Wrapping Up Park City (Part IV)
It's not just a bunch of films, it's an experience Category: Festivals
Date: 9 February 2003
It's hard to believe it's over. But I have to admit I was ready for it. Day after day of movies morning into night and never quite getting enough sleep will wear thin after a while, no matter how great the films. I'm home and have had a chance to decompress and reflect back on this year's Park City experience.
There are, literally, hundreds of films being shown in Park City. Between all the we'll-figure-it-out-when-we-get-there fests and the massive Sundance catalog, nobody can even hope to know about all the films, much less see a sizable percentage of them. Still, I've caught many of the major entries, as well as a field of quite varying quality.
Here is the list of films I saw, with just a few missing that will get added as soon as I can get them in.
One of the things that turned over in my mind this year was the difference between a "good" film, and films we like. Some of my personal favorite films are not great artistic statements, but something about them works for me. I have to think that even the dogs here must have spoken out to someone, even if I found them lacking.
My favorites coming out of this would be The Station Agent, Whale Rider, Pieces of April, Die Mommie Die, American Splendor, and Camp. It just so happens that those are all among those with the most buzz coming out of the fest, and most of them have distribution at this point.
It's hard to pick out the second tier films - those that deserve better distribution than they'll likely get. Among those I fear I won't see again are The Mudge Boy, The Beat, and Benjamim. Three very different films, but each quite worthy in their own way.
You could literally go to Park City just for the people watching. Aside from the legions of black-clad studio folk (or at least that's what the local stereotypes suggested, which only occasionally seemed to sync up), or the displays of excess wealth, there were quite a few people you'll know by name. In rough order of proximity, here's the roll call of people I saw, or in some cases, bumped into: Steve Buscemi, Forest Whitaker, Roger Ebert, Robert Redford (of course), Penelope Spheeris, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Seth Green, Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, Katie Holmes, Paul Giamatti, Campbell Scott, Danny Glover, Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, and Morgan Freeman - and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few more on top of that. Plus there's many more who were there, but didn't come out just to introduce themselves to me. But please, don't assume I'm a namedropper. Please?
With that out of the way, I can actually get to the good stuff. There were some wonderfully inspiring moments among the Q&A sessions with the filmmakers. We had the real Calpernia Adams, the transgendered nightclub performer from Soldier's Girl. I don't blame her for being shy in front of the audience which just saw a movie of one of the more difficult parts of her life, but it was brave for her to be there. For what it's worth, she's more attractive than Lee Pace was in the role.
American Splendor had a stage full of interesting folk - Harvey Pekar was the same character we met in the movie, most resembling the moments shown from the David Letterman show. But the self-proclaimed nerd Toby Radloff stole the show. In the movie, he (or, usually, Judah Friedlander playing him) is all agog over the movie Revenge of the Nerds. The one audience question he was asked was relatively innocuous - whether he liked this movie better. The fun wasn't so much that he did, and that it was simply because he was in it, but rather the exact symmetry with the person we saw on screen. Toby is simply Toby, and that's all there is to it, and while it's hard to put a proper description to his personality, there was a certain exuberance in him just being him.
In the film, Raising Victor Vargas, Altagracia Guzman plays Grandma, in her first acting performance. On screen, she makes an adorable, loving, but firm, authority figure, with a sharp mind. In person - or at least in front of an audience - she is adorable and bubbling over in excitement and appreciation for everyone and everything, yet somehow the exact same person from the movie. Roberto Benigni may have a step or two on her, but she certainly can compete in the personality department. It would be a shame if however many casting folk around didn't seriously consider her for some real work in Hollywood.
Camp was one of the better movies for managing what is rarely done - showing off the sheer talent of its actors while maintaining a story that is both clear and resonant. The setting is a summer theater camp where students work on their acting, singing, dancing, putting on shows all summer long, sometimes with very quick turnaround times. One of the supporting cast, Dequina Moore (please let me be right on this one, it was one big cast) was coerced into singing, and she chose the song pivotal to her character, and one of the best of the film - delivered a capella right on the stage, it was simply beautiful.
One of the coolest moments, for me at least, was certainly one of the least noticed. Standing in various lines, or walking around Park City, there are numerous celebrity gawking moments, where the crowd and media gather around for a chance picture or sighting of someone. I played it cool, not jumping up and down for a glance, or pushing my way through people for a better look. I'll confess to hanging out much longer in the cold than I ought to have - perhaps I can convince someone that I actually thought something interesting might happen. But anyway, I'm getting sidetracked. For the most part, the celebrities went right into these moments, being let out of limos or jumbo-sized SUVs into the awaiting arms of handlers, and they would sashay through the crowd, talking to people, doing interviews, and other celebrity-related things. Even those who weren't actually famous yet would become part of the froth of publicity in front of whatever building they were entering. I hope I haven't lost you yet, because I'm about to finally get to the cool part. While waiting in line outside the Eccles, with the celebrity machine working hard, one of these giant SUVs passes by the entrance to stop nearby - you figure, no celebrity there, or they'd have gotten out where the mob and the cameras are - but no, out from the front passenger seat comes Dustin Hoffman, with no entourage or anything, and he just walks casually to the door like there was no big deal about it. I wasn't in position to see, but it wouldn't surprise me if half the people there didn't notice after being exposed to the celebrity perp-walk so many times.
It's a Wrap
I have no doubt I've seen some of the year's best films here, and while I've missed a few contenders, I wasn't quite blown out of the water this year. The quality in films like Camp, American Splendor, Pieces of April, Irreversible, and Whale Rider (admittedly the last has been around a while) is impossible to deny, but I'm not awash in titles so exciting I have trouble getting them all out of my mouth.
Perhaps the first hint was right on Sundance's opening night. Levity was a good film, but it fell short of expectations. Sometimes it's easier to create art in a simpler form, and the film overreached. The expectations of an opening night film with such star power and talent are hard to achieve. It's almost a given that the opener will not be the best film, as it is typically a premiere out of competition, but everyone knows the selection will have had a lot of thought put into it, and should be something special. Sadly, the most special thing this year was the buzz going into the premiere.
I did not get a good enough sampling of the alternative fests. In particular, the eventual winners of Slamdance, Assisted Living and Missing Peace. My limited exposure this year led to a fairly predictable conclusion - that the quality of the films is - on average - less than those in Sundance, but that a lot of the artistic voices being presented are not in mainstream, and therefore their messages are not as likely to be heard. It's good to go to these other festivals, but more important, I think, to do the research beforehand.
Is it really a full year now until the next Park City experience? I guess I'll survive, but I can always go back and look at some of the pictures I took - a lot of them that were blurry I didn't bother posting, but some are fairly nice. But looking back is just that - I'll keep my eyes open for whatever new experiences come before next year rolls around.
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