Hello, world! I started writing this post one week ago, as I sat in the Salt Lake City airport waiting for a flight to bring me home. This week has been the perfect time for reflecting on the magic of the 8 days that I spent in Utah. What a journey it was!
Between January 19 and January 27, I saw 10 feature films, 8 short films, watched a season of television, attended 4 panels, and basked in the presence of more than 70 celebrities.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is life at the Sundance Film Festival.
Now that I’ve returned home, where I’m in the thick of my final semester of grad school and my first semester as a course instructor, I’m excited to share with you a bit of insight into the joys of returning to Sundance.
So, without further ado, here are the highlights of my second Sundance adventure.
We flew out on Tuesday, January 19 and arrived to Park City amid a snow storm (thanks to our MVP Le Bus driver, Larry, for delivering us safely) that evening. The real adventuring didn’t begin until the following morning, when we ventured to Main Street in Park City, the unofficial hub of Sundance. We also made this journey in more serious snow, but it at least made for some lovely photos of the Egyptian theatre.
For the rest of Wednesday, we made our way back down the mountain to Salt Lake City, where we had the freedom to roam and enjoy a movie and meal on WKU’s dime (which is now officially my favorite activity). We spent time in a great, cheap little theater run by the Salt Lake Film Society where I was able to see both Spotlight and Room over the course of the day. I also wandered past the monstrous Mormon temple and through a bit more of downtown Salt Lake before we went back up to Park City. I was so happy for the chance to squeeze in another couple of the Oscar-nominated films, and it felt like the perfect way to pre-game for the festival.
Thursday, January 21
Thursday the 21st was the first official day of the festival. I began the day with an early trip to the box office, where I had the bad fortune of being the first person in line not to get tickets to the festival’s opening night film, so that was a big bummer. That’s one I’ll have to catch later, and based on others’ recommendations, it’s well worth it (the movie is Other People, for reference).
However, Thursday wasn’t a total bust. After attending the festival in 2014, I felt a little disappointed at never having seen Robert Redford, who founded the festival 32 years ago. Luckily, a few of us caught sight of him leaving the festival’s opening day press conference and were able to say a quick hello before he left (my mom’s comment on this occurrence: “you got to see him smile?” because we all know what a gift that is).
That evening, after being unable to purchase tickets earlier, I attempted the e-waitlists for both of the opening night films: the documentary Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You and the feature film Other People (no luck in either case, sadly). However, for the second film, I happened to arrive at the theater just as its cast did, so I was able to begin my favorite hobby of stargazing. At the allowance of a very kind festival volunteer, I was able to sneak into a very close spot, but I’m going to blame my crappy and/or nonexistent photos on my excitement at the revelry.
A blurry Adam Scott
Jesse Plemons and Jurnee Smollett-Bell having a Friday Night Lights reunion
My favorite moment of the night, though, was witnessing a lovely little Friday Night Lights reunion between Jesse Plemons and Jurnee Smollett-Bell. There was lots of excited yelling and hugging and discussion of upcoming jobs. And no one but me (and those involved) seemed to appreciate it! What a nice moment.
Celebrity sightings: Robert Redford, Adam Scott, Jesse Plemons, Judd Apatow, Maude Apatow, Molly Shannon, Jurnee Smollett-Bell
Friday, January 22
Since I was unlucky in screenings on Thursday, Friday was my real start to the festival, and I began my time attending the Shorts Package 1 screening at the Egyptian in the morning. During my previous experience, I neither attended a shorts package nor any screening at the Egyptian, so this was a great way to build my Sundance experiences, and the shorts themselves were quite enjoyable overall. My favorites were Killer, a story about a boy who masturbates for the first time with some unexpected and serious repercussions, Maman(s), a beautiful Senegalese film about a young girl facing the reality that her parents are imperfect, and The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere, a joyful (and weirdly weepy) documentary about a winless Japanese racehorse.
Norman Lear and Lena Dunham during the first Cinema Cafe panel
A big part of my reasoning for attending this screening specifically was my desire to be close to Main Street to get a good spot in line for the first of the Cinema Café panels: a conversation between Norman Lear and Lena Dunham. Thankfully, my plan was successful, and I got to spend a delightful hour in the company of two of TV’s most influential figures.
