Sundance 2007: An honest evaluation

By By Danny Letz and

By Danny Letz

Every year this time sets in–the end of the holidays, the beginning of Spring Semester, the incredibly long span of days and months till the inversion clears and things begin to warm around Salt Lake City again and, for film geeks, the end of Sundance.

A depressing time, to say the least.

But it’s also a time of reflection (a choice word in 90 percent of the descriptions in the Sundance Film Guide) and re-evaluation (used in 75 percent of the descriptions).

So let’s reflect and re-evaluate, by the numbers:

Movies seen at this year’s fest: 14

Panels seen: 1

Combined age of penises seen at festival: at least 180 years (among 3 men)

Severed penises seen: 3 (thanks to “Teeth”)

Number of subtitled films seen: 9

Number of English films with subtitles seen: 2

Albertson’s turkey sandwiches consumed: 8

Cups of coffee consumed: 16

Free cups of coffee: 14

Miles driven: 560

Celebrities seen: 0

Publicists seen: More than 1,000 (not including those spawning themselves in the dank corners of Park City’s Main Street)

Number of Blackberries used during screenings: 10 (in 7 different screenings)

Arguments over whether “Garden State” and “Reprise” fit in the “coming-of-age” genre: 2 (with same person, on different bus rides)

Arguments won over same topic: 2

Number of nice “please-get-me-a-half-decent-article-soon” calls from A&E Editor Ben Zalkind: 2

A small list, but an appropriate list, nonetheless.

To sum up this year’s festival, it’s hard to come by the words. Comparing it with previous years is pointless, and trivial to boot. In addition, it’s hard to compare it outside the context of the movies screened personally, scaled on an equally arbitrary system.

For example: I hated “Starting Out in the Evening,” while A&E writer Aaron Allen (if I may speak according to his article) loved it. Either way, there’s no accounting for taste.

And it’d be easy to give some “rally-the-troops-with-16mm-cameras-and-thimble-sized-budgets-together-because-we’re-seizing-the-Bastille-outside-Paramount-studios” speech, but it’s not the truth. The truth is, Sundance caters to a number of studio films screened under the title card “independent” so long as the budget comes in at fewer than $20 million.

It’s also true, however, that this same festival is host to a number of foreign and truly “independent” films. The excitement, I discussed with another member of the press before a screening, is that the festival presents the opportunity for a film to garner major distribution based on an audience reaction during a screening. Nowhere else, this person asserted, does this happen in quite the same way.

Indeed, there’s a lot at stake going into the festival. Reputations, careers, etc. are on the line. But Sundance, even given its faults, is still a culturally relevant event to attend.

It’s a chance for diversity, something most Utahns aren’t given the opportunity for, especially in the category of film.

So I suppose in summary, I’ll give you the same speech Nike and the Freshman Orientation group gives regarding its LEAP classes every year: Just do it.

Make the time next year, and go to Sundance. For those looking to confirm their skepticism about independent films’ being nothing but contrived “art-house” pieces, you may have your suspicions confirmed. Then again, you may see something you never thought you’d see in a film (for example, Joachim Trier’s “Reprise,” about which I can’t say enough).

It’s a chance, but it’s still a chance worth taking.


Danny Letz