Writings Home Trixie Home
Sundance Journal 2003
Reprinted from RedEye, published by the Chicago Tribune, 2003.
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
A quote from Britney Spears, while at Park City, Utah:
"Sundance is weird. The movies are weird - you actually have to
think about them when you watch them."
It’s that time of the year again and I’m packing
my long underwear and cell phone charger for two weeks as a volunteer
at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. For the third
year in a row, I will be working as a festival volunteer in exchange
for free shelter and all the movies and parties I can possible
weasel my way into over the course of 12 chaotic days.
I've been assigned to the House of Docs, a combination
seminar space, coffee house and networking paradise geared to
documentary filmmakers and the people who pay meager sums of money
to distribute their work. It is also one of the few places at the festival
where you are greeted at the door with a welcoming smile, as opposed
to a sneering demand to produce your ticket/pass/identity papers
or some kind of proof that your last name really is Redford.
This year, being older and wiser, I pledge to
focus on film-going, not partying. No pleading at the door
to get into the HBO bash, no staying out till all hours dancing
with 22-year-olds and drinking Red Bull and vodka cocktails, no
impromptu parties in the nearest hot tub. This year I resolve to see
as many films as possible, get enough sleep and eat at least one salad
a day. I will not obsess over where Jake Gyllenhall might be hanging
out or whether The Strokes will be making a surprise appearance at
Harry O’s Bar. This is a new, virtuous me dedicated to the art and craft
of what we respectfully call ‘the cinema.’
So to that end, I am assembling my survival
Protein bars, because given the choice of a
sit-down meal or squeezing in an extra screening, it’s no contest.
Jumbo bottles of both water and aspirin, to
counteract the heinous effects of altitude sickness.
Chinese herbs, which I’m told do something beneficial
for my spleen, although I’m not exactly sure what.
Hundreds of promotional postcards for my own
documentary, because you never know who might be interested in
offering me a meager sum of money to distribute my
And then there are the burning questions:
1. Will I be housed in the same fabulous chalet
as last year, complete with a giant hot tub on the balcony with
a breath-taking view of the Wasatch Mountains?
2. Will Krispy Kreme Donuts once again sponsor
the festival, providing me with unlimited access to the foundation
of any well balanced diet?
3. Will I be able to convince my friends that
Sundance is actually a lot of hard work and little glamor, and
that we volunteers are truly the bottom link in the festival
food chain? After all, we have no real access to anyone worthy of
Us Weekly and must rely on the kindness of strangers and journalists
in order to party with Jake Gyllenhall - I mean - get into that important
documentary about Wood.
I'm off to the airport. Stay tuned to this space
for scintillating stories of serious cinema and dark green vegetables.
I know you’re at the edge of your seat already.
Yours in good health,
I have finally arrived at Sundance – as opposed
to the snow, which seems to be wintering in the Midwest this
year. All this dry sidewalk makes me long for my divine black
leather pointy-toed, kitten-heeled boots. Instead I m stuck
clomping around in my sensible, large and dumpy Timberlands. At
least the locals won t make fun of me.
First off, let me thank my many loyal readers
who have written me with advice on successfully incorporating
wild partying into my busy schedule. One suggestion comes from
a "Miss Sarah Redford" (we are still authenticating her identity
papers), from Fort Lewis, WA. She suggests drinking lots of water
and taking disco naps while waiting for films to begin.
[Note: For those of you who were either too young, too old or too
dull during the 80's, a disco nap is a short bit of sleep in the
early evening that allows you to dance all night, preferably at a gay
bar. But I digress.]
Last night I checked out the official volunteer
welcome party, held at hip local venue Harry O's. Sad to say
I didn t last too long - I was tired and it was way too noisy
and smoky and strobey to really enjoy myself. I did get a free
drink – something the locals call a "Gin and Tonic," which I assume
must be pretty healthy since it has the word "tonic" in it and it came
with a wedge of citrus fruit which I believe is an antioxidant. I must
admit it did perk me up a bit, but my second wind lasted only long enough
to check in with old friends and get a miraculous backrub from a gentleman
Speaking of which, to all the concerned readers
wondering about our hot tub situation, the good news is that
we have been blessed with our very own private tub right behind
our lodgings. If any of you know the male equivalent of "chick magnet,"
please send it on so we can properly describe our current good fortune.
On tonight's agenda is the Opening Night Gala in Salt Lake City.
