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Sundance Journal - January 2001

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Chicago Tribune, January 28, 2001


By Therese Shechter

Thursday, Jan. 18
Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah, Day 1

Hello from Sundance!

Writing from the Park City Public Library in the calm-before-the-storm portion of the festival. Been here for two days doing orientation and generally getting the lay of the land before the Anschluss of beautiful Hollywood later tonight.

I have come here for 13 days as a volunteer, giving my time in exchange for accommodations and all the films and parties I can get into when I'm not working.

It is lovely here, especially if you are a skier who likes the cold and altitude. Unfortunately, my life in New York has not prepared me for this terrain. But after two days of drinking plenty of water and getting lots of sleep, the headaches and fatigue of altitude sickness have gone away. I am also now sporting thermal silks under my clothes for all occasions.

In anticipation of this frigid assignment, I outfitted myself in red Timberland boots and a suede Marlboro Man jacket with faux fur lining. Though I cut a chic outdoorsy figure, I've noticed that none of the locals wear hides, faux or otherwise, opting for ski jackets in overly perky colors. On the free bus that goes all over town, one passenger remarked that you could tell the Sundance people because they wear black. Added the driver: "Some Sundance people wear fur, which the locals don't like very much because we live close to the animals."

"Oh this is fake fur!!" I shouted defensively to the entire bus. "And my pants are vinyl!" I added to no one in particular. I considered telling them I was a vegetarian, but decided to leave well enough alone.

My job here is Special Events Volunteer, which means I work at the official Sundance parties. Basically, I'm the person telling Kevin Spacey that he can't come in without the proper colored badge. I hear it brings out the worst of humanity the way people scheme to get into these events. We've been fully trained in case of belligerent patrons without badges or tickets or manners. But I still think there will be a fair amount of carnage. Almost all my days are free to go to films, if, that is, I can get in. Most of the films are sold out, but we volunteers can show up an hour before the show and try to get one of the tickets allotted to our group.

As for celebrity sightings, Albert Brooks and his posse were attempting to eat breakfast next to me at the Main Street Deli today. They all sat down and discussed in neurotic detail what they were going to eat, not realizing you had to order at the counter. Once they became aware of the protocol, they found out that breakfast was no longer being served but did they want a bagel instead? The answer was no, and they headed off in search of the feta omelets they craved.

The most prevalent and breathless rumors are about Radiohead playing here in Park City. Will keep you posted.

Cinematically yours,
Therese Shechter

Saturday, Jan. 20
Sundance Film Festival, Day 3

Films seen: 3
Celebrities sighted: 2 (if you count this cool animator I'm a big fan of)

The never-ending carnival continues. Last night was our first party. Hundreds of people but not a single real E! Hollywood celebrity sighting to impress you all with. Just a lot of well-groomed guys in leather jackets telling me they don't have a ticket but they produced Fill in Film I Never Heard of Here, which is in dramatic competition in the festival.

Luckily, we didn't have too many crashers because the venue was fairly far away, but tonight we're near the action, so every loser with a cell phone will be darkening our ticket table with some sad story. Honestly, it's not like the parties are all that amazing, but you can't help but get caught up in "the scene." Ironically, we Special Events staffers don't actually get to enjoy the parties since we are working most of the time. Which is kind of a drag because, you know, it's a scene.

I did get to chat with several leather-jacket types, producers who go to parties for premieres but don't see the films.

Another source of excitement for me is that I've decided to tell people the truth when they ask how old I am. The answer always seems to shock them, I think because in the glamorous world of Hollywood no one would admit to being over 30, let alone heartbeats away from 40! As I walked away from one group last night, I heard a woman calling out to her friends: "She's 39! Can you believe that?"

I'm currently in this Digital Cafe place surrounded by drum and bass music, multimedia vendors, 25-year-olds (heck, maybe they're 39 too), camera crews, and most important, free e-mail access. I'm spending today checking out the digital scene here before I report for duty at 3 p.m. for a party honoring Julianne Moore. Should be some good celeb sightings and fashion faux pas there, so watch this space.

The latest word on Radiohead is that two of their singers will be playing a private party somewhere sometime this week.

Logging off,
Therese (can I see your badge?) Shechter

Tuesday, Jan. 23
Sundance Film Festival, Day 6

Films seen: 9
Celebrity sightings: 3
Celebrities who walked right by me in broad daylight but I didn't really notice them or care: 136

Hi again from your loyal correspondent here at Sundance. In my tireless efforts to keep you all informed, I send these dispatches under grueling wartime-like conditions here at the Digital Media Center. (Be right back--getting a hot chocolate).

