Sundance Diary: Days 6 and 7 (or: Man, it just got cold!)

Overheard at the press screening for Momma’s Man, 8:57 a.m., January 23rd: "It’s Wednesday. Who’s still here, ya know?"

Howdy from Park City, PopWatchers, where I’m sitting in the now-celebrity-free photo studio as the video crew watches Clive Owen hunch about in Derailed on the HP big-screen and we hungrily await our Thai food. It’s oddly quiet here, despite the movie’s presence — and hey, look! I just summed up the last two days of Sundance!

With the tragic news about Heath Ledger yesterday, the festival —  which was already slowing down —  officially became a little bit desolate. The streets have emptied out, the swag shops have closed, the weather has turned clear and frigid, and, with the exception of the high-wattage Raisin in the Sun cast —  Sean Combs, Sanaa Lathan, Audra McDonald, John Stamos, and Phylicia Rashad, who, when assembled on our couch, damn near made me pass out from their conglomerated attractiveness —  most of the stars have headed home.

This is my favorite time at Sundance, if I’m allowed to have a favorite time after just two years in attendance. If you’re still in town, you pretty much just want to watch the moving pictures, not the shiny people. Even better: After my screening of the Palestinian rap documentary Slingshot Hip-Hop tonight (and my interview with ROCK LEGEND NEIL YOUNG tomorrow), my professional obligations here will be largely complete, and I can just start seeing stuff I want to see. Of course, I’ve done a bit of that today, too. After the jump, we cover yesterday’s slightly shell-shocked events, and the somewhat less emotionally awkward activities of today. Come with me, won’t you, my darling pocket peeps?

Before everything started getting eerie around here, I woke up yesterday morning with time to spare —  and, perhaps, more importantly, to shower. First stop was the Town Lift, where I interviewed the cast of Diminished Capacity, Terry Kinney’s congenial comedy about losing one’s marbles. And as happy as I may have been to meet director Kinney and actress Virginia Madsen —  who plays Matthew Broderick’s childhood sweetheart with just as much gentle radiance as she brought to Sideways —  the real highlight was my chance to sit down with Alan Alda. I’ll post highlights of all three interviews soon, but I’ll never forget Alda’s answer when, toward the end of our very pleasant conversation, I asked him if he enjoyed all this press-junkety stuff. "Well, it’s a skill," he replied, smiling —  something I’d be reminded of soon enough, watching Josh Hartnett tackle an uncomfortable question at his August premiere with the utmost grace.

It was in between these two events, of course, that those of us working in the photo studio learned of Heath Ledger’s passing. It swept across BlackBerries and made its presence known on Google News just as the cast of Henry Poole Is Here was sitting on our couch being interviewed. We whispered as the cameras rolled, and then sat in a bit of shock as the editors and writers back in New York scrambled to put together our cover story on the young actor. Repeated requests flowed in from our bosses for any interviews, old or new, that might shed light on Ledger’s life and work, and…. Well, it’s an afternoon that’s going to hang with me for a while.

But as with everything else at Sundance, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to dwell, and after August and a subdued dinner with colleagues —  where I ran into one of the sweet girls from Miramax, who apologized profusely for poisoning me and promised to buy me a pony to make up for it —  I headed home to get to work on some Lost episode recaps that were due today. Yes, that’s right. Why wouldn’t I be writing recaps of a television show in the middle of the night while at Sundance? I haven’t the foggiest. At 4 a.m., I clicked send on the last of the listicles and hit the sack.

Good thing, too: I would have kicked myself had I not awoken in time to catch the 9 a.m. press screening of Momma’s Man, a quiet, affecting movie starring my buddy Matt Boren as a man caught in a particularly sudden and drastic case of arrested development. Matt and I have been friends since way back in our NYU theater school days, days that seem like such a past life for us both. I don’t think we ever imagined that 10 years down the road we’d be working Sundance. Even better, at our staff dinner the other night, EW movie critic Owen Gleiberman declared Momma’s Man to be one of his favorite films from the fest so far [SIDE NOTE: Owen is totally kicking my ass with the blogging this year, and you should be reading every word he writes], and as promised, the movie didn’t disappoint. Which was a huge relief, because there’s no conversation I hate worse than the "Uh…you were in a movie!!" — b.s. I hear myself delivering to friends if their projects suck. No, the only thing that sucked about the MM screening was the woman sitting next to me who apparently felt that heavy perfume was, indeed, what woozy entertainment reporters with still-uneasy stomachs want to smell before they’ve had their damn coffee.

Mid-morning saw me back here at the studio with the August cast and director Austin Chick (whose name I miswrote in yesterday’s BuzzCheck as "August," sorry). They’re a fine bunch of boys, easy on the eyes and a great, informative interview. For example: they somehow shot the film —  one of the best-looking I’ve seen here —  in just 24 12-hour days, because they couldn’t afford overtime. I then headed to the Holiday Village for steroid doc Bigger, Stronger, Faster, which uses the lens of director Chris Bell’s bodybuilding past (and steroid-using brothers) to examine where the real problem lies: with the performance-enhancing drugs…or the more-More-MORE nature of American culture? Finally, I made the long, strange trip over to the Racquet Club to catch up on one of the weekend’s more talked-about films, The Wackness, only to pass writer-director Jonathan Levine on my way in. The poor guy was clearly in the midst of a nic fit, asking those of us filing off the shuttle bus, "Does anybody have a cigarette? Anybody? A cigarette? I wrote and directed the movie! Anyone??" Dude, chill. Your flick about a teenage drug dealer and his eccentric client/shrink was enjoyable, as was the performance of Josh "Not Drake" Peck in the lead role. And Wednesday at Sundance is way too late to still be wracked with anxiety.

After all: Who’s still here?


Comments (3 total) Add your comment
  • Tim Lade

    Whitney you brighten my day!

  • Ceballos

    I’m very impressed that you’re going back to writing “Lost” recaps after how unbelievably rude some TV Watchers were because they didn’t feel your writing style fit their narrow view of what a “Lost” recap should be.
    Anyway, keep up the great work at Sundance!

  • Weck

    Are we supposed to feel sorry for you because you had two separate writing assignments?

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