My Sundance Trip Overview

So, I’ve been gone for a week, which is why this page as been lacking in its usual steady stream of content. I’ve spent the last week in Park City, Utah to experience the Sundance Film Festival! This week’s Movie Question essay will be replaced by this overview of my trip, with a short day-to-day diary entry, and very brief film reviews of the 10 movies I saw.

This week, I attended the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, which is the premiere Independent Film Festival in the world. I was nervous as hell until I chose the films that I would see. At that point, it’s as if a light switch was flicked and I became absolutely elated at the thought of attending Sundance; even after the Festival, I still have this same excitement and am already counting down the days until the next festival (even though they haven’t announced the dates yet…). What you’ll read now is a short day-to-day diary that I’ve written outlining my experience, and briefly summarizing and reviewing the films that I watched. There is so much to write about that I loved, but I think the mystifying nature of the Festival itself should be preserved, so there is a lot that you should explore for yourself without knowing much. Anyways, without further adieu, here is my Sundance Journal:

Day One: Tuesday, January 24th

We arrived in town at about 2:00 pm and my movies start tomorrow at 6:00 pm, so today was spent simply unpacking, acclimating and exploring! We ate at Dee’s, which is like a Denny’s, but with Fry Sauce! What? Exactly, I didn’t know either, but apparently, it’s a real thing. Then, at 4, we returned to the airport to pick up my friend and fellow movie reviewer, Chok (you can check out his content on Instagram under the handles @moviesmaniac and @moviesmaniax), who is staying with us and watching Sundance movies as well. There’s really not enough praise that can be given to how beautiful Park City is; even though it has been under 20 degrees with over two feet of snow, walking around outside was absolutely invigorating and hasn’t gotten old at all. Since this is my first Sundance, I have a lot of unexpected planning to do in order to make sure I can get from theater to theater in time for each movie. Even in just the first few hours, I’ve learned so much that definitely help make the next trip run smoothly, but I’m so excited to see what the rest of this trip has in store for me.

Day Two: Wednesday, January 25th

We got dropped off in Park City at around 10:00 am so that Chok and I could walk around the town, visit exclusive pass-holder venues, and eat some food on the town. For an early lunch, we ate at Davanza’s which is most notable for the thousands of beer cans they have lining the walls, and the delicious food (I had a veggie burger. Chok, a pizza. Both of us were happy). While walking around, we found two tickets on the ground for God’s Own Country, which we had time to see before my first movie at 6:00 pm. Unfortunately, Chok lost his ticket, so I let him have mine so that I could map out the routes I would take to get from theater to theater. Since this was my first Sundance, I had NO idea how to schedule the films, and definitely learned a lot about certain do’s and don’t’s. Do: make sure your theaters are close together, and in the same city so that transportation is easy (can only walk or take the bus, forget about bringing your car). Don’t: schedule your films with any less than 4 hours in between start times. I was planning on seeing Dayveon as my second movie today, but I chose a theater that wouldn’t allow me to get to me third movie on time. Luckily, the box office employees were very helpful and allowed me to trade in my ticket for a voucher to be able to buy a ticket for a different film! I chose one at the same time, but in a closer location so that traveling was more manageable.

Film #1: Landline, 6:00 pm at the Library Theater. Landline is a comedic drama about a family of liars and cheaters in 1995. To quote the person I sat next to, this movie was “adorable,” largely because of the well-developed characters who all deal with problems in their relationships with each other and others. It’s a film about love and family, and the story studies those elements individually as well as together, but never in a way that felt recycled. Lead actress Jenny Slate was a riot, her character was so entertaining which grounded the film in that refreshing comedy that she brought.

Film #2: Newness, 9:30 pm at Eccles Theater. Newness is a unique 21st-century love story about online dating, exploring a relationship between two people addicted to an app similar to Tinder. While this film most certainly had a point to make, the story never felt preachy and instead, offered a very unique take on modern love. Maybe as a 21-year-old college kid, the story hit a little close to home and was quite hard to watch at times, but writer/director Drake Doremus is great at delivering heartwarming and heartbreaking love stories, and this film is most certainly both of those in the best of ways.

