I’ve just returned from nearly two weeks in the sun. Escaping from the snow and slush of Toronto, I was privileged to attend my very first Sundance Film Festival in the picturesque ski resort town of Park City, Utah.
As a full-time volunteer in the film office, I had the chance to meet lots of filmmakers. Because of my love for shorts, I was assigned to work with the coordinator for international shorts and, for our American cousins, ‘international’ includes Canada. Strangely enough, I had to travel more than 3,000 km from home to meet some fellow Canadians.
Now that I’m back home, I got in touch with a few of the folks I met to ask about their Sundance experiences.
Clockwise from top left:
- Trevor Anderson | Edmonton, AB | The Little Deputy [Ed: Trevor is also an NSI Drama Prize grad]
- Stephen Dunn | St. John’s, NF | Pop-Up Porno (series of three short shorts)
- Matthew Rankin | Montreal, QC | Mynarski Death Plummet
- Martin Edralin | Toronto, ON | Hole
Was this your first Sundance?
Trevor: I attended Sundance ’11 with my short film The High Level Bridge and have been back a couple times since then rocking the alumni badge.
Describe the scene when you heard your film was accepted to this year’s festival
Trevor: I had just treated myself to a nice dinner alone at my favourite restaurant in Edmonton [called] Bistro Praha. I was leaving the restaurant when I got the call from a bunch of the Sundance programmers gathered around a speaker phone to give me the good news. I skipped down the dark, deserted Edmonton downtown street.
Stephen: I only submitted two of my films from the Pop-Up Porno series thinking they would just select one. But when they called me asking to see the third film I never imagined that they would invite us to premiere all three. We were all floored.
Matthew: I was alerted by email. It was a very ordinary encounter at my desk which nonetheless exerted an enormous gust of meaning to my otherwise meaningless life.
Martin: I was at my parents’ place visiting. It was a Friday night around 11:30 p.m. and I was making tea in the kitchen. My cell rang. The call display showed a Los Angeles number. I wasn’t going to answer because I didn’t know the number but then decided to take the call to tell the telemarketer s/he shouldn’t be &*#^#* calling me at this hour! The voice on the other line said, “Hi, is this Martin? I’m calling from the Sundance Film Festival …” My tone changed immediately.
What was your Sundance experience like this year overall? Was it what you expected?
Trevor: I had a great time at Sundance this year. I saw a bunch of wonderful films, met some terrific filmmakers and felt very inspired.
Stephen: I had no idea what to expect but the whole experience was a whirlwind. There were so many events and parties and screenings to attend. By the end of the week I was ready to take a long nap.
Matthew: It’s a really wonderful fest. There is definitely an element of scenester glitterati swarming around its surface but the festival itself is really committed to independent filmmaking and goes out of its way to create dialogue and exchange between creators.
Martin: Sundance was amazing. They treat directors really well and the programmers have a genuine interest in your work and career. They make you feel like you’re part of the Sundance family. And Sundance audiences are some of the best audiences I’ve experienced. I’m not sure what I expected.
What was the best film you saw at Sundance this year (not including your own)?
Trevor: My favourite of the films I saw at Sundance this year happened to win the short film jury award for nonfiction. The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul directed by Kitty Green. I loved it so much I had to grab my skull while I was watching it. Very conceptually satisfying.
Stephen: I saw an amazing Australian film called Partisan about a man (Vincent Cassel) in a polyamorous compound who is raising an army of child soldiers.
Matthew: Of the feature films on display, I would have to say it was the new film by François Delisle called Chorus which was completely overwhelming. I saw so many incredible short fillms but my personal favourite was The Little Deputy by Edmonton’s visionary-in-residence, Trevor Anderson. It’s a perfect short.
Martin: Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.
What was your best Sundance moment?
Trevor: My best Sundance moment was hearing the audience’s enthusiastic reaction to my film at the premiere. It felt like something deep inside my psyche that I’d been carrying around for years finally relaxed. I also enjoyed sitting with my crew at the animation spotlight and all of us laughing until we cried at David OReilly’s The Horse Raised by Spheres.
Stephen: All of our screenings were very memorable. All three Pop-Up Porno films screened throughout our program so whenever the logo came up a huge laugh took over the audience.
Matthew: Don Hertzfeldt gave me two high fives. One for working on 35mm, another for NOT working at the NFB.
Martin: I arrived at night and couldn’t see my surroundings. The next morning I woke up way too early, jet lagged and eager to explore. I stepped out, it was a beautiful day, the sun was out, mountains all around and it hit me: I’m at SUNDANCE and I don’t have to go to work for a week!!
Do you have any advice for future attendees?
Trevor: When I got into Sundance the first time everyone said stuff to me like, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” and “Don’t miss your chance!” I didn’t know specifically what they meant so I just put a bunch of unnecessary stress on myself to like, STAY ALERT! This time around I was much more relaxed, skipped cocktail mixers whenever I wanted a nap and just went into it all hoping to have a good time and get inspired, which I did. My advice would be to just enjoy the ride and not look for some vague, undefined, extra approval or mystery connection.
Stephen: Go to the SundanceTV headquarters during the day. There’s nowhere to eat in Park City but the headquarters gives out free food all day and they have guacamole.
Matthew: Robert Redford gives this nice motivational speech each year at the director’s brunch at the Sundance Institute. It always seems to revolve around some anecdote from his life as a filmmaker in which he was depressed or discouraged or otherwise rejected, humiliated or insulted. It’s nice to go to Sundance, of course, but the art life must always walk a fine line between humility and hubris and any triumph will always co-exist with defeat. So Redford reminds us not to believe the hype too much, just take it as an encouragement and keep on working. I think that’s the best way to look at it.
Martin: Watch a lot of movies and meet other filmmakers. You’ll meet amazing, talented people that you’ll keep running into on the festival circuit and your worldwide network of friends with couches you can sleep on will grow.
Photos: Martin Edralin by Laura Perlmutter; Trevor Anderson by Fish Griwkowsky