Later on Friday, I happened to run across the cast of Other People again, and got to have a lovely little chat with Jesse Plemons, who, after I told him how much I loved his season of Fargo, stopped and walked over to me to talk about it. We agreed that Kirsten Dunst was wonderful and discussed his reunion with Jurnee from the previous night. And as he started to walk away, he turned back and asked my name, shook my hand, and said how nice it had been to meet me. So, we’re friends now. Definitely.
I also spent a weird minute or two following Nick Jonas up Main Street, because, as a long-time Jonas Brothers fanatic, there’s really no other appropriate response to finding one of them. I was also lucky enough, that night, to get into the world premiere of Goat, the movie Nick was there to promote. Goat is both a physically and psychologically brutal portrayal of fraternity hazing that speaks to larger issues of masculinity and male identity. Nick Jonas and Ben Schnetzer both gave stand-out performances as the film’s lead actors. After seeing this film, I think it’s safe to say Nick will continue to surprise the entertainment world with his talents. Also, in a weird turn of events, I ended up exiting the screening of Goat with Lena Dunham and the Apatows (because somehow we were always in the same places), so I told Lena quickly about my thesis project. She vocalized her support and gave me a friendly arm rub, so I think I’m on the path to success.
Director Andrew Neel, stars Nick Jonas and Ben Schnetzer, and the ensemble from Goat
Though Friday was an all-around great day, the undisputed highlight goes to… My third encounter with Daniel Radcliffe. I don’t know what I’ve done in life to be so utterly lucky, but, after failing to secure a spot in the premiere screening of the controversial Swiss Army Man, I hung out at the back of the Eccles theater, the biggest of Sundance’s venues, to see the cast depart. We first watched U.S. Dramatic Competition jury members Jon Hamm and Lena Dunham leave the screening and act like the weirdos they are, which was particularly entertaining. And then Daniel came out, started taking pictures, and after we got a photo, I was able to thank him for being so kind each time we’ve met. He was (of course) gracious, asking where we’d met before, and told me he’s likely returning to Broadway soon (which I think is very important information), and shook my hand and said he was happy to have met me again.
As evidenced by this photo, sometimes lightning strikes thrice.
There’s a specific joy in meeting such a person as him, who’s been such an important part of my life, and I can’t believe I was fortunate enough to do it a third time.
Celebrity sightings: Abigail Spencer, Norman Lear, Lena Dunham, Adam Scott, Judd Apatow, Maude Apatow, Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Jon Hamm, Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano, Julianne Nicholson
Saturday, January 23
Saturday was both a great day and a bummer. I only saw one film Saturday, and it was my least favorite of the festival: Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog, an unfunny and bizarre story of the lives through which one dachshund weaves. The film is told in vignettes of sorts, but the only one really worth watching is the third in the film, which stars Danny DeVito. Tracy Letts and Julie Delpy give awful performances in the opening scenes, Greta Gerwig is an unbelievable nerdy vet tech with a long-lasting crush on Kieran Culkin, and Zosia Mamet gives a sweet performance as Ellen Burstyn’s burn-out granddaughter. For anyone considering this movie, let me just warn you: despite how the film is advertised, it’s not meant for animal lovers. Even if you enjoy it (like many of my fellow audiences members seemed to), the ending shots undo any joy you might experience. This is a film with unnecessarily gratuitous and vulgar shots that make me more disgusted and annoyed the more I think about it.
Okay, rant over.
So, the good part of Saturday was that it’s the best day during the festival for celebrity following, so I was in my glory. After attending the morning’s lackluster screening, I traveled to Main Street to practice my favorite hobby, and ended up being quite successful.
Though it’s always fun to see a celebrity walk by, I had a couple favorite experiences of the day. First, seeing Kyle Chandler up close and personal was, you know, okay. Even better than seeing Kyle Chandler alone, though, was seeing another Friday Night Lights reunion with Jesse Plemons. Upon their exit from the studio, things got weird. First, Kyle Chandler came out and immediately started discussing The Simpsons with someone. Then, when I asked Jesse for a photo since I’d missed that opportunity the day before, he agreed, but as he leaned in for the photo, Casey Affleck came around the corner, saying, “yeah, take a picture with Jesse,” and proceeded to grab my wrist and wave my hand around.