Film #3: I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, 11:59 pm at the Library Theater. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a bloody and dark comedy about a single middle-aged woman who was robbed, and recruits a young and strange man who lives down the street to help her track down the thieves. Emulating the style of films the director has starred in (Blue Ruin, Green Room), this film pulled no punches with shock value, but it’s the blend of comedy with this grit, which gave the film something new. Also, Elijah Wood was hilarious as the martial-art loving man-child, and you’ll be able to see this film for yourself in less than a month on Netflix! Sure, I’m a little salty I spent 50 bucks if I could have waited 30 days to see it for free, but Netflix won’t offer you a chance to see writer/director Macon Blair or Elijah Wood in person after watching it. This film won the Grand Jury Prize for a Dramatic Film this year, Sundance’s highest honor.

Day one was incredible; I saw movies that made me laugh, cry, and wince (in that order), got to see some of my favorite actors and writers due to the Q & A’s after the last two showings, explored the incredibly gorgeous Park City, ate super scrumptious food and met fantastic people with similar interests! I can’t wait to see what else this trip has in store for me…

Day Three: Thursday, January 26th

After our midnight premiere last night and getting home at around 3:00 am, having to get up at 6:00 am for an 8:30 am movie isn’t as fun as it may sound. Fortunately, the thought of being at Sundance and seeing new movies is 10x as powerful as a pack of Redbulls, so waking up energized wasn’t hard. Chok and I arrived in Park City about 90 minutes before my film started, which is the perfect amount of time for every showing, I’ve learned so far.

Film #4: A Ghost Story, 8:30 am at the Prospector Theater. A Ghost Story marks writer/director David Lowery’s return to Sundance after helming Disney’s Pete’s Dragon this past year. This film is about a couple that lives happily together until the husband dies in a car accident. At that point, the story turns into a science fiction movie, as the ghost of the husband becomes the main character of the film. What this film brings to the paranormal genre is the question: in a relationship in which one partner dies, which person becomes the more lonely victim: the widow or the ghost? Undoubtedly, this cinema vérité quasi-experimental film shot in a gorgeous 4:3 ratio will turn off a large portion of the audience who will not have the patience for the extremely meditative nature, but those who stick with this film until the end will be highly rewarded at the piecing together in the third act.

For lunch, I returned to Davanza’s for some carna asada tacos and was highly impressed with the savory tastes and tender texture that the food had to offer. I guess one could say that this is my favorite restaurant in all of Utah since I have been here twice in just the first two days! The service was just as great as the food, and the people who work there were beyond friendly. If you visit Park City for Sundance or any other reason, definitely hit this place up and say hi to these great people.

Film #5: Thoroughbred, 3:00 pm at the Yarrow Theater. Thoroughbred is written and directed by newcomer Cory Finley, who adapted the screenplay from a play that he wrote with the same story. The story and tone feel very much like a stage play as it’s entirely character and performance driven, and all of it works thanks to Finley, as well as actresses Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke. A producer of the film mentioned in the Q & A afterward how Finley’s play was floating around Hollywood before being picked up, and Finley given the chance to (or told that he would) direct the film, which was a daunting but welcome task, he explained. The story is about an emotionless girl who befriends a spoiled peer and helps plot the murder of somebody that neither of them are fond of.

Tonight, we went to a bar known as The Spur, which hosted live country music and was a lot of fun to attend. We only hung out here for a little while… but returned three more times throughout the trip for some more drinks and music. Then, we ate dinner at an unbelievably classy restaurant called 350 Main, and the food was so fancy and delicious that I swear there must have been rats in the kitchen cooking for us (please tell me you got that reference). Our waitress was hilarious and a lot of fun to talk to, and kept bragging about all of the celebrities she served over the week, including Peter Dinklage and “the girl from Divergent.” The food was amazing, and you can see a picture of said drool-worthy nibbles on my Instagram page @BSchwarz95, where I’m posting a handful of various Sundance/Park City pictures throughout the trip.

Day Four: Friday, January 27th

Tonight, I’ve made plans for something fun at 6:00 pm. Because of that, I have to go to the box office early this morning to trade in my ticket to Whose Streets? at 6:30 pm for a film at an earlier time.