Should be a truly glamorous and unforgettable night for those who
actually got invited. We volunteers, however, will be treated
to a double feature at one of the Park City venues and sent right
off to bed to prepare for Day One of the festival tomorrow. I start
at the Filmmakers Lodge/House of Docs first thing in the morning and
I have it on good authority that we will be visited by no other than
Mr. Robert Redford that evening for the official opening of the venue.
Your loyal correspondent will record the event in breathless detail in
order to set it down here in my next dispatch.
I have left the saddest news for last. No Krispy
Kremes in sight – at least none available for free by the boxful.
I am comforting myself with my fantastic new volunteer jacket,
fleece and hat, all courtesy of our generous sponsor Kenneth Cole.
I'm off to my first film "Raising Victor Vargas,"
followed by "Confidence" right afterwards. It should be an exciting
weekend, and I am fairly confident of bumping into my new imaginary
boyfriend, Jake Gyllenhall. Perhaps even inviting him over for
an imaginary hot tub party. Stay tuned and see you Monday.
Yours in sensible shoes,
Therese (Kirsten Dunst who?) Shechter
I am exhausted. Wearied. Fatigued. Depleted. Drained.
It’s only Day Three of the festival and we are all feeling the cumulative
effects of too little sleep, too many hours on our feet and too few
healthy foods in our belly. I just inhaled a few slices of mediocre
pizza, feeling ridiculously virtuous about the fact that there were
peppers and mushrooms on it.
The fatigue is also making me hypersensitive. Our
venue, The Filmmakers Lodge, is housed at the local Elks Club,
a musty yet charming old building on Main Street. The walls are
lined with endless sepia portraits of all the Chamber of Commerce
types that have headed up the Lodge over the decades. And because it
is, after all, the Elks Club, the walls are also lined with gigantic
mounted heads of ex-Elks, the kind with fur and big antlers. It is a
truly disconcerting thing to look into their big brown eyes every day
as they watch over our panel discussions and cocktail parties. I may be
oversensitive, but the other day, at a restaurant adorned with the heads
of my Elks’ relatives, I nearly broke into tears. Maybe it was the added
sight of all the red bloody meat being carved nearby that was too much
for my simple Vegetarian soul to bear. I was just not cut out for this frontier
Then there are the crowds. From Sundance, yes, but
also from Slamdance, NoDance, SlackerDance, SchmoozeDance and all
the other side festivals, real or imagined in my sleep-deprived brain.
We sad hordes stand in line for hours to get into films or parties
or restaurants, only to be turned away because of capacity crowds. The
number of people in Park City seems to have quadrupled from last year,
although I may just be basing that on the mob that was gathered outside
the HBO Project Greenlight Party last night to catch a glimpse of Ben
and Jen and Matt. What seemed like millions of 20-year olds with digital
cameras swarmed tiny Main Street, climbing poles, standing on cars and
dodging police, security guards and TV crews. And they did this for hours,
late into the night and long after the celebrities had left the building.
And why? There wasn’t even any decent shwag to be had.
And speaking of shwag (those promotional items given
away for free at films and events) there was the same old crap to
be had everywhere you turned – baseball caps, ski hats, t-shirts,
CDs, all with a corporate logo or film title on them. Given the tizzy
some of my colleagues were sent into at every giveaway, you would think
those goody bags had Nintendo Game Cubes in them. Oh wait…actually…they
did. But only if you were on "The VIP Talent List" at a private corporate
party we stumbled into. Apparently, if you are ‘major talent’ like
Ben or Jen or Matt, you could help yourself to the aforementioned Game
Cubes, plus TiVo systems, Mojito-making kits and Calvin Klein eyewear.
Being a weekend Socialist, I felt compelled to point out that the
people who least needed to get this stuff for free were walking away
with bagfuls, while those who would really appreciate a free Nintendo
Game Cube, starving artists not unlike myself, had to content ourselves
with baseball caps with car logos on them. It made little impression
on the baffled reps and we had to satisfy ourselves with free Red Bull
and Vodka cocktails ("an energizing drink") and all the James Bond Nintendo
we could play. And much to the horror of my associates, I turned down
the logo cap. I make it my policy to only wear shwag with the word ‘dance’
At this point, you’re probably wondering about the
films I’ve seen, aren’t you? It is, after all, the serious cinema
that I am here for. Well, aside from exposing capitalist consumer
culture, I’ve been kind of busy trying to get our hot tub repaired.
News of all the films tomorrow, but first I must regain my bearings.
