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Monday, January 28, 2008

New Travelog!: Part 1: Sundance '08

Prologue: Due to the WGA strike I'm having no luck finding work in LA. I've been without a job since mid-December and I was turned down for unemployment because there was a mistake in the paperwork, and because so many people are out of work right now, it's even more difficult to get someone on the phone, which, in the best case scenario, is pretty damn tough. So my options are as such: Spend my last couple hundred bucks on one more months worth of rent and hope a job materializes or take my last couple hundred bucks and hit the road, travel around for a few months, and return when there are jobs to be had.

Travelog Pt. 1: Sundance '08

As I talk with my roommate about happiness and the future and what we can do to better ourselves as people and whatnot, I received a text from a friend from high school wondering if I'd be interested in flying out to Park City to volunteer at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Although I grew up in Utah, I vowed to never go to Sundance until I had something showing. But this felt different. The idea really stuck, and I mulled it over for a couple hours before deciding to go ahead and fly out.

I was working on a friend's film through the end of the weekend so I bought a ticket on Jetblue for Monday night. The flight was delayed two hours, and I spent $14 for a burger that was prepared wrong twice before finally understanding that I don't want onions and pickles. I'd forgotten my laptop charger, and I hardly had any cold weather clothes. When I left LA it was probably 60 degrees. In Salt Lake the temperature was in the single digits.

My dad picked me up from the airport and drove up the canyon to Park City. I had a bed in a condo that was shared between myself, my friend Heidi, and 7 of her friends. Out of habit and out of not wanting to crawl up a skeezy looking ladder when I arrived home at 2 am every night, I slept on the couch down stairs. After signing in at the Volunteer Villa, I was given a Sundance '08 jacket, scarf, beanie and vest. If it weren't for my shoes, I'd be all ready for winter and the -5 degree temperature that I walked home in that night.

I worked at the Holiday Theater tent, selling tickets to impatient tourists and imputing data into a computer. I was told I'd be on the morning shift which would allow me a chance to see more movies at night and possibly get into some of the parties, but instead I was moved to the night shift. Because of this, I wasn't able to see two of the films I really wanted to check out - Michael Haneke's Funny Games (the remake of his own Austrian film from 1997) and Gonzo, the documentary about nutjob journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

However, I did manage to get in a handful of movies while I was there, including The Wackness, the final movie showing on the final night of the festival. Starring Ben Kingsley as a drug using shrink, it was easily the best movie I've seen while here. It was the only movie that truly blew me away, and was just about as perfect a movie I've seen in a long time. It costarred an Olsen Twin, which made it even more unlikely that I'd enjoy it.

Other movies I enjoyed were the Spanish language film Sleep Dealers, a sci-fi flick about a kid from a small Mexican village who leaves home after the death of his father by a Corporate Army hired to keep aqua-terrorist from harming the company's water supply. Although it was a low budget movie (I can't imagine it had more than a million bucks), it was so well put together. I walked out of the movie thinking it was the best writing, best editing and best directing I've seen in a long time, and I haven't been this impressed with special effects in a film since the original Matrix. It won the best screenplay award at the festival, along with the sci-fi award.

I only caught two documentaries, although there were several I wanted to see. The first (and the better of the pair) was Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired. Very well put together, it was able to get into the reasons why he did what he did, although it (rightfully) doesn't excuse him from the crime he committed. It spent quite a bit of time focusing on the judge in the trial, and there was a lot of effort in showing various angles and points of view. Definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of Polanski, or if you love documentaries.

The other doc I caught was Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?, which I'm torn about. I think the film is one that everyone needs to see but there is a lot I don't like about it. First, it's going to shoot itself in the foot during it's marketing campaign. I'm convinced it'll be presented to the 18-35 year old market as kind of a Dawg the Bountyhunter hunts down Osama bin Laden, which obviously pique a lot of interest, but the truth is the movie is less about Osama bin Laden and more about the way various peoples in the Middle East view Americans and American foreign policy.

Using bin Laden as the reason to visit various countries, Spurlock never intends to discover where the terrorist is hiding. Every mention of bin Laden bit could very well have been removed from the movie and it would have been more profound, although the audiences wouldn't turn out en masse, so I guess it's a trade off he wasn't willing to settle on. The other major turn off for the movie is the use of goofy cartoony videogame sequences to seque one scene to another, and the dumbest opening movie sequence I've seen in a long time. All of this is for one reason - to get young audiences into the theaters.

Again, I think it's a documentary that everyone should watch, but I think this is going to turn off a lot of people and I'm not convinced flashy CGI fight scenes between a 9 foot ninja bin Laden and Morgan Spurlock is necessarily going to resonate with today's youth.

Other noteworthy films were Frozen River, which I saw because I'd written a role for Mark Boone Jr. in my script A MILLION SHADES OF WHITE, and he had a small part in this as a French Canadian strip club owner cum human trafficker. It was good - deserving of it's audience award, for sure - but it will probably resonate with female audience members more than it will the guys. The acting was top notch, the directing was steady throughout, there were some great cinematic moments, and the entire situation seems plausible, which makes it even more heartbreaking.

One of the three movies I intended to see was Choke, written by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk and starring Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Houston. I was a bit frightened when I noticed the film was less than 90 minutes long, but it was funny (which is good 'cuz it's a comedy) and most of the cast did a great job (it won an award for best ensemble cast) although I thought both the leading females were the weak part of the film, along with some issues with the low budget. Mostly I would've liked better sets and more creative camera work. Also, the way the flashbacks transitioned in and out of the film was abrasive.

Script writer/director Clark Gregg (photo <----) did an outstanding job adapting the novel and he didn't flinch at some of the more perverse and obnoxious elements of the book. It's a testament to his script that I can't really think of anything that was missing from the book and I enjoyed the few things he added, such as the interview scene before the fake-rape. Funny, but probably not for everybody.

I'm a little disappointed at the amount of drinking I was able to accomplish, but we did have a party in our condo the second to last night, in celebration of one of the roommate's 27th birthday. He was kind of a douche, but his mother was nice. The party wound down around 3 am when he decided to go to bed and told us it was his party so he was allowed to tell us when it was over. I arrived late due to work, but it seems like everyone who came (probably around 30 people or so) brought a bottle of wine to go with our already pretty impressive alcohol collection. We had plenty left over the next night, although we did our best to finish it off before the festival ended.

As the festival was winding down we were hit with a major storm that closed off portions of the freeway and stranded us in Park City for an extra couple of days. My friend Heidi - who has been working at the festival since we graduated in '98 - has a friend whose father owned a house in the area, so we crashed there. And by house, I mean full blown mansion. There must've been a dozen rooms, each with their own bathrooms. A sauna (which I couldn't turn on), a gym, a wine room, a nifty hot tub - and a kitchen with 4 ice cream scoops, two microwaves and two stoves! Anyway, the first night it was just the three of us, and it was pretty tame. After they went to sleep, I explored the house and drank bourbon and Coke.

The second night started out a bit different. Four more of Heidi's friends showed up - all women - and we sat around drinking and playing Scattegories. As the ratio of guys:girls was 6:1, I knew I wouldn't be getting laid (with those odds, nobody's getting nothing). We drank a lot and one by one people left to go to bed until again I was left alone. I finished the bourbon and went to sleep.

The next morning, I caught a ride down the mountain with a couple of the girls from the night before, and now I'm here at my dad's place trying to figure out where to go next. My brother is getting married in April, so I figure that's a good time to return to LA. Until then, I'll keep moving and keep posting.

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