Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Long and Short of It

One of the other great and unique aspects of Sundance is you get the opportunity to see Short Films. I think film festivals are the only place to see short films and it's too bad. This year there are seven shorts programs which consist of 7-10 mini films shown in succession. These programs include one dedicated to short documentaries and one dedicated to animated shorts. We have seen some truly bizarre short films (i.e. robot fornication) and some truly lovely short films (one called Water that was a brilliant metaphor for futility.)

One advantage to going to a shorts program, is we are the only people at Academy Award parties who may actually recognize a few of the nominees in the short film category. We also tend to do well in the foreign film category as many of those films get their U.S. start at Sundance. While we may have missed the "big picture" nominees, we have a small (and I do mean small) advantage at picking the winners in those ancillary categories.

This year there are two shorts programs in particular that caught my eye. One includes a film called Pencil Face and somehow involves a giant, creepy pencil the other includes a film called Acting for the Camera. (I always like it when the movie industry turns the camera back on itself -- aka The Player.) Both of them seem to have more humor than creepiness. Last year we heard the documentary shorts were excellent, so that might be worth looking into this year.

Tickets for Shorts Programs are typically not hard to get, so I have not put any of those programs on our list yet. They will be useful for filling-in holes later, so we may add a shorts program at the end of our ticket-buying adventure.

Snuggled Up with the Film Guide

It's been snowing (or icy) for a week now -- which is unheard of for Portland. While I wasn't expecting the kids to be out of school for the entire week, it has made me more ready than ever for Sundance. It has given me a new-found appreciation for Park City's ability to keep the streets and sidewalks free of snow (does Portland even own a snow plow?) and has afforded me plenty of time to study this year's film guide.

I have managed to narrow the 100 films that are screening while we are there to 42 that I really want to see. As 14 movies (in 3 1/2 days) is our record, we will have to narrow our choices further. Scheduling and proximity to other theaters are the next factors. It is almost impossible to see a 9:00am movie at Eccles Theatre and make a 12:00pm movie at The Egyptian (on the other side of town.) It's always great when we can score back-to-back movies in the same venue. There are shuttles running all over town, but they tend to get jammed. Jammed with people and jammed in the city's extra traffic. With parking at a minimum, they are still the way to go, we just know to allow ample time.

Park City has ten "theaters" that show Sundance movies during the festival. I put theater in quotes, because one is a converted hotel conference room and one is housed in an inflatable dome over the Racquet Club's tennis courts. This year, I have noticed there is a new theater in the line-up: The Temple Theatre. In Utah, the word temple is typically associated with the Mormon Church, so I'm very curious about this venue. There are many, many, many, many, many, many Sundance movies that I'm am certain would not garner church approval. No High School Musical or Marley and Me here!

Once the scheduling and venues are worked out, the box office and ticket- availability gods take over. I, being the geek that I am, will develop a spreadsheet with my first through third choices for each time slot, taking into account the preferences of my fellow movie-goers, but once the frenzy of ticket buying begins and movies start to sell out, desperation sets in and all bets are off. So far, we have some great ticket buying time slots, so I'm optimistic this year.

Since it looks like our treacherous weather is going to continue for awhile, I have rented four Sundance films that I haven't yet seen. Provided we continue to have power, I will watch those over the next few days and share my thoughts. If the power goes out, I guess it's back to the Film Guide ... by flashlight.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The New Film Guide Is Here! The New Film Guide is Here!

Sorry to butcher a quote from The Jerk (one of my all time favorite movies), but it seemed to work so well. While I won't be finding my name in print, I found plenty of others. It looks like Robin Willliams, Jim Carrey, Billy Bob Thornton, Wynona Ryder, Woody Harrelson, Kevin Spacey, Minnie Driver and even Mary Tyler Moore all have roles in Sundance films this year. I'm already predicting that one of the toughest tickets to get will be "Spread" in which Ashton Kutcher plays a male gigolo. I assume no further explanation is required.

In total there are 227 never-before-seen films screening at Sundance 2009. Each movie will be shown at least four times, with the first screenings of the day happening at 8:00am and the last at midnight. We intend to watch films all day Friday through Monday (January 16-19) and hope to see all of them in Park City. Eliminating the films that don't play on those days and/or that play in Salt Lake or Ogden, we have exactly 100 opportunities to see movies in those four days.