In the words of one young woman sitting behind me at a screening last
night "Which Dance is this one again?"
See you in the morning,
It was bound to happen. This morning your loyal Sundance
correspondent slept right through her 8am alarm and was late for
her shift at the Filmmakers Lodge. I blame this on my esteemed writing
colleague Mark Caro, with whom I waded, late into the night, through
a sea of celebrity entourages, cheese cubes and an ice sculpture in
the shape of a whisky bottle.
Last night's highlight* was the party for the film "Confidence."
A veritable bonanza of celebrities were offered up for my viewing
enjoyment including Ed Burns (who looks much better on screen),
that model who sells overpriced yoga clothing, Dustin Hoffman (who
looks better off screen and does that weird lip pursing thing in real
life), lovely Rachel Weisz and Richard Schiff (from West Wing). I wanted
to go up and tell him how much I loved Toby Zeigler, but my sister had
once accosted him at an airport and I feared he would see the family
resemblance and flee. Speaking of celebrities, I must share with you all
how dreamy Campbell Scott is. He s sweet and polite and incredibly
handsome and I will have to see at least one of the films he has here
so that I can properly stalk him.
And speaking of films, for all my griping about crowds and
corporate hype, it only takes one great film to put me in a dazzling
mood. I was lucky enough last night to see two, and they were both
documentaries. "Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin" is about
one of the most incredible people you have never heard of. Key advisor
to Martin Luther King, passionate believer in non-violent resistance,
tireless civil rights organizer - he is my new hero. Showing right after
it was its perfect counterpart, "The Weather Underground," a complex and
fascinating history of the Weathermen**, including very reflective and
self-critical interviews with them today. The film felt incredibly relevant
in light of today s anti-war movement (or lack thereof, as the case
I have this button that has the word war with
a red slash through it that I got at an event run by "New Yorkers
Say No to War" on the anniversary of 9/11. Everyone who has seen me
wearing it here at the festival has asked if it was a giveaway for "The
Weather Underground" and if I know where they could get one. Now that
would be some good shwag!
Yours in the good fight,
Therese (power to the people) Shechter
* I use the word "highlight" loosely. None of these parties
are particularly good or distinctive or fun. But in the land of the
blind, the one-eyed woman is queen and this party had tasty cheese
** The Weathermen were a radical group of upper-class
white college students who plotted the violent overthrow of the American
government in the 1970s to protest the Vietnam War and racism. They
set off bombs, were hunted by the FBI, and went into hiding for years.
If you are ignorant of who they were and what they stood for, as many of
my colleagues here seem to be, get on the internet and do some reading
for heaven s sakes.
I write this to you in great haste from the Alpine Internet
Cybercafe at the foot of Main Street. I have run down here on my break
of which I have a scant 20 minutes left. My dash down the hill from
the Filmmakers Lodge was repeatedly impeded by the hordes of people
clogging the sidewalk in front of the various private parties that
dot the street. Each one had the requisite camera crew, the underfed
wannabe’s, the over-cosmetized publicists and at least one person yelling,
"If you don’t have a ticket, you’re not gettin’ in!" It seems to be
the call of the wild around here. That, and "Anyone have an extra ticket?"
I finally broke down and bought some tickets because
I was getting tired of idling in the wait list line for 90 minutes
before each show I wanted to see. Volunteers get the $5 half-price
rate for four tickets and I quickly used up my quota on the few
screenings that weren’t officially sold out. The rest have been line-up
jobs, or I have resorted to begging in front of the theaters to anyone
who might have a ticket going unused. Like a stoned Deadhead before
a concert, I stand there with the plaintive wail: "I need a miracle."
And wouldn’t you know, I have received some! There is
a phenomenon at Sundance called the karmic trade. If you give someone
a particularly sweet piece of shwag, get them into a private party,
or pass on a spare movie ticket, you ask for nothing in return but
the blessing of the goddesses and good luck in a future time of need.
That’s how I got an almost un-gettable ticket to "Weather Underground"
right before the show – and for free. I believe in good karma and I believe
in random acts of kindness. And around here both can be few and far between,
and the powers above take notice when it happens.
Last night I saw the fantastic new film "28 Days Later"
by Danny Boyle (of "Trainspotting" fame). No, it was not a sequel
to the disappointing Sandra Bullock vehicle about alcohol addiction
and the search for true love. Hardly. "28 Days Later" is an adrenaline
rush of a post apocalyptic horror-thriller that left my hands shaking
and my ears bleeding. Now that’s entertainment! Hey – wouldn’t that
make a great blurb for the movie ad? How cool would that be? Maybe someone
will pick it up and hopefully when they do, they will spell my name
right. Fan that I am, I got to chat with Mr. Boyle for a bit after the
film, and I am now hopelessly smitten with his entire production team.
