So this is my first time at Sundance – and I know you’re like, “Really? You? With all of your work experience and everything?” – and I have no idea where I am going. At all. I got in Wednesday night, and a cheerfully angry gentleman drove me from the bustling Salt Lake City airport up to Park City, exclaiming, “This is chaos, so I gotta be chaos!” It was snowing and dark, and all I could really see out the windshield was the accumulating snow that made the idea of separate highway lanes a nonexistent prospect. Thankfully, a 7-11 became the essential landmark for telling me where my condominium is (across the street), but a three-block trek to the grocery store made me reluctant to go anywhere after I got winded carrying back my cashews and Special K. (I mean, I’m out of shape, sure, but the air really is thinner up here.)
The first day was mostly prepping for the week to come; other than completing a handful of outstanding assignments for Movies and some of my other outlets, I elected only to leave the apartment for two evening screenings, the premieres of Wish You Were Here and Searching For Sugar Man. Despite extremely specific directions from my girlfriend, I quickly got lost walking over to the Yarrow Theater, which basically is the most prominent building on the block. Getting in line an hour ahead of time (said girlfriend apparently got the last hard ticket; terribly disloyal, huh?), I easily got into the press and industry screening of Wish You Were Here, which meant I had plenty of time to catch up with other attendees, and realize I was hungry as hell. But the film promptly started at 7PM, and I was soon sitting through my very first ever screening at Sundance.
Unfortunately, I was under-whelmed by the film, although Joel Edgerton, Felicity Price and Teresa Palmer all give standout performances in this story of a husband whose tryst with one sister (Palmer) is the tip of an iceberg of tragedy and betrayal that isn’t revealed to the other sister (and his wife) until the final scenes. Because it was a P&I screening, there was no question and answer session afterward, so the only sound one heard while filing out of the theater was the quiet rumble of dissenting opinion over the film’s merits.
Informed by a housemate that our condo was equidistant from the Yarrow and the Library Theater, I took of for home in the hopes I could suck down some food before a screening of Searching For Sugar Man. A bowl of soup later, I headed back out to the Library, soon discovering that my housemate (and veteran Sundance attendee) neglected to mention that the theater was uphill, and I was braving snowy sidewalks to get there. (My future kids will hear about this one, for sure.) Arriving in time to be herded upstairs, and then up more stairs, I discovered that the seats in the Library Theater were comfortable, but decidedly snug for my 6’2” frame. Sitting at the end of a row near the back, it was interesting to watch as the crowd quickly got absorbed into Searching For Sugar Man, eventually delivering a standing ovation at the end and assuring its place among the top tier of Audience Award contenders.
It’s hard to explain Sugar Man without spoiling its fascinating, emotionally involving surprises, but the film succeeds as much because of its depiction of its subject’s disposition as its chronicle of his failure, redeemed by the love and persistence of a handful of diehard fans. (It follows the travails of a mysterious 1970s folk singer whose abject failure only enhanced his mythic status, complete with dramatic rumors about his methods of committing suicide, and the journalists and his music-collecting colleague who spent years searching for information about their hero.) With Sony Classics’ announcement that the film would be released later this year, however, a great wealth of viewers will have an opportunity to experience its surprising charms, and, immediately afterward, fill Rodriguez’ coffers with royalty money when they rush out to buy his albums.
Afterward, it was thankfully a straight shoot back to our condominium, where I had writing to do. But the next day promised a trip to a mythical destination known as “Main Street,” so who knows what lies in store for the rest of my Sundance adventure? Not me. But thankfully, I’m getting one of the GPS apps on my phone, so even if I don’t know what’s happening, I’ll know how to find it.