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David Poland

By David Poland

Why I’m Not Going To Sundance This Year

It’s pretty simple, really.

I have been covering Sundance aggressively for all but 2 years of the last 17. (The exceptions were running another festival that launched shortly after Sundance and the birth of my son.) I took people up to work with me and write and more recently, produce video interviews, for most of those years, even when I really wasn’t budgeted for this. Back in 2000 and 2001, we produced daily print editions (for Slamdance too) and in that second year, we had a staff of 15 in Utah to cover. In the last 5 years, I have averaged 27 half-hour interviews, mostly shot in 4 days, each year. (The schedule is mostly because Sundance is so front-loaded. I wish it were otherwise. We’d shoot more and more effectively.)

I have spent a ton of time, money, and effort covering this festival.

There have been Express Passes for years, traditionally handed out to the largest media outlets and media friends of the festival. There have been moments where I fronted the biggest internet outlets of those times, but not anymore. But I do retain a certain sway.

In the last few years, Sundance has gotten a bit looser with the Express Passes. Others have mentioned to me that this person or that new-ish outlet or whomever was bequeathed with one or more and that I should be upset about this. But I never complained. After all, even though I needed access to the first screenings of many of the films I was covering—because the timing of access depended on it—publicists made sure that I got where I wanted and needed to go. And in spite of the perception that some have of me, I am not a big demander (unless I feel I am being disrespected… that makes me cranky).

So after a few years of this, standing side-by-side with colleagues who got to walk into the theater long before I did, free to hang out and chat because, really, their schedules aren’t so demanding and they don’t have to do the ticket dance… a few years of publicists seeming astonished that I didn’t have an Express Pass… a few years of standing in parking lots for midnight shows trying to retrieve a publicist to come down and get me into a theater at the last second so I could do an interview with their talent at 9am… and honestly, a few years of spending too much of my time giving the issue a second thought during my 18-hour days of work (without dinners, parties, or swag), I asked for an Express Pass.

And I was given the boilerplate answers… all of which indicated to me that I would not be getting one. No personal explanation or excuses. Same old stuff, albeit directly from someone who I thought I was a little friendly with.

And indeed, there was none forthcoming.

So… I could have just soldiered through, dropping another $20k+ on another year of covering a festival that doesn’t really much care whether I am there or not. Or I could skip it.

I know that many people—who go to Sundance and who do not—would love to be in my advantaged position as it stands. I am very fortunate. And I work my ass off and my business spends quite a lot of money every year to live that advantage. I have asked virtually nothing of Sundance in all of these years, except for a press badge worn by me and thousands of other journalists. And perhaps that’s the problem. I haven’t buddied up to the right people, hung out at parties with the programmers, or sponsored something. But that is not my way. I have no disrespect for those who cover festivals this way… but all-in-all, I would rather see another movie than spend a couple of hours having dinner (at least before Day 6 or 7).

My other reality is that having shot over 220 half-hours this year (2013), I am quite aware that I could have shot everything I shot at Sundance last year after Sundance. As it is, for instance, I shot 5 of the Oscar doc shortlist films that premiered at Sundance at Sundance last year… and the 6 others since… and 1 of them 2 additional times after Sundance (Blackfish). My responsibility as a journalist will not be diminished by not shooting at Sundance this year.

But it won’t be as fun. It won’t capture the moment of excitement that many filmmakers have at Sundance. It won’t be as breathless.

I have spent a lot of years seeing new talent develop right before my eyes at Sundance. That’s thrilling… and a privilege.

I am profoundly sad about this choice. But I don’t feel like I have a choice. I don’t think I deserve to be taken for granted. Certainly not at these prices. I know what the boundaries are meant to be. I don’t expect a white pass or a lot of interview time in Cannes. I don’t chase movie stars very much in Toronto. I never put on my tuxedo in Marrakech. And if I go to Berlin for the first time in February, I will be subject to the whims of that festival. But being a cuckold in Park City? No thanks.

Anyway… this too shall pass.

(If you are looking for a great 4-bedroom house, right next to The Library during the festival, my long-time landlord is still looking for a tenant. Drop me a line and I’ll give you his e-mail address.)

I just wanted to get this on the record. I am not asking anyone to care or discuss it or speak to the authorities on my behalf. I am aware that there will be jeers. But I have answered the question a number of times already and am saddened by explaining.

And as it turns out, there may be a couple of writers from MCN at Sundance 2013 anyway. Funny world.

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19 Responses to “Why I’m Not Going To Sundance This Year”

  1. LYT says:

    You should have left your cowboy hat with the publicist last year.

  2. Mua says:

    Finally someone has the guts to do a tell-all on the industry and the “clickies.” Loved this! Good for you David Poland! You are not alone though.

  3. D says:

    Waaaaaaa. I don’t get an Express Pass. Waaaaaaaa. Baby needs a bottle.