Now some movies will get eliminated for other reasons. For example, we try not to follow a late night movie with an 8:00am movie. In fact, I have made it my personal goal to avoid 8:00am movies altogether this year. Sometimes, however, the desire to see a decent movie and the lack of available tickets in other time slots makes this unavoidable. At the very least I hope to avoid seeing a movie at the Racquet Club at 8:00am -- it's f-in' freezing in there!

Here are a few other red flags:

The "Park City at Midnight" category tends to have movies that really shouldn't be viewed in the light of day. One to avoid this year is "Grace", where a woman carries her stillborn child to term and then it miraculously comes to life, but requires horrible sacrifices on the mom's part to remain alive. ICK!!!

Similarly, the "New Frontier" category highlights experimental films, which tend to be more art than entertainment and, therefore, are completely wasted on me. There are two films that are described as meditative (which I interpret to mean there is absolutely no dialogue.) In one of those, the director (and I quote) "...often uses her two sons in the main roles of her frequently violent, but visually charming, films." PASS!

And finally, in the "Spectrum" category -- dedicated to "the creative spirit in independent filmmaking" -- there's a film by David Russo called The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle. As far as I can tell, the main character finds himself one of a band of janitorial misfits who eat magic cookies which cause them each to give birth to a small blue fish. HUH?

Here are a few films that did pique my interest:

I Love You Phillip Morris -- from the makers of Bad Santa (which I wanted to hate, but laughed too much to find that to be true) comes the tale on a con-man (Jim Carrey) who falls in love with a fellow inmate (Ewan McGregor). Need I say more?

One Day in a Life -- Beautiful Italian men in swimsuits (see photo.) Who cares if it's subtitled -- do you know how cold it is in Park City in January?!

Good Hair -- A documentary by Chris Rock about African American hair culture, which was initiated by his young daughter lamenting the fact that she doesn't have "good hair."

Those are just a few of the films that caught my eye on my first pass through the guide. You too can read about all 227 films on Just click on the film guide tab and download the PDF.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sundance 2009 - The Anticipation is Killing Me

While my kids are eagerly anticipating Christmas, I'm just trying to get through the Holidays and on to my favorite time of year -- the Sundance Film Festival. This year I am returning with my friend Jois and we have invited our friend, Dede. I am so looking forward to a long weekend with three incredible women (my sister, Jenn, is our host, so we hook up with her in Park City.) I'm anticipating lots of intellectual discussions, many interrupted trains of thought, solving of world (and minor) problems and laughing off of butts.

In the meantime forget stockings hung with care, our preparations include the following:

1) We have purchased our airline tickets (and are saving our pennies so our bags can also go with us.) Of course Delta dropped their dropped their fares a week after we bought our tickets, sigh ...

2) We were able to secure one "Locals Pass" (love those Park City connections). With a good buying time slot, we should be able to purchase our first 12 movie tickets on December 29 or 30.

3) We (and all our friends and family) have registered to buy advance tickets on line. That registration ensures you a ticket-buying time-slot, but does not guarantee that they won't be sold out by the time you get there. We have learned to maximize our chances for an early time-slot by having as many people as possible register.

4) We will be notified of our on-line buying dates and times on December 23rd. It's a lottery and if you don't get a time slot early in the week, chances are good you won't get any tickets.

5) The Film Guide has been posted on-line, so now we can spend the next several weeks developing a target list of movies. This is one of my new favorite Holiday traditions and it involves several colors of highlighters and a the development of a formidable Excel Spreadsheet.

There are over 225 films in this year's guide, each of which shows multiple times in multiple locations. So, in the weeks to come, we will be identifying which ones play while we are there. We will be there the 16-20, but the festival continues on until January 25. We also need to eliminate any films screening in Salt Lake, Ogden and at the Sundance Resort -- we don't want to go there.

We also read the film descriptions carefully -- it's always good to see words like "comedy", "humor" (although "dark humor" can be a red flag) and "uplifting", as so many Sundance films are a little too close to real life. Independent directors love to dramatize degenerate lifestyles and the downtrodden. That's fine every once in while, but when you go to three movies in one day, you need a break. We have also learned (the hard way -- no pun intended) to avoid movies with the word "pornographic" in their title.

And finally, we read the cast listing carefully. If there are big stars, it's harder to get those tickets and the audience will be made up of star-struck fans. (Who, by the way, seem to be the type to text during the film or loudly repeat the dialog for Aunt Mabel throughout the film. Arghh!) Also, if there is no cast listed, this means there are no people in the film -- we also learned this experientially and now there are two hours of my life that I can never get back.

So, in the weeks to come, look for the trials and tribulations of ticket buying, the films that are catching our attention and our actual viewing schedule.