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Sundance Journal - January 2002

By Therese Shechter

1. SUSPICIOUS SHOEBOXES AND DONUTS

Celebrities sighted: 0
Donuts eaten: 8

Hello friends,

Here I am once again in sunny Park City, Utah for my annual volunteer stint at the Sundance Film Festival. Just like last year, I'm here for two weeks to volunteer at the festival in return for lodging and all the free movies and parties I can squeeze in. Last year I worked at the door at almost all the parties and nearly had a nervous breakdown from all the losers trying to scam their way in without tickets. This year I hope to have a much more restful experience at the House of Documentaries where I will be surrounded by earnest and dedicated filmmakers who will hopefully give me jobs and money.

Since this is my second year, the last two days have felt like summer camp, seeing the familiar faces from last year who will all become my best friends, loyal drinking buddies and Jacuzzi-mates, until we all head off to our separate homes and totally forget about each other for another 12 months.

My lodgings this year are reasonably adequate: I am staying in a fabulous 5-story chalet complete with sauna and jacuzzi, and not 1 but 2 fireplaces. The bad new is that I share it with six other women and there are only 3 bathroom. Ahhhh...I guess we'll cope somehow.

Today we had our first training session that consisted mostly of a safety and security briefing, the highlights of which were:

    1.How not to get Sundance sued if someone slips in their weather-inappropriate stiletto heels and falls on the ice right in front of your venue.

    2. How to answer patrons' questions, including directing them to a store where they can purchase heavy winter boots.

    3. How to handle an evacuation without starting a panic because someone forgot a shoebox under a chair which could possibly but not likely be a bomb and instead actually turns out to contain the aforementioned and now discarded stilettos. (True fact - it happens often)

But the best news of all is our new sponsor - Krispy Kreme Donuts. Oh joy and happiness! Everywhere I turn there is a stack of Krispy Kreme boxes containing the exquisite classic glazed treasures. As I sit here in the volunteer lounge, there are 3 boxes on the table right beside me. I am hoping that trudging up and down all the hills and the 5 flights of stairs at the chalet will counteract the effects of all the donut eating.

That's all for now - I must relinquish the computer and brush off the sugar glaze crumbs. And I have to go drink a few gallons of water to offset altitude sickness and then buy some provisions for our kitchens (did I mention the chalet has two kitchens?) Maybe I'll run into Brad and Jennifer at the supermarket - she has a film playing at the festival.

Your hot and fresh correspondent (just like the donuts) is signing off now,
Therese


2. BOB DICK AND DERRI

Celebrities seen: 1 (but he's the one to see)
Films seen: 3*
Donuts eaten today: 0
Krispy Kreme boxes in the office: 0**

Dear friends,

I can barely write this note due to my shaking hands and damp clammy brow. I have been gripped by a withdrawal that no human should endure. There are no donuts!! NO DONUTS. N-O DONUTS. Therefore, I need to distract myself with other things like maybe actually seeing another movie already. I've worked two full days and along with the necessary networking and socializing and jacuzzing, my days have been quite full.

My venue, the House of Docs, is a lovely and friendly place. It's designed to raise awareness of documentary films and provide a space where filmmakers can meet and share information (don't I sound like the brochure? I say this line a hundred times a day...). A large open loft area, it's decorated with furniture from the Sundance catalogue - soft cushy couches, kilim rugs, tiffany lamps. There's an overpriced espresso bar (volunteers get it for $1!) that fills the room with a constant smell of coffee. We have some kind of cool jazz playing all the time, and the walls are covered with an exhibit of political illustration and documentary photography. There is also a large space where we have great panel discussions all day.

As opposed to last year, now when I am on door duty, all I have to say is "Welcome! Please come in!" instead of "I don't care if you have a film at the festival, you can't get in without a ticket..." What a pleasure. It's a real relief from all the cell phone/leather jacket/expensive haircut action in the rest of the fest. The best part, of course, is that it is a Mecca for all the doc people here and I've been able to meet some very creative people or at least listen to them share their wisdom on panels.

