Sundance Wrap-Up: It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday* (*not really)

"I realized where I was the other night when I had to walk in the street, in the traffic, just to get to the bus. A giant vehicle started coming straight at me, and I moved against the barrier because there were kids running alongside the car, pounding on it, shouting. The dome light was on inside, and Paris Hilton was inside the vehicle, dancing. And I said, Okay. This is truly a Nero-fiddling moment in our culture. Could this place survive without all the froo-frau now? The same stuff gets done, but all that [celebrity culture] sort of lends itself towards the economy that holds the other thing up. I guess you have to have the Gomorrah with the paradise." — Terry Kinney, director, Diminished Capacity

Well, PopWatchers, we made it. After 10 days, 2 snowstorms, 4 sleepless nights, 23 movies, 1 Kim Kardashian sighting, and 1 bout of food poisoning (unrelated), you and I have survived Sundance for another year. Is it just me, or did it all seem a lot less epic in ’08? Maybe it’s because I knew what to expect, but I actually think all of us EW scribes felt like things were just a little bit off this time around: the parties were a non-starter, the swag suites were weak, the celebs were mostly gone by Tuesday, and there were very few big sales. On top of that, with a few exceptions, the movies didn’t blow us away. It’s not going to be one for the books, in other words.

Still, there are things to remember, pocket people. After the jump, a bulleted list of random stuff. Because after a week and a half of obsessive coverage, it feels weird to just… stop.

1. Sunshine Cleaning

The last movie I saw at Sundance, and the big winner in one very simple regard: It had to do with women. You remember women: the other half of the population? Yeah. We exist. And hey, we’ve got stories to tell! Once again, Owen and I are in agreement on this film’s pros and cons, but after 10 days of watching men fight, fail, love, lose, strive, dream, collapse, triumph, and generally man their way around on screen, the chance to watch the terrific chemistry between Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as sisters who run a crime-scene cleanup business was incredibly reassuring. Sure, there were chicks in the other movies — mostly strippers, prostitutes, or, if they were lucky, long-suffering girlfriends. But why did I have to wade through 22 movies before I found one that valued female life experience more than female anatomy?

2. Trendspotting: A Very Quick Survey of Things I Counted

-Movies involving head injuries: 2 (Smart People, Diminished Capacity)
-Movies involving quirky parents living in cramped NYC apartments: 2 (Momma’s Man, August)
-Movies in which one unfortunate actor had to say the title as part of some seriously delivered dialogue, a.k.a. the Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen Memorial Acting Challenge: 3 (The Wackness, Smart People, Diminished Capacity)

3. Swag: Is It Evil If It’s Environmentally Correct?

It’s pretty easy to see the sea change in progress: Ever since stars started speaking out against the bizarre process of distributing free stuff to rich people, the swag industry in Hollywood has been scrambling to find ways to maintain its relevance. While I was too busy to get to most of the "style lounges" before they closed and consequently took home way less stuff this year — the friend who challenged me to furnish my new L.A. apartment exclusively with swag is going to be disappointed — I did appreciate the folks who are trying to make a difference. It’s a two-steps-forward, one-step-back sort of thing, I suppose, to give away a pair of fancy sunglasses AND a coupon offsetting someone’s carbon footprint, but it’s still something. And I think we’re going to find that companies like Timberland — which managed the recycling at the Village at the Yard, and will soon start putting "nutrition labels" directly on its shoes so customers know how much repurposed post-consumer waste the products contain — are going to have a lot more success in these post-Gore times. Extra props to the folks at Pure & Natural, who are packaging their soaps in biodegradeable materials that also contain flower seeds. Don’t throw away your boxes; plant them! I like it.

4. Documentaries

Okay, Sunshine Cleaning was cute and all, but the REAL winners this year appeared to be the documentaries. I’ve made my feelings about the terrific Young@Heart well known, but my coworkers had equally strong responses to American Teen, Made in America, Trouble the Water, and the Roman Polanski doc. Not sure why so many more of these struck a chord with us. Maybe it’s a reaction to the growing success of the genre. You could see the ordinary-guy influence of Michael Moore in Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Chris Bell’s investigation of steroid culture; the persistence of Michael Apted in Nerakhoon (The Betrayal), Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath’s Laotion refugee tale that was nearly three decades in the making; and the pop fever of Morgan Spurlock in Morgan Spurlock’s own Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?. (He is not, to the great dismay of Missy Schwartz, hanging out with Carmen Sandiego.)

5. Geoff Gilmore

Speaking of Missy "I Give Up On This Nickname Thing" Schwartz, I must credit her for the most asute observation of the festival: that programming director Geoff Gilmore is the James Lipton of Sundance. I cannot imagine what the man’s week must be like, bouncing from venue to venue to introduce premieres, press screenings, and Q&As, but I think what I like the most about him is his ability to — no matter how craptastic the movie — still use the word "important" to describe it. This might sound like I’m mocking the guy, but I’m not; his unbridled enthusiasm for film and filmmakers is what keeps the machine oiled. Keep up the good work, sir.