Because I don’t know the proper etiquette when a famous person touches you and acts like a (well-intentioned) weirdo, I’m pretty sure the only thing I said in response was “thank you, Casey Affleck.” Not my smoothest moment.
My friendship with Jesse Plemons is very real.
Later than afternoon, I was able to connect with another person of interest for my thesis project: Zoe Kazan, who also wished me luck and thanked me for using her as a source.
Other fun highlights from the day: pushing a timid fan to meet Viggo Mortensen and seeing her cry happy tears when he hugged her; arguing with a dumb guy who was convinced Abigail Spencer was actually Evangeline Lilly; watching Kate Beckinsale float around like the beautiful angel she is; standing next to a confused Jared Harris for a few minutes while he checked his phone
Celebrity sightings: Bradley Whitford, Nick Jonas, Rebecca Hall, Tracy Letts, Michael C. Hall, Judd Apatow, Maude Apatow, Timothy Simons, Chelsea Handler, J. Smith-Cameron, Kyle Chandler, Casey Affleck, John Legend, Gilbert Gottfried, Charlie Day, John Krasinski, Josh Groban, Don Cheadle, David Giuntoli, Jesse Plemons, George Mackay, Margo Martindale, Chloë Sevingy, Kate Beckinsale, Rose Macgowan, Abigail Spencer, Viggo Mortensen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Abby Elliott, Chris Elliott, Greta Gerwig, Jena Malone, Adrian Grenier, Paul Dano, Jared Harris, Zoe Kazan
Sunday, January 24
The cast and crew of Manchester by the Sea
Thankfully, Sunday morning’s screening was my favorite of the festival and very much made up for my Wiener-Dog annoyance. I attended Manchester by the Sea, a film that’s been the clear festival favorite (it wasn’t in competition, so it wasn’t eligible for the Grand Jury or Audience awards) and one that will almost certainly be on the awards circuit next year.
Being friends with Kyle Chandler
The film tells the story of Lee Chandler (played wonderfully by Casey Affleck), an isolated man who becomes guardian of his teenage nephew after his brother’s death (Kyle Chandler plays the brother in flashbacks). This is the kind of movie that emotionally wrecks you, but it’s totally worth the temporary turmoil.
After the screening, I managed to nab a quick (and not so great, sadly) photo with Kyle Chandler, and we bonded over how great the movie was.
After the screening, I went back to Main Street to pass some time before hopefully attending an afternoon panel. In the meantime, I saw several people come and go, including Anderson Cooper and the cast of Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers (more on that film in a minute). Also, while walking to go get a bagel, I passed Chrissy Teigen on the street, and the beautiful bombshell you’ve all been imagining.
I was happy to attend a panel on the controversial film Swiss Army Man Sunday afternoon, but sad that the panel didn’t even last 30 minutes. Though the film had a significant number of walk-outs during its premiere on Friday, hearing the cast and crew talk about it–and the motivation behind the “farting corpse” everyone’s been talking about–made it seem a bit more understandable.
Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano during the Swiss Army Man panel
After returning to my hotel for a late evening nap (only at Sundance do you take a nap from 8-10 PM), I made my way to the Library theater for the premiere screening of Kevin Smith’s latest film, Yoga Hosers. The film itself is bizarre and mediocre, but being part of the premiere screening and sitting directly in front of the film’s cast made it a great experience. Yoga Hosers stars Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, and Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose, as self-obsessed teenage store clerks forced to take on an unexpected enemy. Smith himself described the movie as “a superhero movie without the superheroes.” It certainly isn’t great, but it’s fun and silly and entertaining if you’re in the right mood. After a long and emotional introductory speech and Q&A by Kevin Smith and the cast, I arrived back to my hotel room around 2:45 AM, ready to crash.
The cast of Yoga Hosers during the film’s post-screening Q&A
Other fun highlights of the day: making Justin Long laugh when I told him he’s a good Hollywood Game Night player, physically bonding with Sam Neill as we stood back-to-back while he was hounded for autographs, eavesdropping on Lily-Rose Depp while she talked about her dad
Celebrity sightings: Kyle Chandler, Casey Affleck, Lena Dunham, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Allison Brie, Nick Kroll, Anderson Cooper, Justin Long, Tyler Posey, Austin Butler, Kevin Smith, Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Depp, Sam Neill, Timothy Simons, Tracy Letts, Jason Mewes, Chrissy Teigen, Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Matthew Gray Gubler, Natasha Lyonne, Chloë Sevigny, Sasheer Zamata
Monday, January 25
The cast and crew of Lovesong
After a very late night, I let myself sleep in and attended a 12:15 screening of the premiere of Lovesong, a lovely little movie starring Jena Malone and Riley Keough (though the daughters of the film director who have small roles totally steal the show). One of the film’s nicest surprises was a time and location jump that shifted to Nashville. It’s always nice to see an unexpected and familiar landscape.