Maybe it’s the British accents.
Today, I got to talk to a woman in a wait list line who
hails from Ogden, Utah. There are a lot of locals here for the festival
and it’s always interesting to hear what they think of all of this.
I told her about the Danny Boyle film and she almost fainted at the description.
She told me she looks for "clean" films, those with "positive messages"
and "uplifting themes." But when I described the extremely uplifting
Bayard Rustin documentary and got to the part about him being a gay
civil rights leader, I think I lost her again. I sure do get a reality
check coming out here after living in the big city. Maybe it was my black
vinyl pants that made her nervous.
Anyway, enough of my big city ways. Back to work for
me. And then a screening of "Normal," a drama about what happens
to a family when the father decides he’s a woman trapped in a man’s
body. It stars the incredible Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Lange, but
for all my enthusiastic recommendations, I doubt I’ll run into the
lady from Ogden.
Yours from the festival Utah-ers call "DecaDance,"
Therese (pleathergirl) Shechter
Writing a daily column is no picnic, I tell ya. So today
I’ve decided to fill this space with some of the questions and comments
I’ve received from my loyal readers.
Your picture is dreamy (SB)
Thank you SB. I think you’re dreamy too.
We enjoy tremendously reading your stories! (MS)
Thanks mom and dad.
Don't give up on the gals from Ogden, just yet. The need
your love Karma too. (LC)
You’re right LC. I will try harder to spread the love.
Still, I wish people would have just a teensy bit of openness to
things that might be challenging to them. After all, you can see
Al Pacino at the Cineplex any time.
What’s great that you’ve seen in fiction and documentary,
aside from the stuff you’ve already talked about? (PE)
I just saw three great films:
"American Splendor" is the story of the underground
comic book guy Harvey Pekar. An amazing and funny combination of narrative,
documentary and comic book art all rolled into one. I had never heard
of him although the audience was full of rabid fans. A truly original
film that’s been a huge audience favorite here. It should be on HBO this
"Whale Rider" is about a Maori tribe trying to find their
new leader and the young girl who is destined to fill that role,
despite disapproval from the traditional menfolk. It won the audience
award at the Toronto Film Festival and got the longest standing ovation
here that I have ever seen. It’s being distributed by Newmarket, "Big
Fat Greek Wedding" people, so you’ll probably see it soon in theaters.
"What I Want My Words to Do to You" is a documentary
about women in prison. Now I bet the combination of the words
"documentary," "women," and "prison" have probably just made your
eyes glaze over. Admit it – you’re already scanning ahead for the
sexy stuff. It’s sad, because this film, which chronicles Eve Ensler’s
(The Vagina Monologues) writing workshops with these women, quite literally
blew me away. The women, mostly convicted murderers, wrote about their
memories, their remorse, their hopes, and then a group of actresses
came to the prison to do readings of their works. When the film ended,
I was so overwhelmed by their stories I could barely speak and had to
find a quiet corner to have a good cry. Truly breathtaking and you’ll
probably never get to see it.
More columns about sexual encounters in the hot tub would
interest readers. (SD)
Well it would certainly interest me. Like I said, I’m
trying to spread the love. What do you think I’m building up my karma
Next year I want to be your personal assistant and
carry your makeup bag or something! (MG)
Thanks, MG. But please make sure to walk three feet behind
me at all times.
Do you have any REAL dirt? I won’t tell! (ND)
And neither will I. You will have to buy me a few drinks
if you want me to spill the really good stuff. My parents are reading
this, for crying out loud!
Love and kisses,
Well it’s another balmy day here at Club Sundance. The
margaritas are flowing and the warms winds are blowing thought the
tall palms. OK, not quite, but watching Katie Couric freezing her dimples
off back home in NYC makes me grateful for the freakish global warming
playing itself out in the Rockies.
It’s not so great for the skiing, though. Except for two
weeks out of the year, Park City is all about careening down mountains
at breakneck speeds, and it’s a little strange not sharing the buses
with skiers and snowboarders heading up to the lifts. But with or
without the snow, the town is still charming, and the enormous mountains
always give me a little start when I look up and remember they are there.