6. The Library Center

My favorite venue this year, for four reasons: 1) The guy who took the "Don’t Forget To Vote!" audience award slide as a chance to yell out "OBAMA!", 2) Their immediate and disgusted response to the reporter who interrupted the August Q&A to ask Josh Hartnett about Heath Ledger’s passing, 3) The way the first floor smells like egg and cheese sandwiches for some reason, and 4) The 11:30 p.m. screening of Sunshine Cleaning on Thursday, before which an usher walked through the packed house, holding a knit cap over her head. She stopped at about the 10th row, and yelled down to a woman, "Is this your hat?" "Yes!" the woman responded, and the crowd, all of us pretty much delirious from too many movies and too little sleep, burst into applause as the usher walked back up the aisle, raising her arms in triumph.

And… well, 6 is a random number, but let’s just call it an upside-down tribute to my favorite Sundance movie from last year and end it there. It’s been fun having you kids in my pocket, as usual, and I hope you got something out of all this. Despite the chaos, the insomnia, the stress, and the many inconveniences, I gotta say it’s hard to imagine 10 days full of more amazing opportunities — both highbrow and low — than the ones I just had. Ideally, some of that came through in these blogs.

Now, before I get all choked up (memories! like the corners of my mind!) I’m going to leave you with a line from Slingshot Hip-Hop, courtesy of those rapping Palestinians: "There’s still good in the world, my friend." How do I know this is true? Because Sunday morning, I walked my coworker Greg "Rawr" Kirschling out to his airport van…and who should be driving but Raj, the driver who saved my Sundance by finding (and returning) my cell phone on Day One. I gave him a huge hug, and, in that moment, it all seemed worth it. Thanks again, Raj.

And thanks to each and every one of you pocket people for traveling with me. It’s always a pleasure. Stay tuned for a couple more interviews/Sundance-related posts as they become relevant throughout the year. Until then, keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars, or whatever.

Comments (10 total) Add your comment
  • Daniel

    Thanks so much for the coverage, Whitney. I’m already looking forward to next year! : )

  • Bleah

    I hated all the Sundance popwatches. It was like you were rubbing it in our faces that you were there (oh, hooray for you!) and we weren’t. It’s a completely different tone than others (ie. Oscars or Emmys popwatches). It’s so blantantly “I’m so vogue because I’m here at Sundance, appreciating independent filmmakers, while you lowly masses can only head to your local movie theatres.” Thank God it’s over. Good riddance.

  • Whitney Pastorek

    Bleah, I’m sorry they read that way to you. It’s our job to cover Sundance. I wish you could come. Wanna be my personal assistant next year?

  • K

    Dude, if Bleah doesn’t want to be your assistant, I will totally offer myself up in that regard.

  • escargot

    Take me! Take me!

  • Confidential

    I think the problem with Sundance isn’t the actors, films or the reviews… its the worthless celebutards that show up just to get free swag and their pics taken. I think the world is pretty much over fawning over rich people just being rich and trying to seek attention. But I am waiting to see which movies make to the theaters.

  • aleka

    I’m taking a year off and working at the ski slopes at Park City so this was my first Sundance experience. I saw some okay movies but the audience made it awesome (opening nights of Diary of the Dead, Hell Ride). Seeing movies with a passionate, fanatic audience who love the director or actor in the room with you as much as you do is just plain cool. I saw some great docs with some amazingly dumb audiences where I cringed at the q and a because everyone had missed the point (Be like others, dinner with the president). I loved In Bruges and The Visitor. I hated the crowds, the crappy screening facilities (except Library theatre, where you can see Sundance movies year-round w/o the crowds), and not being able to get into any of my favorite PC bars or restaurants. Still, I sat five seats down from Dennis Hopper while he watched Hell Ride for the first time, met the legendary George Romero, and accidentally bumped into someone in the Egyptian Theatre and realized it was Taratino.

  • donner

    I kinda sorta read the entries from Sundance, but all in all, it sounded kinda BO-ring…although meeting Alan Rickman woulda been the highlight of the festival for me…I don’t care if ya’ll go next year, I don’t see a lot of benefit from Sundance any longer…it used to be an interesting way for young unknowns to get noticed…now Paris Hilton and Mariah Carey are all over the streets…WHO CARES!?!?!?!

  • DW

    Major props, Whitney, for the 10 Wms. shout-out – talk about your obscure references – made me LMAO. And totally agree with the lack of estrogen in modern flicks – remember back when a movie like ‘The Turning Point’ would actually have dynamic, interesting roles for the distaff population?

  • Pamela

    Whitney (and all the rest of the Sundance EW team),
    Thanks for the all the Sundance coverage. And, in particular, yay to your support for Sunshine Cleaning: warts and all, we women do need to see interesting female characters on-screen (there’s only so much Jane Austen can do for the cause,y’know). Here’s hoping it gets a distribution deal (especially an international one, since I am outside the US).
    Despite what Sundance has become in some circles over the years (could Paris Hilton and her kind just get the message to stay at home, please) I’d still love to go there sometime. But in the interim ’til I do make the trip, keep giving us the posts/videos/photos etc about what’s going down. I don’t think of the coverage as rubbing our noses in it at all, I mean what’s a quality entertainment mag and website supposed to cover?!.

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