I wasn’t able to trade my ticket in for another film as I did on the first day, but I was able to trade it in for a voucher for a film ticket. Basically, I can use this voucher to get a different movie ticket (everything is sold out), or I can try to get into the waitlist for a movie and use the voucher to pay for that (the only option). The waitlist at Sundance is a stressful ordeal, but a necessary one if you’re going to try to get into a movie that you want to see and don’t have a ticket for; every movie here is sold out hours or days before show-time. To have a chance of getting into a film from the waitlist, you have to join the waitlist the second that it opens up on the website, which is exactly two hours before showtime. If you wait even 10 seconds or more, you’ll be probably the 200th person to click the button, and therefore will not get a waitlist number low enough to guarantee a seat. Luckily, I got waitlist number 65 for Ingrid Goes West (I hit the button as soon as it appeared on my screen)! Also luckily, I was one of the last 5 people to get into the auditorium, and the 150+ people behind me in line were turned away to see something else or nothing at all. Sundance may hide behind the façade of joy and friendliness but is actually a savage free-for-all, and you can’t hesitate or show mercy if you want to see what you came to see (I’m kidding… no I’m not).

Film #6: Ingrid Goes West, 11:30 am at the MARC Theater. Ingrid Goes West is a film about an obsessed and insane Instagram stalker (Aubrey Plaza) who moves out to LA to befriend a shallow and famous Instagram photographer (Elizabeth Olsen) after she commented back. This unlikely friendship delivers a lot of laughs because of how strange it is, but also yields many, many uncomfortable moments that were hard to watch at times due to the awkwardness. If you’re into that kind of comedy, then this film is perfect for you, but I couldn’t have as much fun with it because of how often it made me squirm and wince. That being said, I laughed a lot and had a lot of fun, and even though I wouldn’t jump on the chance to see this again soon, I’m glad I got to see it, and I would recommend that you see it as well. Also, the writers and director liked my Tweet about the film and commented on my Instagram post, so I felt pretty special about that (blushing smiley face emoji).

Film #7: Berlin Syndrome, 3:00 pm at the Yarrow Theater. Berlin Syndrome is really the one film I came here to see as I included it in my Independent Study of book adaptations (for which I read a book a week, and study the effect that any changes the film made have on the original story). This story is about an Australian woman who visits Berlin and meets a sweet guy who brings her home with him. When he’s gone at work the next day, she realizes that she’s locked in and can’t leave, which makes her realize that she’s being held hostage. The fascinating aspect that this film brings to this thriller subgenre is that the man doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong at all, and the story becomes sort of a psychological character study as much as a hostage thriller, but to find out anything else about the film, you’ll have to watch it for yourself. Or, read the book, that works too. But also, watch the film because it was intense, thrilling, and marvelously acted by Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt.

As mentioned, I made fun plans for tonight, and those plans are to witness a fun dramatization of a train robbery, performed for people getting on the train, but mostly for the kids there to have fun! I decided to attend this because my mom’s boyfriend, Todd (who is housing us for the trip), is one of the robbers in the reenactment, and I thought it would be fun to go and see what it was all about! I’m definitely glad that I went because it ended up being a lot of fun, and you can see a clip of the video that I shot by going to my Twitter account @TheCinemaElite. After that, we all went out to eat at Taramahura for some Mexican food, and quite a few more mojitos than I can handle. Instead of going out to eat, Chok saw Kuso, which he said almost made him throw up multiple times. If you want to know more about that movie, Google it… I’m not going to include any details of that in here. Day four was yet another blast and will end with another night of four hours of sleep.

Day Five: Saturday, January 28

As mentioned, very little sleep last night yet again, which is not something I can complain about because every day is filled with incredible sights, both in my surroundings and on the screens. In a perfect world, I would have seen Call Me By Your Name at 3:00 am, Brigsby Bear at 8:00 am, The Big Sick at 12:00 pm, and then Band Aid as planned at 3:00 pm because I’m hearing incredible things about all of those films, but the box office doesn’t open until 8:00 am which is too late to trade tickets for any of the films. First up, Golden Exits, which I hear is underwhelming.

Film #8: Golden Exits, 8:30 am at the Prospector Theater. This film contains a line that summarizes what I think is the theme of the film: “Nobody writes movies about normal people who don’t do anything.” If you’re into a celebration of the mundane, then this film may be for you. It was not for me. I thought that the main characters were uninteresting, the comical relief characters were annoying, and everybody else either too bland or too ridiculous… and I’m not sure what the point of the story was. It didn’t seem like anything changed from start to finish and I wasn’t sure how the characters grew at all because it didn’t seem like they did. I don’t know, I didn’t find this film humorous or dramatic in any way that it tried to be, but not every film is for every audience member, so don’t let me dissuade you from watching it.

