001.

Sundance 1994

I can imagine Sundance 1994 was very innovative and inspirational with the raw films that premiered. Wes Anderson featured his first short film “Bottle Rocket” which will lead to the feature of the same name. Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” received an NC-17 rating just for language, with two dudes just talking about life. “Go Fish,” directed by Rose Troche, became one of the first lesbian films that would lead to commercial success. “Hoop Dreams,” directed by Steve James would be one of Roger Ebert’s favorite of the 1990s and would lead to many more groundbreaking docs, and Hugh Grant would become a household name after the premiere of “Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Sundance 2001

Sundance 2001 was fiery electric in the talent and the films that showed that year. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Donnie Darko,” and “Memento” place a lasting presence in the indie world. “Donnie Darko” has a cult following, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” has shown that Broadway can cross over to film, and Memento is one of most mind-bending thrillers. “The Believer,” which won the dramatic jury prize award, would show us the beginnings of a young talent at that time, Ryan Gosling.

Robert Redford and the Sundance Kid

Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”

Where I turned first in my Sundance exploration was toward the man and the movie that started it all, Robert Redford and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. I looked at Redford’s life and his film (that he wasn’t a big fan of) through the lens of Sundance. Below are two things I grasped from first the film, and then Redford’s interviews about Sundance:

Regarding the cinematography (by Conrad Hall), three important aspects of how the movie was filmed represents what is important and what is necessary for a film to showcase at Sundance. First of all, there is a transition of sepia to full color, creating a western feel that brings us from the old into our present. Secondly, Hall uses a long lens during the chase scene with the posse, creating immediacy without recognition, making the posse blurry and keeping the reality symbolic. And finally, the film ends in a freeze frame when they jump out at the shooters, keeping them immortal in that frame.

The key words here are present, symbolic, and immortal. These are the three things that are important for a Sundance film. A film offering some kind of  symbolism to our reality and creating something long lasting. Sundance is about featuring original films and new filmmakers to a festival audience, and exposing the real gems to the masses-

Robert Redford, founder and president of the Sundance Institute, addresses reporters during the opening news conference of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 in Park City, Utah. The independent film festival runs Jan. 16-26, 2014. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Distribution is the end point, that’s what everyone dreams for and hopes for. It’s complicated. I’ve had some experiences that have been sad, I’ve done some films that have had no distribution or poor distribution. So I can identify with what young filmmakers are going through. I think distribution should be a topic for discussion. Filmmakers should have a voice in that because very often they’re left behind.–Robert Redford at the Day One Press Conference of Sundance 2015

Distribution is something I’ve learned a lot about in the past year. Through my interviews with female filmmakers from all over the world, it seems that distribution is a major struggle, and not just for women, filmmakers in general. This year I want to soak up a little bit more on this topic with the outlook that elevating these filmmakers’ stories will connect them with the right distributors who will, in turn, support their films.

What I’m excited about for Sundance 2020

In 2016, I came to Sundance as a student. I soaked up all of my surroundings and I studied the texts behind them. This year, I’m going in with my journalist hat on, but still my film-lover heart. I have some expectations for this trip, for what films I’m going to see, and who I’m going to interview. But what I’ve learned from Sundance in the past is you must be open to where it takes you. Some things won’t work out, but the heart of that place and that festival is cinema and the people there are the creators and lovers of cinema, and I will bask in that. Also, Cinema Femme is a female-focused online publication, and I will also be putting on my hat for elevating women in the film industry. Cinema Femme is the voice of the female film experience, and I will be capturing that through my interviews and social media. Stay tuned!