A Trip to Sundance 2013
On the early Wednesday morning of January 23, 2013, I was roaming through the northern hills towards Utah. Along with my buddies Matt, Bo!, and WoOlis, we had driven for close to 12 hours unexpecting what is to be expected at the biggest film festival event – Sundance 2013 – in the U.S.
Through the long, cold drive, we kept ourselves from brain freezing with looney discussions of riding tauntauns to escape Wampas, brainstorming ideas of shooting apocalyptic films when frozen Earth is upon us, and wondering which of us would resort to cannibalism if suddenly we were stranded, nowhere to be found, in the winter, snowy landscape that surrounded us.
This was a first time attendance for all of us to the Sundance Film Festival. I’ve been meaning to go for a long while… but to clarify, I didn’t have a film showcased at the festival. Some had the impression that because I have… well… a reputation of being a filmmaker on occasion, that I was at this festival premiering a film. Although, it’s not on my “to-do before I die” wish list, it would be a nice brush stroke of my existence to have (or maybe “will have”) a film featured at the festival. But, it’s not something I would lose sleep over if it never happened. I have submitted short films twice to Sundance, and never got any responses to either times. But, as I understand it, the judges who pick what gets screened has to make a choice of about 85 films out of over 54 thousand submissions (and growing, in this digital age). It ain’t easy being a filmmaker. The opportunity to make films is a blessing in itself.
But, sometimes, I enjoy the experience of just watchin’ movies…
The first film we attended was “Stoker” by famed director, Park Chan-wook, of the infamous Korean film “Old Boy“. (If you haven’t watched “Old Boy” yet, you should check it out before Spike Lee’s version is released sometimes later this year, and you won’t have context to object to an American remake.*) “Stoker” is a 2013 British-American psychological thriller starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman. Obsessed with hoping to see a movie star, I was disappointed when they announced that Nicole Kidman didn’t appear to show up for this screening.** Despite this, my vision of her “all-in-glorious” perfection in Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” is still intact.
But(t) (sic) anyways, Stoker was a poetically, lyrical, violent film. I don’t think I have ever described any movie in those three words before. It’s premise is of the serial killer variety, but the cinematic touches of perfect pitch audio and symmetry of images alone made the film worth hearing and watching. That prob doesn’t tell much of the film, but, it’s where I say the less you know of the film, the better. I went in not knowing anything but who the director was. I came out having been satisfied so far with attending the festival.
Afterwards, we hit a local restaurant bar. It was about close to 10pm, and as we were about to order our drinks (we were quite thirsty), we learned that alcohol is only served up until 7pm in the state of Utah. Mormons. We prob gave the most deadpan awkward confusing look on our faces, like… what were we gonna do for the rest of the night without being intoxicated? No alcohol; no Nicole.
Driving back to our cabin, the dark roads were only accompanied by the mountains in the shape of slumbering giants. The lack of lights only reminded me of the movie Troll Hunter, as I anticipated a large wooden club made of a Redwood tree bashing our car into the cold, concrete road. Needless to say, later in the night, back at our cabin, and sober, we were watching Jay Leno, and lo and behold, Nicole Kidman walks on stage as a guest to promote her latest film “Stoker”. =/
*I like Spike Lee joints, and I think he would be one of the few American filmmakers who could do a great job on all film genres. But, a remake to “Old Boy” should be a no-no. It still smells of dumbing down a non-Western classic to appeal to a mass American audience, as hipster as that sounds.
**Some may ask why I’m obsessed with meeting stars when I should be focused on watching the movies at Sundance. I grew up as part of the American sub-culture that Hollywood churned us into 3D/IMAX-fondling zombies idol-worshiping certain people in the public eye as influential, iconic brands. (I’m guilty of name-dropping, myself, at times.) As a member of creature of bad habits, I’m easily fascinated by intellectuals, writers, movers & shakers, and others who seem larger than life, and that includes celebrities. Just a glimpse of their presence gives me some (probably false) hope that I can walk amongst the “gods” of the Earth, and learn their secrets.
On a side-note, the closest thing to a celebrity sighting, apparently, was when Matt ran late catching up to us on Main street. He had caught a cab, and the rambling cab driver mentioned that James Franco had been the previous passenger before him. Matt prob hasn’t washed his ass since sitting in that cab. Just speculating. Sorry, that’s the best I have for celeb-sighting news. But, more on Mr. Franco coming up… because he appears in everything, and does something everywhere. Irk. Now back to our regular broadcast…
“On a Friday afternoon we were in a Toronto bookstore, The Book Cellar, and I was signing autographs for three hundred people. The manager of the bookstore Bruce Surtees, seemed upset by the number of people who stood in line for my autograph.