Film #9: Chasing Coral, 11:30 am at the Prospector Theater. This is a film that I expected very little of since I am not one to jump on watching documentaries… until now. No film this year has blown me away like Chasing Coral. At the end of the film, everybody was in tears and leaped to their feet with thunderous applause; I don’t think more than a couple people at most left before the Q & A, which at least a dozen crew members participated in. This is a film about climate change, and how the coral reefs around the would have been killed by global warming due to the emission of fossil fuels. It was a heartbreaking film, but the crowd reaction and the crew being so amazing it what really hit the audience hardest. In the Q & A, a little girl no older than 12 asked what her generation could do to help save or prevent the destruction of the oceanic life, which got an incredibly supportive reaction from the audience. The film will be on Netflix soon, but make sure you do more than just click play in order to stop further damage from happening to our world.

And, segue. Film #10: Band Aid, 3:00 pm at the Yarrow Theater. Band Aid is about a couple who fight all the time over ridiculous things, and decide that in order for them to get along well together, they should turn their fights into songs which would force them to work together, even if they’re insulting each other while doing it. I love and respect the hell out of this film, and especially Zoe Lister-Jones for her story and work; she hired an all-female production crew in order to balance out the under representation of women behind the scenes in Hollywood, and they all did an amazing job making this movie. Aside from Chasing Coral, this was the most touching film of my trip in the most unexpected of ways. It was just so raw, intimate and honest, and the performances are really what sold it all for me. I went from now knowing who Lister-Jones was, to making a check-list of her filmography so that I can see everything she has been in and appreciate the rest of her work. Not every film I saw was worth the $50 ticket, but this one was worth so much more. These last two films alone would have made my week unforgettable.

After some souvenir shopping for a few of my friends, I met my mom and Todd back at The Spur for more drinks and music. This time, a group called “The Naked Waiters” played, and they were just fantastic. Three guys, three ukuleles (one guitar), and some incredible music that you can find on YouTube right now, but their rendition of an Ed Sheeran song is not currently on there, unfortunately. After the drinks, we went to another bar before Todd’s son, Seth, and I went to the Awards Night Party, where the winners of the Jury and Audience Awards were announced. Except, we waited outside for an hour in 5 degree weather before deciding to go to a bar instead and just hangout instead of going to the party, which I’m definitely glad about. Seth was probably the coolest person that I met at Sundance, which is saying a lot because I met dozens of cool people every day but I didn’t connect with anybody as seamlessly as him; definitely looking forward to going back and visiting him and Todd again soon. My last full day in Park City was my favorite day, but was bittersweet because I had to finally leave a place that really grew to feel more like home than Indiana ever had in all of 21 years. Moving out West is absolutely in my future, whether it’s Utah or Colorado, I don’t know, but anywhere closer to Sundance will be a dream come true.

Taking a Look Back

Overall, the Sundance Film Festival is a dream come true for movie-lovers of all kinds. Every festivalgoer is excited and friendly, and networking is as simple as getting candy on Halloween; it’s a gold mine for making life-long connections. In my showing of Landline, I met the parents of one of the Music Supervisors for Band Aid. In my showing of Newness, I met the Director of the Sydney Film Festival. In my showing of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, A Ghost Story, Ingrid Goes West, Golden Exits and Band Aid, I sat next to fellow cinephiles and had fantastic conversations with each of them about our studies, favorite films, aspirations, etc. and I made friends with each of them (one of them from LA is friends with our fellow Hoosier student Matt W.! It’s a small world, indeed). In my showing of Chasing Coral, I met two people from Chicago that were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and are helping me connect with somebody else who has done work in film! The audience members in each film really helped make the entire experience much more memorable, and I’m so glad that I made such good friends.

The aspect that I loved most about the Festival was that it removed the veil that separates filmmakers and moviegoers. Watching the film with the director and cast in the same room and then participating in a Q & A afterward was extremely demystifying and really connected the two groups in a way that I had never experienced before. All but one of the showings I was in was sold out and dozens to hundreds of people were turned away because of it; every movie, no matter how good or bad, ended with uproarious applause from the audience which made every audience a pleasure to be a part of. I can’t emphasize enough just how necessary this trip is to take for anybody who is the least bit interested in filmmaking or even movie watching. It’s a beautiful experience and without a doubt, my Sundance week was one of the best and most rewarding weeks of my life.

Published by Blake Carson Schwarz

Indiana University graduate in Media and Creative Writing. I love to write my own stories as well as experience the work of others. On this site, I post reviews, essays, and other fun posts that I hope you have as much fun reading and I have writing. Please share any comments you have, I'd be happy to hear what you think! *Never a critic, always a fan*

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