  4. Al B says:

    Please see the link below on my article “Why No One Cares That David Poland Isn’t Going To Sundance.”

  5. Melissa says:

    Watch the news any night of the week and get some perspective. Agreed, baby does need a bottle. If not getting your Express Pass is the worst thing that happens in your life you should be ok David. #dope

  6. lazarus says:

    DP knew he was going to get attacked for this, but before mocking him it’s important to ask which journalists ARE getting these passes? Do they all provide content on the level that DP does, via this blog and Movie City News?

    I’d find it hard to believe that most of them do,

    I think DP gave enough history of his experience with Sundance to not come off entitled. We all have situations where we put up with something for a while and are eventually worn down, maybe feel taken for granted and treated unfairly. Is it tacky to write a whole blog entry about it? Considering he’s at the festival every year it’s appropriate for him to explain why he won’t be making it this time, and it speaks to the overall problem many have had with Sundance for a while: the commercialization, the party scene, the lack of true independent voices, etc.

    Hard to believe people want to take potshots at one guy, indirectly condoning what the festival has become.

  7. jonah says:

    Ignore these childish commenters. They don’t seem to understand what it is to be slighted in a professional environment. Good for you, David.

  8. YancySkancy says:

    What lazarus said.

    Melissa, I thought David actually made it pretty clear that the situation was NOT the worst thing that’s happened in his life.

  9. David Poland says:

    I expected childish comments… and as usual, from completely anonymous names that haven’t been used in here before. Nothing new about being a hater.

    I don’t think my choice is one that anyone else is obliged to make. I purposely did not give examples of anyone who I think deserves an express pass less than I do… not really the point. Nor did I target anyone at Sundance. And in fact, I have declined offers of “I can talk to X” from a few people. The truth is, either you are valued by the people who make these decisions or you are not. I am not.

    The pass is really beside the point.

  10. Al Buttermore says:

    “The pass is really beside the point” Ha! Would you be going if you got your Express Pass? Yes. Then you wouldn’t have written the article.

  11. Joe Leydon says:

    David and I have not taken too many walks on moonlit beaches together, so I’m sure he and a few regulars have been waiting for me to post some smack on this thread. But seriously: I feel his pain. It can be a dismaying even discombobulating thing to realize the place others have assigned you in the pecking order is nowhere near where you thought it was. Also: It actually can be a tad painful to realize that people you thought were friends, or at least friendly, really aren’t – because they’ve decided you can’t do quite as much for them as other people can. As I have said before: Even now, more than 18 years after the closing of The Houston Post, I can still tell you who called me during the days after it happened, who took my calls after it happened, and who didn’t return my calls after it happened. Same thing after I lost my TV gig four years later.

    But David, in regard to the haters: You have written quite a number of critical comments over the years about the trades and the people who work for them, and how they shouldn’t be given special treatment anymore because everyone knows that the trades are dinosaurs. And you have doubtless read the hectoring jeers posted here and elsewhere each time it’s been announced that some film critic has lost his or her job. Keeping all that in mind: What else did you expect to get when you posted this post?

  12. David Poland says:

    I’ll keep it simple, Joe.

    1. Don’t project. I respect your experience. But it’s not mine in this case.

    2. I don’t write for the response. No one should.

    3. What does trade embargo date advantages – the only real issue about which I have argued the trades, and not because they are dinosaurs, but because they are no longer trades, but consumer-chasing internet sites – have to do with this? I haven’t suggested that the two legit reviewing trades shouldn’t have express passes. They should. They need them more than anyone else.

  13. David Poland says:

    You miss the point, Al. (Also… interesting you have commented 3 times under 3 different names)

    If Sundance had said yes, they would have been showing respect. They did not. So I choose not to invest heavily in promoting their event.

    Perhaps the phrase I should have used was “the benefits of the pass are really beside the point.”

  14. Joe Leydon says:

    “Same old stuff, albeit directly from someone who I thought I was a little friendly with.”

  15. Joe Leydon says:

    Well, David, I will grant you this: You’ll never be as white trash as I am.

  16. Drew McWeeny says:

    I’m trying to imagine the robot butlers and hot tubs in every room and 24-hour-a-day on-call kitchen service your place must have if you’re spending $20,000 on Sundance.

  17. LexG says:


  18. Joe Leydon says:

    Drew: Hookers and blow. Those were already expensive back when I worked for The Post. God only knows how costly they are now. At least David is self-employed, and not answerable to bean-counters. I have to tell you: Back when I did Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, Montreal and SXSW, I had to be pretty damn creative while filing out those expense reports.

  19. Daniel says:

    Thank you for the heads-up, David. It’s a shame we’ll be missing out on that great content you might’ve provided, but sometimes you gotta stick to your guns. I really admire that. Stay frosty.

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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.”
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“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