‘If we had a thing like this for Will Durant,’ he said,’nobody would show up.’
Although I nodded my head in sympathy, I had no idea who this Will Durant might be or why people should want his autograph.”
– Linda Lovelace, Out of Bondage
With that passage, I’m reminded that I still have Will Durant’s “The Story of Civilization” series as part of my Amazon wish list. (Sorry, you can’t access it. It’s set to “private”.) It’s currently $500 for a new set. It’s simple economics why I ended up reading both Lovelace’s autobiographies instead, after having watched our second movie on our trip to Sundance – “Lovelace“.
I know my pR0nstars – my favs include Lily Thai, Amia Moretti, and Alaura Eden. I’m more than aware of classics like Asia Carrera, Hyapatia Lee, Kobe Tai, and Nina Hartley. I even know who Randy Spears and, of course, Ron Jeremy is. And, Keni Styles is my hero. But, without straying off topic, I didn’t know who Linda Lovelace was until I had watched the documentary,”Inside Deep Throat” a couple years back. It was a fascinating and tragic story of the craziness that pR0nstars go through in the adult film world. I’m not here to get into the political discussion of what goes on behind-the-scenes in the industry, but I was definitely curious how they were gonna playoff Amanda Syfried playing Lovelace in the new film based on her life.
“Lovelace” plays off as a R-rated melodrama, Seyfried nudity and all, focusing the story most on the abuse Lovelace faced at the hands of her charming but manipulative boyfriend, Chuck, played by Peter Sarsgaard. As tragic as the film portrays the life of Lovelace, the books are quite more disturbing involving forced bestiality and orgies not portrayed in the film. But, Sarsgaard as Chuck steals most of the film’s thunder (despite Seyfried nudity and all). For whatever your feelings about the adult industry, the film works hard at getting you to sympathize with Lovelace’s predicament. And, as I promised something more about Mr. James Franco, he makes an appearance as Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner. I can’t help but LOL every time he appears on screen in almost everything… where James Franco is simply playing James Franco attempting to be someone. But, we end up only seeing James Franco.
A Bunch of Short Films
Our next screenings were a bunch of short film programs – simply titled “Shorts Program 2” and “Shorts Program V” – at the Yarrow Theater. The location was still in Park City, but a little off by a few bus stops away from the Main street. A total of 14 short films between the two programs, not much were highly memorable, but most were well-done to be worthy of being works by professional filmmakers. There were a few good dramas from a bunch of International filmmakers – “Summer Vacation (Hofesh Gadol)” by Israel’s Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit, “Night Shift” by New Zealand’s Zia Mandviwalla, and “Today and Tomorrow” by Netherland’s Aaron Douglas Johnston. There was one short film titled “Le Futur Proche” about an airplane flight consisting of ariel night shots at night that lasted for about 15 minutes or so. That’s how I remembered the film, at least, as I kept nodding off on that one. If anything, it inspired me NOT to be an airplane pilot. I would crash the vehicle within 15 minutes.
There was one filmmaker featured in the second shorts program, Robert Machoian, who does a series of 4 minute short films titled “Movies Made From Home“. I’m unsure how many are in the series, but #6 and #15 were shown at this shorts program. The first involved the theme of child kidnapping, the second, about aging and cancer. I’m not denying the artistic integrity of this series, but the handling of the themes were of shock and cynicism that made me angry in how I was receptive to the films. A kind of anger that was not elevated or inspired by the films, but angry that the movies were made to insult my emotions. Machoian is no Takashi Miike or John Waters.
The Elusive NEAATO
In my personal journals, I have written down quotes from some of my fav famous folks like Harlan Ellison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Isaac Asimov …and, I also keep quotes from Neaato.
I don’t recall where or when I discovered Neaato’s ramblings. I didn’t even know if he was a he or a she. I swore it was from Xanga that I had found his writings but he/she denies he/she’s ever use that blog site for anything other than personal stuff. Or maybe I found him from MySpace or Friendster. I do vaguely remember doing a search for popular Asian-American bloggers and his/her name came up somehow, somewhere, and I somehow, somewhat got intrigued by his posts. In which I ended up retweeting Neeato a few times (I still do).
My gripe with Asian-America (and esp. with what the media thinks it is), is that every A-A believes they represent the utmost righteous image of the struggling Asian in America. That it’s monolithic like that. There’s a raw, ironic wit that I believe Neaato exposes of the human flaw in his postings (about Asian-America and other things) that amuses me. I hope he/she/it writes a book someday.
