A series of small failures

Sundance ’09
January 16, 2009, 11:59 am
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I realize this can hardly be considered a failure, unless you think of it as a failure to actually earn money, which I need to be doing so that I can get out of my parents’ basement. My new friend Naked Jen has been full of good ideas for work, things that I may not have considered not so long ago, but that are perfectly fine options, especially at this point. This idea was a great one: Jen is working for the Sundance film festival. Turns out I was a little late for that (at least a for a paid position), but then she forwarded an email from someone on the volunteer team, because they were still looking for volunteers.

I looked at the name of the person who sent the email. It seemed familiar. That’s because I know her. I met Lindsay in Puerto Rico, of all places. She’s one of the volunteer coordinators, which turned out to be very handy. She knows me, can vouch for me, and pulled strings to get me a coveted full time position with lodging. 

So I’m writing this from my condo in Park City. It’s not exactly super deluxe, but it is large and has a hot tub and sauna, and is filled with nice women who have all volunteered before, some for years and years, and who know the secrets about volunteering, where to go for what, and how to get in to as many screenings as we can. 

I may live off bad snacks from the volunteer villa for the next ten days, but I can see two films a day before my shift (7:30 p.m. until 2 a.m.)!

Tuesday night we had a two hour training session, followed by a screening for volunteers.  Two more films will be shown to us volunteers tonight.  I don’t know who chooses the films that we get to pre-screen, but I’m not too happy about the first one. Johnny Mad Dog was beautifully made, some of the images were haunting; however, the story was unredeeming. I’m not sure what the point of the film was, except to capture something that actually happened. And experience it again, in horrific detail. To what end?

I should know by now that I can’t deal with violence.  I’m too wimpy for films like this. It may have taken a lot of courage to make it, but I don’t want my mind and body to suffer even 1.5 hours of that kind of stress, or to be exposed to those kinds of images (children being forced to kill their parents, kids raping girls and women, children hating pathologically). I’m looking forward to the documentary on the music of Tibet. Go ahead and laugh.

Film #2, Prom Night in Mississippi, documents an unbelievable story. Until 2008, the high school in Charleston, Miss., had two proms — one for white students, and the other for black students. Morgan Freeman, who is from there, offered to pay for the prom if they’d integrate it. Ten years ago they turned him down. Last year, they took him up on it. Some highlights: interviews with a black boy and white girl who have been together for years; interviews with the girl’s father, who doesn’t approve of their relationship; footage of school officials and their reactions to Freeman’s offer. Apparently, the version we saw was not the final edited version. It could have been trimmed. But the story is what carries the film. 

Film #3, Lymelife — loved it. So real. The brothers who made the film were there to answer questions — and we kept them there until after midnight. I chose to go home and sleep instead of nosh on chicken soup and sit in the hot tub of one of the Toronto crowd (I feel like an honorary Canadian — is this festival run by Torontonians?). My roommate didn’t get back until after 4 a.m.. She and the other Canadians had been hanging out with the composer brother, Steven Martini, and his band. So I missed my first Sundance filmmaker schmoozing, but I feel clear-headed and rested today, so that’s worth something. 

When I lived in Utah through college and for the first couple of years afterward, Sundance was the one thing that gave me hope. Going to Sundance, the resort, felt like a vacation, however brief, from the small-minded state I was living in. Going to Sundance, the film festival, was a retreat for my soul. I went to the festival every year until I moved to San Francisco in early 1990. I got to see Sex, Lies and Videotape when it premiered here. I got to Tapeheads, and gawk at John Cusack and Tim Robbins (and Susan Sarandon).  I got shaken up, forced to think, inspired to create. It feels good to give something back as a volunteer.