By all reasonable measures, and from what I’ve personally observed, between the snow and the people, Park City, Utah is the whitest place in America. It’s a quaint little ski town nestled in the frost covered peaks of Northern Utah, some 25 miles or so outside of Salt Lake City. Park City is a place with so many rich white people that the city's public transit system is 100% free. Because God knows poor black and brown folks in the inner cities couldn’t benefit from that at all. That’s just what rich white people on vacation need. Free public transportation.
Park City is the kind of place I could totally hate. Or at least be very envious/jealous of because it’s a place that offers things and experiences most people will never enjoy. A place black folks can only dream of or see in movies. (Irony.) It’s a winter wonderland where America’s elite come to play. But once a year, in the last week of January, Park City is transformed. Reimagined as a place where the little guys can rule the day. A place where dreams can suddenly come true. A place where lives can change overnight. A place that can lift people from total obscurity to unbelievable superstardom. For two weeks, Park City is home to the Sundance Film Festival. One of the most recognizable and prestigious independent film festivals on the planet.
Over the course of two weeks, I slowly fell in love with Park City. Or least this far more palatable version of Park City. It's a filmmaker's wet dream on steroids. It’s a kin to Comic Con or something only the people are pretty, tan, and they don't smell like basement and Doritos. Everywhere you go people are discussing films. Ones they’ve seen. Ones they want to see. Ones they love. Ones they’ve loathed. Throughout the city every conversation is peppered with some form of “Have you heard anything about Movie X?” or "Oh you saw Movie Y, what did you think?" The experience is one that somewhat confirms your love for something that at times you feel like is silly or stupid. Sundance is a validation for the love of film. Sure you all love different films and have different taste, but the overall theme remains the same. We all love movies! As a film festival novice, I’m here to share the 10 things I learned and my top five films I saw during my time at Sundance 2015. Note: This order doesn’t mean anything. The 10th thing is no greater or worse than the 1st.
1: You CAN’T See Em' All
There is no fucking way to see every film. The sheer number of narrative films, documentary films, short films, art/experimental films, animated films etc, etc is overwhelming. So don’t go into it thinking you’re going to see everything because you wouldn't/can’t.
2: You WILL See A Horrible Film
It’s Sundance. This film festival has being the launching pad for some of film's greatest talent in front and behind the camera. In fact, last year's Grand Jury and Audience Award winning film Whiplash is nominated for multiple Oscars including Best Picture. Great films clearly come out of the festival but that doesn’t mean you won't see something B-A-D, bad. Just be ready to hate something.
3: Make A Plan
This one piggy backs off number one. Since you can’t see it all, at least make a list of films you'd like to try to see. Game plan at least 10 films you want to see, rank them from most desired to ones you could live without seeing. But…
4: Be Flexible
Over the course of Sundance, films will either gain or lose buzz. You’re only going off of four factors when deciding what films to see. The description of the film. The performers in the film. The filmmakers behind the film. And the buzz. Something you could have really wanted to see could turn out to be complete shit via a couple days of word of mouth. The buzz of the festival can lift or sink a film. Speaking of…
5: Trust The Buzz
For the love of God trust the buzz! If you’re in a room with 100 and 99 people don’t like one guy, something isn’t wrong with 99 people. Ask questions. Let people be your guinea pigs. Don’t get so entrenched to see something that you'd ignore what people are telling you. If the buzz is overwhelming, good or bad, just trust that it’s correct and act accordingly. If it’s mixed, just go see for yourself.
6: You WILL Regret Things
You’re going to skip out on something you should have seen. You’re going to see something you don’t like. It will happen. And yes, you’ll be upset with yourself. That's fine. Remembering number one, you should expect this to happen at least once or twice.
7: Lines, Lines, Lines
Like Six Flags in the middle of the summer, most of your time at Sundance will be spent waiting in lines. Waiting in lines for the movies. Waiting in lines for the bathroom. Waiting in lines for concessions. The one saving grace unlike Six Flags, where you wait hour for a one to two minute thrill, you get to see a two hour movie.
8: Sleep Is Optional
Since Sundance is all lines, you need to be at places really early to secure a spot inside the theater. Films play as early as 8AM which means you need to be up and ready to arrive at least one hour before the showtime. Films play as late as 11:45PM which means you could be getting out of a film at 2AM or later. Plus travel time. Sure most venues are in Park City, but some are as far as Sundance Mountain Resort and Salt Lake City. So if you want to see movies, just know you’re not going to be sleep much at all.
9: See The Docs
When you think Sundance, it’s so easy to get caught up in watching the narrative films, but don’t get all wrapped up the hype of the stars and traditional storytelling. There are so many interesting people and subjects that are explored by brilliant documentary filmmakers. I’ve learned that docs are usually a safer bet because most can’t lean on a star. They almost HAVE to be good or they can’t be made.
10: Have Fun
This one is simple. Watch movies. Talk to people and share your thoughts. Have a few drinks and create memories. Just have fun. (Confession: I came up with the idea for the “10 Things I Learned" and couldn't think of ten so this one is kind of a cop out. I was already committed to “10” so yeah, get over it.)
Top Five Films I SAW
1: The End of The Tour (Jason Segel gave the best performance of the festival in my opinion. Like early Oscar-worthy. Never has 140 minutes of two guys talking been so damn good.)
2: The Bronze (I haven’t laughed that hard at a film in YEARS. It’s like first Hangover funny. Also, Greatest. Sex. Scene. EVER.)
3. Dope (Very funny. Super sharp dialog. And the three leads are perfect. Shameik Moore is about to become VERY VERY famous. Buy the stock while it’s low.)
4. Z For Zachariah (Quiet, but very fascinating character study of jealousy, loneliness, and dueling desire of two men. It’s smarter than just being a story of a good guy and bad guy which it could have been.)
5. Me And Earl And The Dying Girl (The most talked about film of Sundance ’15. Also the Jury and Audience Award winner. Also sold for $12M. It’s a total love letter to filmmaking and doesn’t go into the typical troupes of the "teen coming-of-age" genre. )