live from park city
As an Austinite, "festivaling" in Austin is easy: Austin Film Festival is the most spread out, but all venues are easily driveable; SXSW is fairly compact with the majority of venues walkable once one is downtown; Fantastic Fest is the easiest with all screenings taking place at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar (most years).
Attending an out of town festival, though, is a completely different story. Especially when that festival is in a ski town in the middle of January.
Preparing to head to Sundance Film Festival begins early, with flights and hotel accommodations needing to be booked several months in advance. The first problem one runs into is finding an affordable place to say. Demand is already high in Park City, Utah, with skiers from all over the world looking to spend some time on the town's famous slopes.
When it comes time for the festival in late January, supply becomes strained as festival goers, celebrities, filmmakers, publicists and volunteers working with Sundance all need a place to stay. It's not uncommon to see rooms going for several hundred dollars (sometimes more) a night.
Once a place is found, some thought needs to be put into how to get there. Flying to Sundance means landing in Salt Lake City and then finding a way to cover the 30 miles it takes to get to up the mountain to Park City. There are shuttles, buses, cabs, limos and more available at the airport. Transferring people to Park City is big business.
I began my particular journey to Sundance 2012 on Thursday with some careful packing — items that I have buried deep in a closet, unused so far this year during Austin's extremely mild winter. I pack toiletries that are not only necessary for life in a rented condo but needed to freshen up between walking from buses to venues and watching multiple movies with only short breaks in between.
My alarm goes off at 4:45 a.m. on Friday in Austin, and it's not until my ride pulls up in the driveway that I get a call from Delta informing me my flight is delayed. With the upcoming costs over the next 10 days being substantial, I have to take my free ride while I can. I wait out the delay, board my flight and finally make it to Salt Lake City.
The next leg of my adventure comes after waiting for my shuttle, one I'm sharing with nine strangers. After a 40 minute drive to Park City and another 30 minutes spent stopping to drop other people off at various resorts, I finally arrive at the Sundance Headquarters where I grab my badge and then walk over to the condo where I will be staying for the next 10 days.
Learning from last year's mistakes, I immediately start drinking water constantly and take a couple of hours to rest at the condo. In 2011, I rushed off to a screening and then straight to a party after arriving at the festival. This led to altitude sickness, a horrible condition of sudden and intense flu-like symptoms. This cut my first day of Sundance 2011 short as I had to go to the hotel and sleep for the next 15 hours. My rest-and-hydrate strategy worked, and I was able to make it to two movies on my first night of Sundance 2012.
First up was Where Do We Go Now?, a Lebanese film about a group of woman in a small village who do everything they can to stop the religious tension between the Muslim and Christian residents there, mainly men with violent tempers. The sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking musical film is delightful, eye opening and notable for its refreshingly female perspective. Sony Pictures Classics is planning a theatrical release in 2012, so expect to see this one come to Austin in the near future.
Next that evening was Monsieur Lazhar, a Canadian film that appears on the recently announced Oscar shortlist for foreign language films. In the film (which is based on a play by Evelyne de la Cheneliere), Bachir Lazhar is tasked with bringing normalcy back to students after their well-liked teacher commits suicide in their classroom while they are at recess. Monsieur Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant, has his own tragedies to deal with in his personal life. A bond between teacher and student forms that goes far beyond and carries far more meaning than the one usually found in the classroom. The film is charming throughout but it's the emotional weight of the final moments that make it easy to see how this ended up on the Oscar list.
At 11:45 p.m. local time (that's 12:45 a.m. Austin time), after being awake for 20 hours, I finally get into bed to prepare for the dozens of films to come. The weekend promises to be packed with premiers, parties and celebrity sightings. For better or worse (mostly better, trust me), Sundance 2012 is in full swing.