I have developed a burning crush on Kirby Dick, an acclaimed documentary director who has a very interesting film here this year on philosopher Jacques Derrida. This fascination began last year and has only grown. I plan to stalk him for the duration of the festival. Stay tuned for updates.

Oh yes...the celebrity I saw. I don't know if you've heard of him...Robert Redford? Ah, yes, that's the one. We had an opening reception at the House of Docs and, seeing as it's his baby, he was there making an incredibly rare appearance to welcome everyone and kick off this year's doc program. Your correspondent has memorized every detail of Mr. Redford so I can report it to you now. He entered quite casually, despite the fact that he was being followed around by not one but two camera crews and a couple of photographers. I am so very pleased to say that he is still unbelievably handsome despite the fact that he is no youngster. His hair is still tousled and blond (only his hairdresser knows for sure) and he has a tanned, somewhat weathered face and a dazzling smile. He was wearing a dark blue ribbed turtleneck, rather tight faded jeans and a leather jacket. Footwear was difficult to see due the half million people swarming him the whole time he was there. He made a very inspiring speech about Sundance's commitment to documentary film and it made me wish he were a more visible presence at the festival in general.

As I said in my last dispatch, it's nice to have old friends here this year, even if some of them have gone totally Hollywood. Esteemed Chicago Tribune film writer, Mark Caro, was spotted this morning actually using one of those cellphone earpiece thingies that makes it look like you are talking to yourself. Stop it right now Mark - before it's too late.

Speaking of Hollywood, the buzz has been that all the overpriced restaurants in town have been less busy, leading some to think that the festival attendance is down. I think it's more that actual gainful employment is down and a lot of the people here have no jobs, no expense accounts, no cash money. I myself am living off protein bars, Skyy vodka and whatever I can steal from the hospitality suite (parents please disregard that last bit of information.)

I will sign off now. I'm off to a seminar on "pitching your docs to the pros." Then I will have a double espresso and get ready for my shift at 4pm.

Yours truly,
the future Mrs. Therese Shechter-Dick

(hmmm may have to rethink that one...)


FOOTNOTES:

** Pumpkin (another one of those sorority-girl-falls-in-love-with-retarded-youth comedies starring Christina Ricci (doing Reese Weatherspoon) that a lot of people thought was hysterical but I thought was dreadful dreadful dreadful)

Britney Baby One More Time (Robert, a hardcore BS fan, wins a Britney look-alike contest and is followed around by a camera crew headed by none other than Mark Burtchart, the star of American Movie)

Derrida (interesting experimental documentary about deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida co-directed by my future husband Kirby Dick)

** I must clarify to some of my more rabid Krispy-Kreme-loving friends who have kindly suggested other flavors for me to eat on their behalf that only the classic glazed variety are available. Sorry for the inconvenience.


3. MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE

Greetings!

The festivities are winding down here and it's time to take stock...

Things I have not done at Sundance*:

    1. Sold my film to Miramax for $5 million

    2. Pranced around icy Park City in skin-tight pants, stilettos and a tank top

    3. Partied with Russell Crowe until 4:30 in the morning

    4. Gone to sleep before 2am

*As did, respectively, 1. Gary Winnick, 2. Mariah Carey, 3. Mark Caro, and 4. To the best of my knowledge, no one.