Park City proper is essentially a long, quaint Main Street
that runs up a steep hill. Many of the buildings date back to the
town’s silver mining days although they now house designer clothing
shops, overpriced restaurants, fudge makers and one truly dreadful
Thomas Kincade (Painter of Light) Gallery. The famous Egyptian Theater
with it’s groovy façade is there as is our Filmmakers Lodge/House
of Docs, but all the other theater venues are in the newer and flatter
part of Park City, whose architecture can best be described as wild west
meets strip mall.
Festival-goers rent lodging all over the city, either at
Marriott-type hotels or in ski condos and chalets. It’s incredibly
expensive, well over $2000 a week, so we volunteers are eternally
grateful for the free housing.
We’ve all been talking about how few parties we’ve gone
to, but despite the breathless reporting on Entertainment Tonight,
there is little going on here that promises more fun than seeing another
movie. Hopefully that will change with tonight’s Sundance party with
its promise of a Brazilian DJ. After that, I’ve scored tickets to the
TromaDance party, organized by the fine folks who brought you "The Toxic
Avenger" and other classics. I have a pass that’s good for two people, and
wouldn’t you know how popular I’ve become all of a sudden.
The Troma party will cap off my day of strange and disturbing
films starting with "A Certain Kind of Death," a documentary about
what happens to people who die without any next of kin or friends to
claim them. Makes you want to be nice to your family. This happy little
film was followed by "Shorts on the Frontier," a collection of short
films of a more experimental nature. Some were pretty awful, but most
had a creative vision and an original approach to storytelling that was
seriously inspiring. A lot of the more popular films here are going to
be released some time this year anyway, so why spend your time on those when
you could see great stuff that will never be considered commercial enough
to play even art house venues.
I will next see you for my final report Monday after the
awards have been handed out and the discarded baseball hats with
car logos have been swept away. Now I’m off to work and then – parties!!!
Park City is a ghost town. The awards have been distributed,
the automotive shwag tents have been taken down, and the camera crews
have gone away to bother someone else. And I have spent the last 12
days immersed in the stuff I love best - vodka – I mean, film.
There were a few of disappointments:
1. The closing night party, a steam-letting-off event
we all needed, was filled to capacity within 40 minutes and our
shuttle bus was turned back at the driveway like some "Ship of Fools"
with drink tickets. We were forced to spend the evening at The Phat
Tire, where we hung out with locals, drowned our sorrows with weak $2
cocktails and suffered through a house band that refused to play anything
we could dance to (except for the requisite "Sweet Home Alabama").
2. Several friends from last year were infected with the
dreaded "Playa" virus, which compelled them to spend every waking
moment hunting for tradable shwag, party tickets and hot townies.
One guy, who I will call V., called me every single day just to give
me a running total of what (and who) he had scored.
3. As for me, the object of over a week of flirtation
– a lovely gentleman from overseas with a fine sense of humor and
a very un-Hollywood demeanor - informed me, as I prepared to snuggle
us up on the couch in front of a fire, "You know I’m gay, right?"
Sigh. Story of my life. I should have figured it out when he told me
he liked Sondheim.
Today I am groggy and hung over, and my clothes smell
of cigarette smoke and regret. Not really, but I thought that sounded
poetic. Actually, je ne regrette rien, as the old Piaf song
goes. I've had adventures that you, alas, will never read about, and I’ve
come to the end of another fantastic festival, with 11 dramatic films,
7 documentaries and about 10 shorts under my belt. I wish I had seen
more, but I can’t complain.
I was moved, entertained and/or inspired by so much, especially
the stories the filmmakers told after their screenings about the
five, seven, ten years it took to raise the money and make these projects
a reality. (Note to parents: I’m still well within an acceptable time
frame) Most of them were simply shocked to be standing before an audience
and hearing applause for something that they have been carrying with
them for years, never thinking it would see the light of day, let alone
screen here at Sundance, let alone win an award.
I also got the chance to get feedback on my own film from
PBS and HBO, from other filmmakers I admire, and from the Sundance
staff. I am full of inspiration and energy and as it is every year,
I can’t wait to get back to Brooklyn and work. A lot of people have
asked me over the course of these past 12 days whether I have a film
here at the festival. "Next year," I always say. "Next year."
Think good thoughts for me. Who knows? Come 2004, I might be able to
give you the inside scoop on what it’s really like to be one of the filmmakers.
Yours with all the best karma,
Therese (come see my film) Shechter
Reprinted from RedEye, published by the Chicago Tribune, 2003.
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.