Following the screening, a friend and I made our way to the theater’s back entrance and took photos with Jena Malone, who was sweet and cute and very pregnant. Since we have the same birthday, I assume we’re soul sisters or something.
Another new friendship!
We also hung around a bit as the cast and crew of Nate Parker’s Grand Jury and Audience Award-winning The Birth of a Nation arrived, but it was apparently very difficult to get into the screening. While we walked back to the bus stop, this picture happened (please excuse my mitten fuzz as I was staring into the sun and couldn’t see what I was doing while I took this).
Park City is pretty.
After relaxing a bit in my hotel, I ventured out again with a good waitlist number for the premiere of Complete Unknown, which left me less than impressed. I was very excited by the cast–the festival guide listed Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, and Danny Glover as leads–but the film itself annoyed me for many reasons, and the more I’ve thought about it since, the more I find to be annoyed about (Have you ever known someone to apply to an elite jewelry school? Yeah, me neither). As it turns out, this was one of the most Manic Pixie Dream Girl movies of the festival, which I certainly didn’t expect. While it seemed like plenty of people enjoyed the film, this one wasn’t for me.
Celebrity sightings: Jena Malone, Riley Keough, Brooklyn Decker, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Armie Hammer, Gabrielle Union, Nate Parker, Michael Shannon
Tuesday, January 26
On our last day at the festival, I tried to make the most of my time. The morning began with an early screening of First Girl I Loved, which turned out to be another of my very favorites. This is a very real story of Anne, a high school student who’s realizing she has a crush on a girl for the first time. Dylan Gelula and Brianna Hildebrand both give great performances as the film’s leads.
The cast and crew of First Girl I Loved
Perhaps the most emotional moment of the screening was during the Q&A when a teary audience member said she wished a film like this had existed for her while in high school and asked about getting queer representation in screen. Needless to say, the whole room was in tears after that.
After eating a free brunch (thanks, Chase Sapphire on Main!), I attended two panels on Main Street. The first featured the creative teams behind the films Morris from America and White Girl, neither of which I saw at the festival, but I hope to see them in the coming months.
After seeing another batch of celebrities leaving the Variety studio (hey again, Jason Ritter and Melanie Lynskey!), I attended my final panel of the festival: a discussion of the film Mr. Pig, featuring director Diego Luna and actors Maya Rudolph and Danny Glover. The film hadn’t yet premiered, but it definitely sound like one worth seeing. Who doesn’t want to watch those two costar with a giant pig?
Panel on Mr. Pig
My final screening of the festival was thankfully another great one: Yorgos Lanthmos’s bizarre The Lobster. This film premiered at Cannes in 2015 and was just as joyfully strange as I’d hoped. A chubby Colin Farrell stars as David, a recently single man who must check into a singles hotel where he has 45 days to find a mate or be turned into the animal of his choice and released into the wild. The film is darkly comic and strange, but one I totally enjoyed (though I imagine it’s not for everyone).
Then, after a class dinner, I returned to my hotel for a quiet night before getting up early for our flight home (weird airport moment: seeing Moises Arias from Hannah Montana who looks like he may or may not be a murderer).
Celebrity sightings: Dylan Gelula, Lewis Black, Jason Ritter, Ben Schwartz, Melanie Lynskey, Clea Duvall, Diego Luna, Danny Glover, Maya Rudolph, Keith Stanfield, Samm Levine, Mateo Arias, Moises Arias
Needless to say, Sundance 2016 was another magical whirlwind, an another joyous experience I’ll treasure forever. Thank you SO much to the wonderful people at WKU for allowing me to return to Park City. Though I’ve always followed Sundance coverage, I never imagined I’d be able to attend the festival twice before turning 25. Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible.
Until next time, Sundance.