Well, I’m Hooked…
January 28, 2021
One day into the virtual Sundance Film Festival, and I’m hooked. I may not be in Park City, Utah, shoulder-to-shoulder with critics and creators alike. Still, I’m getting to participate in something I’ve always wanted to be apart of. There’s a rush that comes with being involved with something so pure. It’s not diluted. It’s raw cinema. And, one film in, it’s a breath of fresh air, much like it must be out in the snowy mountains of the regular venue.
My anticipation for the coming festival hijacked my day. As a widower single father of two with a full-time job (currently working from home), that just isn’t allowed. On my breaks, however, I’d peruse the Sundance website, adding a few more screenings and trying to see if “Sold Out” really meant forever or just until I hit refresh.
4:00 PM — OPENING NIGHT WELCOME
You know how you can tell the people visiting Hollywood for the first time instead of the people who live there? The visitors are always looking up. They’re taking in the spectacle of it all; the lights and the sounds. It’s a location they’ve seen a million times in movies and television, and now they’re standing there. There’s stuff you just do as a newbie. And with that, I attended the “Opening Night Welcome.”
Now, I don’t actually know if that’s just a newbie thing, but it definitely feels like it. Correct me if I’m wrong. But I wanted to feel a moment of entrance, like looking up while you’re driving through the opening Jurassic Park gates. With that, I received a really lovely voice-over prologue from Robert Redford and a warm introduction from Festival Director Tabitha Jackson. Top that off with a musical performance from Rhiannon Giddens, and I felt on my way to enjoying my first-ever Sundance Film Festival.
Now I just have to wait FIVE HOURS until my first screening…
5:00 PM — MISTAKE #1
It didn’t take long for me to realize that my first mistake was not taking the week off work. Obviously, if I were trekking out to Utah, I would have taken some time off. But, it’s hard to justify taking off paying work for a side hustle in the current pandemic. Especially hard when work is busy for the first time in a stretch. So, I decided to navigate my first Sundance while juggling a full-time job. Now, I’m not going in without a road map, and I’m pretty confident I can catch a lot of films (while losing some hours of sleep) but power for the course, right?
Not taking work off was a mistake because I started getting FOMO the second people started saying they were watching films. The first feature that most people watched was “Coda.” After all the positive reviews started coming out, I was sad that I had missed it. But it’s all good. Even when you attend actual Sundance, you don’t get to see every film, and that feeling of missing out has to come with the territory.
I look forward to seeing “Coda,” which is about a teenage girl who is the only hearing member of her family.
9:00 PM — FILM #1: “CENSOR”
With my kids tucked into their beds, stories read, and prayers said, I plugged in my MacBook and got ready to see my first Sundance film. Not to place too much meaning on it, but this moment will be one that I remember forever. And not just because the movie was fucking brilliant.
A part of the “Midnight” series of Sundance films, this horror film delved into the ’80s era of “video nasties.” The central character Enid (Niamh Algar) is a censor of gore films. When one of the movies she’s working on echoes her own traumas, she begins to unravel. Here’s a quick review I put out right after seeing the film:
CENSOR is brilliant. Niamh Algar’s performance set the bar high and might end as my favorite of the fest. The lighting and general look of the film was worth the price of admission alone. And, the end sequence was everything I never knew I needed.
A full review is forth-coming, but needless to say, I’m hooked right out of the gate. I know there’s no possible way I will adore every film I view over the next six days, but I’m open to anything and everything the fest has to offer. I also know that virtual Sundance is going to be my gateway drug into a lifelong addiction to needing to attend the festival in the future.
10:30 PM — “CENSOR” Q&A
I’ve got to imagine, being in the same room with the actors and directors during the Q&A portions of the night has to feel like a much bigger deal when you’re actually in Park City. Regardless, it was still an excellent experience to hear director Prano Bailey-Bond and actor Niamh Algar speak about their film “Censor.” Whether it be Prano’s influences of “The Evil Dead” and “Suspiria” or Niamh’s willingness to be taken on the journey, both of their insights really bookended the feature nicely.
Prano’s passion for horror and the era of “video nasties” was simply confirmed by this questioning, and her love for the craft is apparent. When asked where the concept came from, she stated that she wondered how it felt to be a censor during the “video nasties” social hysteria, having to watch all that gruesome material. And I found that to be such a simple and eloquent answer.
12:00 AM — DAY ONE WRAP-UP
With day one in the books, I’m relatively content. Considering I plan to see twenty-some films over the next week, I’d say, with one introduction and one film viewed, the opening day was a pretty tame one. But, much like dipping a toe into the water before jumping in, it was probably best for me to get acclimated, slow and straightforward… before the rushing waters sweep me away. I’m not able to tell which way is up by the end of it.
Tomorrow will continue my slow ascent into festival viewing as I face another full day of work. My screenings will be reserved for the nighttime. I will be attending the premieres of “In The Earth” as well as “Knocking.” So, if you see me in any of the waiting rooms, feel free to reach out.
I’ll end the first day with a toast to all those joining me on this journey. I know I’m far from the first one to do it, but as far as my story is concerned, this is a massive moment that I will cherish. Here’s to all the great cinema, countless memories, and sleepless nights to come.