What I did do at Sundance:

    1. I saw 22 films (7 of them were shorts)

    2. I gushed at filmmakers (especially Judy Helfand, who made Blue Vinyl, one of my favorites, and who by now has likely taken out a restraining order on me.) I also had several conversations with soon-to-be husband Kirby Dick, although none as yet about our future life together or how to break it to his current wife

    3. I partied, schmoozed, hot-tubbed, danced to bad hip-hop and old-school funk, exchanged business cards, networked, hot-tubbed, and partied. A word here about the private parties: they are pretty much all the same, and after a few, the only remaining allure is that the booze is usually free. People troll desperately for the elusive wristbands and laminated cards and badges that will get them into these exclusive affairs. The wretched many without them stand pathetically at the door, claiming to know Harvey or Gwyneth or Russell or Britney (or at least the drag queen that's been dressing as her). It's as if, on their deathbed, they can contemplate the great beyond with the comfort that, even thought most of their life was meaningless, at least they got into that HBO party in that snowy winter of '02.

    4. I accumulated useless free items such as Blockbuster chapstick, Entertainment Weekly pens, PBS flashlights and Deisel hats with the Sundance logo on them. By the way, there seems to be an unexplainable mania for collecting and trading all this crap, technically known as "shwag." And it's not even that good this year. Last year HBO gave away fleece vests - this year it's little tins of lip balm. I guess times are tough all over.

    6. I got to spend time with the nicest, most fun, most generous, most inspiring filmmakers and film lovers in the world. Ultimately, what I take away from Sundance, despite my frequent references to vodka and hot swirling water, is the inspiration and motivation to keep going with my work. When I feel like giving up or giving in, I remember all the people I met here who took 5, 7, 10 years to get their messages and ideas up on a screen. I had someone take my picture at the front of one of the theaters pretending I was introducing my own film. I hope to bring that photo back with me in a few years as I stand there for real.

But now it's time to go. I'm off to pack up my things, brush off all the sugar glaze and moisturize moisturize moisturize. I fly back to Brooklyn tomorrow with great memories and a suitcase full of HBO lip balm.

See you all at the Film Forum, Music Box, Carlton and whatever the heck you all go to on the West Coast...

May all your days be sugar glazed,
Trixie


BONUS EPILOGUE

Dear friends,

I am sitting here at the internet cafe in Park City, waiting to catch my shuttle to the Salt Lake City airport. Because security has gotten even more crazy, we were advised to get there 3 (yes, 3) hours before departure. They have a fantastic Burger King, so I can kill some time in comfort.

I ended off the Fest last night with a Thai Western (yes, that's right) called Tears of the Black Tiger. It was a totally goofy, campy blend of every western cliche there is, with a little Asian action gore and sappy romance thrown in, all shot in what looked a lot like glorious Technicolor. A must-see when it comes to a theater near you!

After the screening, we walked out into the lobby to find a mild striptease taking place. A gentleman was unzipping his pants as another videotaped him and the crowed screamed out his name in rhythmic precision. No - it wasn't a publicity stunt; it was a video scavenger hunt. Teams of people were running around Park City finding items on their list and video taping them. I can only guess which item this was fulfilling.

As we exited the building, the team ran up to us and asked all three of the guys I was with whether they were directors (the next item on the list). The guys all said no, one by one, while I was saying, "I'm a director. I'm a director" No response. I said it again and again until they finally heard me. Well, golly, what a surprise...No one had thought to ask the woman of the group. Finally, one of the team's women heard me and ran over and begged me to be on video. At first, I considered saying no and giving them a brief and cutting lecture on sexism in the movie industry. But they quickly realized what had happened and started apologizing profusely. Actually they were quite mortified that they instinctively went up to only the guys. Crazy. When I told them, on camera, that what I was directing was about feminism, they started cheering. There was some more business about me having to kiss a member of their team (I picked the girl who had heard me in the first place) but that's a whole nother story. The whole thing was quite funny, and I only wish I had gotten their names. The clip would be perfect for my doc!

By the way, some of the sharper readers may have noticed there was no #5 in the 'what I did at Sundance' list. Mysterious, isn't it? All I can say is that given enough Margaritas, I might share. But I can't promise anything. I know how much the tabloids are paying for good dirt. I can say no more...

Ciao darlings,
Therese "my lips are sealed" Shechter


Copyright Therese Shechter 2002
Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.


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