Apparently, Neeato eventually got notice of my filmmaking posts or some random meme I shared on my Facebook (I think), and we ended up chatting a bit. Found out he’s a dude (or so he claims). I think he’s Vietnamese American, as his posts, I’d say about 33%, are about Vietnam or Southeast Asian related. 52% are scantily clad Asian women, and the rest are social, humor, and political stuff. I may be making those numbers up, as those percentages are probably what Neaato posts I actually pay attention to. Anyways, I’ve still to this day have not met him (or so he claims to be a ‘him’) in person, and I don’t know what he actually looks like. But, half-way through my Sundance trip, I get this message…
How in the deeper regions of hell can Neaato recognize me based on my Facebook pics is amazing. He/she/it didn’t need GPS to track me down…
Google & The World Brain
Sorry. Not the greatest pic, but that’s Ben Lewis, director of “Google & The World Brain”
“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new at all.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Some audience members murmured and nodded their heads in agreement to this documentary film about the moral quandary of Google’s mission to scan and catalog every book in existence. The ultimate world library (or brain), so to speak. Although, I didn’t dislike the film (as one other nameless member in our group did), I don’t think it fairly portrayed Google in the best of light. The filmmaker, Ben Lewis, edited this film as if the most popular search company is an emerging uncontrollable force of the coming future – almost on the level of a “science is evil” tone often found in campy science fiction films.
I enjoy documentaries when produced with fair and balanced views. But, when not, there is the danger of them being works of propaganda when what’s onscreen is presented as facts. There was a certain mob mentality in the air when the lights came on after this screening that made me uneasy. As an example, one particular audience member stood up during the Q&A and proclaimed to be an author of some sort, and is outraged by what Google is doing. I have no clue who this author is, or any evidence that Google has violated her life. But, my thinking is, with the technological advances and innovations that Google has built for a collective knowledge base for us average folks, thus far, you’d think this “author” and others like her would be appreciative if any of her work got any type of exposure.
By the suggestion of my fellow Sundance alumni, Jenn Powell, we stopped by Dolly’s Bookstore, an indie bookstore that includes a unique selection of film books. The place houses a bunch of kittens and cats, and occasional guest speakers.
Although, I admit, it wasn’t as big of a bookstore that I was hoping for, being surrounded by books kept me at ease from the anxiety that the hustle and bustle of the Sundance event may have caused. This spot got us listening to Adam Leizpig speak about film production and promoting his book “Inside Track For Independent Filmmakers: Get Your Movie Made, Get Your Movie Seen and Turn the Tables on Hollywood“. It was a small gathering of about seven of us wannabe filmmakers, in a span of about 40 min. I ended buying the book, had Mr. Leizpig signing it, and talked of maybe someday meeting for a film production. Networking at Sundance, woo-hoo.
As I finished browsing Dolly’s, I am, again, reminded that James Franco is everywhere… I found his book “Palo Alto: Stories” on the shelves. For shame I didn’t support the indie bookstore because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to buy it at the time. The cover felt like it was heavily Larry Clark/Harmony Korine inspired. But, I do visit Palo Alto often because I want to live there some day. James Franco speaks to me. I eventually bought it on Amazon.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete
It was our last night at Sundance, and we had one more film to go. But, beforehand, we grabbed dinner consisting of fat juicy steaks and a few shots of good whiskey at Prime Steak House. Main Street itself was waning down with people wrapped up in warm clothing, and snapping away with their phone cameras capturing the various displays of what I thought to be leftover Christmas decorations. With good meat and warm whiskey having warmed up my body, I didn’t want to stop to take pics of what feels familiar to my home place during the holidays. I was anxious knowing I will be leaving Utah soon, racing to the shuttle, keeping the memories unique… One more film to go.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is a film that was produced by R&B singer/songwriter Alicia Keyes, and directed by George Tillman Jr.. It is a coming-of-age story about two young inner city kids, one Asian, one Black, trying to survive a day in the life of their urban surroundings. It was a capable film lead by two quite talented young boys, that attempts to tug your heart. I would recommend the film based on their performances only, but may in the long run become a forgettable film because of their youth as they age to become adult actors. It’s tricky when a film project focuses on how cute the kids are than the natural emotions of what the story can elicit.
I wouldn’t fault it on this film, tho. I’m not sure if that’s what the filmmakers intended. But, it’s what I’m constantly yearning in a great film. In all, Sundance 2013 was only another chapter in my life love of going to the movies.