MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like Sundance

Each December, in addition to the flurry of screeners that come whirling down the chimney for the consideration of film critics far and wide, comes the announcement of the lineup of the Sundance Film Festival. Some years the fest is pretty awesome, other years it’s mundane, but there’s always that hope, that sense of anticipation when the press releases start rolling out, that this Sundance might be a great Sundance — maybe even THE great Sundance — the kind of Sundance you’ll look back on ten years hence and still be glad to say you were there for — or still be kicking yourself ten years hence for missing.

Of course, you really can’t tell anything from brief descriptions of a fest lineup. When you work film fests for a living, you tend to skim over the lineup first looking for things to get excited or hopeful about: familiar names of actors or directors or screenwriters whose work you admire (although the poor screenwriters never get as much credit as they should — a screenwriter friend who has been to Sundance with a film recently reminded me that the writer barely rates as “talent” to the publicists and press, which is just criminal); a film that’s been getting early buzz; a storyline that sounds interesting, or a documentary that might be a cut about the average.

Problem is, it’s impossible to judge anything from the fest catalog write-ups, which always make everything sound like the next Best Picture Oscar winner, even the films that you watch and then turn to your friends and say, “How the hell did THAT get in the festival?” But we still, most of us, go to every press screening buoyed by the hope that this film will be the one that dazzles us.

Everyone who goes to Sundance regularly has memories and stories about the fest. Park City during Sundance is like snow camp for film geeks; press members hole up in or near the Yarrow Hotel with its charmingly surly staff and cramped bar, where late at night you might find yourself deep in a conversation with the screenwriter of a controversial fest flick, or sitting at a table bemusedly watching Quentin Tarantino hold court while he graciously accommodates the bevy of fans who keep interrupting the rat-a-tat patter of his conversation, which in real life flows very much like the dialogue of his films.

I think most everyone who comes to work Sundance on the press side of things feels that little tingle of excitement over being there, and over the little rituals that make Sundance what it is: shuttling over to headquarters so you can wait in line to get your badge and the press schedule (though last year, to be honest, there wasn’t much of a line as usual); bitching with friends about the heavy front-loading of the press schedule and how you always have to choose between too many potentially good films the first few days, and not enough interesting-looking offerings as the fest wanes toward its conclusion.

There’s the traditional and obligatory first night run to Albertson’s to stock up on essentials like bottled water, Emergen-C, lip balm and energy bars — and to say howdy to all the friends you run into there; the also obligatory stop at the liquor store to stock up on Kahlua, whiskey or Baileys … whichever is your drink of choice to sneak into your reusable coffee cup for those late-night screenings in the Yarrow’s press theater. There’s the always exciting surprise of seeing what new restaurant has opened up in the strip mall behind the Yarrow — will it be a new pizza joint this year? Burritos? Subs, perhaps? There will be hastily eaten meals at the Burger King for those who favor that fare, and for the truly brave, the Chinese buffet (tolerable if you go during the lunch or dinner rush when they’re bringing out fresh food, but not recommended in the off-hours, when the lo-mein and kung pao chicken start to get a little gamey).

Some years there will be heaps of snow on the ground and Hollywood wanna-be starlets can be seen delicately tottering around on stiletto-heeled boots, while those of us who work the fest favor sturdy snow boots so we can move quickly through the crowds. The shuttles will get overcrowded, and run late, and people will bitch about being late for screenings because of the shuttles, or complain about the slate of films, or gripe about the difficulty of getting a table at the better restaurants (not so much an issue last year).

And probably more than one jaded critic will write a blog post grousing about the whole affair and labeling the fest itself an overrated bore. But really, what everyone who’s at Sundance should be is just enormously grateful for the opportunity to be there at all. It’s the Sundance Film Festival, folks! There are tons of people who would consider themselves blessed beyond measure just to have the opportunity to come to this festival even once, much less be here every year.

Last year’s Sundance boasted some films I consider real gems: Oscar contenders Precious(then called Push), An Education and 500 Days of Summer; tough-but-emotionally satisfying doc Rough Aunties; indie breakout sensation Humpday; and some smaller films I liked, including Peter and VandyLymelife and The Vicious Kind, which I might not have seen at all if I hadn’t been at Sundance. This year’s competition film lineup has a lot of films I’m interested in seeing, including Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a married couple; The Dry Land, which I’m interested in, in spite of it being another war-type story, because of its cast including America Ferrera and Melissa LeoJoseph-Gordon Levitt starrer I Love Sarah JaneMark Ruffalo‘s directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious; and Howl, about beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

On the documentary side of things, Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) returns to Park City with Casino Jack and the United States of MoneyRicki Stern and Annie Sundberg, also fest vets (The Devil Came on Horseback, The Trials of Darryl Hunt) are in the fest with a doc called Joan Rivers: Piece of Work; My Kid Could Paint That director Amir Bar-Lev is back with Untitled Pat Tillman Project; and Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp, Boys of Baraka) will be in Park City with abortion doc 12th and Delaware. Honestly, the doc slate excites me more than the narratives at this point, but it all looks like the makings of a delicious cinematic buffet.

Unfortunately, I’m not yet sure if I’m going to Sundance in 2010. I have surgery next week, and the outcome of that will determine if I’m at the end of the medical journey I’ve written about quite a bit here, or just at the beginning. I’m hoping, though, that the surgery will go smoothly and uneventfully and that I will heal quickly enough for the boss man to feel comfortable sending me to Park City to schlep through snow and ice and work insanely long days for the love of film.

Because I do love film, I love my job, and I still love the Sundance Film Festival, in spite of it’s drawbacks and flaws. I hope to see you in Park City, and I hope the snow flies this year and the movies are great.

– Kim Voynar
December 4, 2009

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon