First Person: Diary of a Sundance Virgin

The following journal is biased, personal, and anecdotal; it also has very little to say about movies, thought its subject is the Sundance Film Festival. What it offers is a transparent look into the experience of one of the people for whom Sundance was created: a talented young filmmaker with idiosyncratic stories to share, looking to bring those stories to a broader audience.

My younger sister’s short film, “The Hunter and the Swan Discuss Their Meeting,” is an official selection in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. This is a thrill, an honor, and an opportunity. For many filmmakers, a short in Sundance is an exciting chance to build the relationships required — with producers, distributors, composers, festival programmers, investors — to take the next step in their careers. My sister wants to make a feature; we’re in Sundance to get closer to that goal. That’s the main thing you need to know.

The other thing you need to know is that the Sundance Film Festival, as a lived experience, is completely and totally nuts.

Thursday, January 20th


Last-minute rush to pick up postcards in New York City (you hand out promotional postcards to everyone you meet); a layover in Dallas; complete chaos with the initially mystifying Sundance shuttle buses. After all of this, we arrive at the Sundance 2011 opening night party thrilled and exhausted. It’s in a typical Park City’s lodge-esque structure, a log-cabin exterior on one of the city’s skiing resort complexes. The large space is divided into two halves: (1) food and (2) stuff. Food is milling and a buffet line. “Stuff” is dimly lit and features an oxygen bar sponsored by Trident (basically a hookah that looks like Star Wars), a miniature hallway of shimmering reflective paper on which you’re supposed to write why you’re here at Sundance, and a dance floor.

All of this is secondary to the meet-and-greet, the chat: “So, what brings you to the Festival?” Despite the excitement, this first party is hard to distinguish from a business convention with the lights turned off. We’re all a little stiff, a little awkward. Two tiny actresses introduce themselves to me by putting a postcard in my hand, and ask with charming and ferocious repetition where my sister is once they learn that she’s a director — I truly don’t know her location in the space, but they’re not buying it. A muscular man who looks to be in his early 40s describes his trilogy of sports films: the first two are made and he’s looking for funding to complete the third, but it’s hard to know what exactly that means. The party is stilted in a way that we’ll all shake off, but the ingredients here will hold throughout the festival. Friendliness — we’re not in some brutal LA meat-market. Fancy room. Free food and alcohol — you do not pay for anything at Sundance. And hustle: endless, constant hustle. As my sister and I are getting our coats to leave the two actresses find us; they introduce themselves to her, give her a postcard, and then are off down the line, passing out postcards and introductions as they go.