I have realized that there are two kinds of attendees here at the festival: The party people and the movie people.

The party people seem to be here only to schmooze, drink free booze and hand out fliers for their new digital feature/Internet venture/sports energy bar. Although they are tangentially in the business of making films, they don't seem to enjoy watching them.

The movie people are mostly here to check out, and possibly buy, films for their companies, although one distribution exec remarked last night that this was the worst festival to find anything you could ever hope to show in front of a mainstream audience and that a dog could pick better films.

But not everyone is cranky. There are a lot of movie-loving filmmakers and civilians too. It's hard not to get caught up in the excitement the festival generates.

An inside source got me a ticket for what so far has been the hottest premiere, the Michael Apted/Tom Stoppard film Enigma, about the code-breakers of World War II England. You would think the hype, huge crowds and overwhelming media presence would be caused by the tweedy, brainy mathematically inclined subjects of the film. (The teenage boarding-school lesbian film I saw that morning had no camera crews!) But shock and surprise, it was due to the presence of one of the producers--none other than tweedy, brainy Mick Jagger.

Other celebrity sightings included Lance Someone from 'N Sync, who foolishly showed up at a cocktail reception on GenY Day, the day they bus in high school kids from all over the country for seminars. One girl stood outside the party in a bikini, crying her eyes out until she was finally let in, only to discover that Lance had taken his blond curls and left some time ago. More bawling ensued, so I think they gave her a souvenir T-shirt.

Well, I am off to see more cinema . . .
Therese (Two paws up) Shechter

Thursday, Jan. 25
Sundance Film Festival, Day 8

Movies seen: 15 or 16 (but it's a bit of a haze)
Celebrities sighted: Don't you know we're ALL stars!

Hi again from Park City. The snow is falling in big, juicy chunks, delighting the 12 people here that actually came to ski. They say the festival is the best time for skiing because the slopes are empty, film types preferring to celebrate the glories of Utah's nature by sitting in dark theaters.

Everyone seems tired and worn out. No movies for me today due to my double shift at a cocktail reception and a nighttime party.

Despite my back spasms, I feel great. I am reminded why I am really here and, naturally, it has nothing to do with movie stars. It is, duh, about the films. I fall speechless when I find a film that completely amazes me and leaves me in a state of bliss. Waking Life, a brilliant animated feature written and directed by Richard Linklater, is an example. Or going to a midnight screening of Wave Twisters, a video game of a film that was animated to the scratching of DJ Q-Bert. And then being able to go up to these filmmakers and tell them how their work made me feel.

It makes up for all the aggravation. The endless parade of poseurs. The people actually trying to shove wads of 20s in my face to get them through the door. The executives screaming into their cell phones, the long lines, the cold, the lack of anything resembling proper food for under $25.

Radiohead, defying laws of physics, apparently played at several parties simultaneously last night.

Makes you glad to be here. Gotta go. My shift starts in 3 minutes!

Therese (I don't accept anything smaller than a 50) Shechter

Friday, Jan. 26
Sundance Film Festival, Day 9

Parties remaining to work at: 2

Friends, this is my last dispatch from the festival. It ends officially with the awards party tomorrow night, an event we were warned will be "totally nuts." I have begged my supervisor not to put me on the door again. Several gray hairs have sprouted from my head and if I have to explain one more time why "having a film in the festival" is not equivalent to a ticket to the party, I will scream.

On the other hand, the nice, polite people that we do help get in all want to hug me when they leave. As if I saved their farms from bankruptcy or got their children the lifesaving surgery they needed. It's just a party, people.

Overall, it has been a great, if exhausting, experience, and one I will likely want to do again. I've scheduled a massage for Sunday and will fly back to New York on Monday. Seeing all these films has really inspired me to go home to do work of my own, and I'll be watching for which of my favorites get good distribution deals.

I have put my friends off for days, telling them that I don't want to go to the late-night parties with them because I'm old and need to sleep. But the real reason I've been avoiding these parties is that after standing at the door almost every night listening to every lame story imaginable, I cringe to think that I will now have to talk my way into parties to which I am not invited. It's too horrible to imagine, but then again, I can always tell them I have a film in the festival.

Therese (I left my tickets in my hotel room) Shechter

Therese Shechter hopes to one day have a film at Sundance.

Copyright 2001 by the Chicago Tribune

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