As the 2015 Sundance Film Festival nears its end, Talkhouse Film contributors and friends of the site share movie tips from this year and standout memories from festivals past. — N.D.
What Are Your Recommendations From This Year’s Festival?
Joe Swanberg (Digging for Fire)
My festival recommendation is a documentary called Best of Enemies, about the 1968 Presidential campaign and ABC News’ decision to have Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr., debate each other each night after the Republican and Democratic primaries. You get a very disturbing look into the early days of political punditry; ABC was last in the ratings so the network was just looking for something volatile to get people watching. And for better or for worse, it really worked, and now we have our current atmosphere of political debate, which seems to be mostly about people yelling at each other and trying to be as dramatic as possible. The difference is that these guys are real intellectual heavyweights, very impressive, smart guys, whether you agree with them or not. So from really grandiose beginnings, we’ve spent the last 40 years crawling deeper into the gutter. But the documentary’s really amazing and well worth checking out.
Rodney Ascher (The Nightmare)
The good news/bad news thing about being at Sundance is that you don’t always get to see as many films as you would like. Two that I have seen that I like a lot are The Witch and The End of the Tour. The Witch is amazing and almost feels like a piece of time travel, shot on location in Pilgrim days. It’s a horror movie, possibly supernatural, possibly madness, set in 17th-century New England. I liked The End of the Tour a lot too, about a Rolling Stone reporter struggling with David Foster Wallace and the pair’s attempts to navigate a friendship while in the middle of a rivalry, and the complicated relationship between journalist and subject.
My recommendation for Sundance would be (T)ERROR, a documentary about this street-level FBI informant. The way the filmmakers get into his world and uncover his whole story is really smart. The film asks all these ethical questions that it doesn’t answer on screen. I was really impressed with the movie, but then I was even more impressed by the filmmakers afterwards, because they’re really good, in addition to making good movies, and so they had all the answers to those ethical questions, including the fact that the main character considers himself a whistleblower. But they don’t use that word to protect him in the film, they leave it all weird and cinematic. It’s kind of a cute title, and I really love the movie.
Charles Poekel and Kentucker Audley (Christmas Again)
Poekel: The only movie we’ve really seen is Entertainment, Rick Alverson’s movie.
Audley: Anytime you get to see Rick Alverson be cantankerous on screen, that’s an opportunity you’re gonna want to take; you’re gonna want to see the grumpiness that imbues his spirit and his cinematic output. It’s another amazing glimpse into the mind and heart of a Debbie Downer, which I certainly enjoy partaking of. Cinema is not all about happiness, you need a counterbalance to have the full spectrum of the human experience.
Poekel: Which is what Gregg Turkington’s role is all about. He’s worth the price of admission alone. That and those depressing California towns.
Audley: Yes, Gregg Turkington, a legend giving a legendary performance. Rick Alverson, continuing to be a legend. Two thumbs up.
Poekel: We’re gonna head to TGI Fridays. See you later!
What’s the strangest thing that’s happened to you at Sundance?
Calvin Lee Reeder
I was once interviewed by former Detroit Piston and original “Bad Boy” John Salley (above). He said he had a new line of vegan frozen foods coming out. I asked him if I should start calling him John Salad. He really opened up after that.
When I was at the festival with Man on Wire, I got stalked by an exec from Fox who cryptically enticed me into a meeting on a “major property with a serious budget.” When we met, he hadn’t actually seen my film. He’d just bought into the word of mouth on it, and he thought I was the right guy to make a celebratory documentary film about the Christian evangelist Rick Warren, which Rupert Murdoch himself was personally commissioning and would have an ongoing interest in. Money would be no object and there was already glossy 35 mm footage of Rick hanging out with emaciated African children with AIDS. I tried to be polite and evasive, but to no avail, so I ended the meeting by telling him that I thought Rupert Murdoch was one of the most evil men in the world and I would rather cut my own arm off with a chainsaw than make a film celebrating a fat, religious fraud. That wasn’t the end of it. Immediately, after the meeting, he e-mailed me: “Nice hangin’ with you. Can set up the meeting with RM for next week in NY.”
At one of the screenings of my first film, the print was delayed coming from Salt Lake City because of snow. John Cooper was introducing the screening, and the film still hadn’t arrived. So he literally tap-danced on the stage of the Egyptian to get the audience to stay in their seats. It worked!
We were kicked out of our own party following the premiere of Interior. Leather Bar. James [Franco] was opening the midnight screening of Kink and I was at the bar where our party was held. The event planner had told a mansion full of people somewhere that we were going to make an appearance at this mansion party, but he never told us about it. As this event planner got more drunk and more insistent that we basically had to go to this party, a fight nearly broke out. He informed me that I was “over,” that we were “finished,” and then we were 86’d from our own party. They wouldn’t even let us get our coats. It was a disaster, but almost immediately funny.
My dad and I clutching each other during all the sex scenes at the premiere [of Concussion]. I was so nervous and I was holding onto him so tightly, and people must of thought we were the most f-ed up family ever.
I left my wallet in a taxi while trying to impress this girl I had just met. We took the taxi to the place where she was staying to hang with all her friends, and I wound up having to spend the whole time on the phone with credit card companies and trying to track down the taxi (this was around 3 a.m., at that). Total fail, and then I had to navigate Sundance for two full days without any money whatsoever.
Andrew Droz Palermo
I got a nosebleed on stage during a Q&A, which is quite possibly the worst time and place to get one. It’s not like you can leave the stage suddenly, and it only gets worse once the Q&A is over because you can’t rush off then either. As the filmmaker, you are expected to do that genial-preacher move: shake hands and say hello to everyone who wants to talk as the crowd slowly moves towards the door. So instead of bolting, you tilt your head up to an awkward degree so the blood doesn’t make an appearance, and just ride it out. Try to answer questions, rock the boat, and get through the Q&A. Humidifiers. Humidifiers are the most important thing.
As far as the strangest things go, just being there with a film is pretty high up there.
Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Nothing particularly out of the ordinary has happened to me there, but I will say that I got the sickest I’ve ever been the first time I went. The biggest piece of advice I have is to use hand sanitizer, keep yourself healthy and get sleep. Most filmmakers are there for the whole run and it can be exhausting if you don’t let yourself get rest. I heard a piece of advice recently that has stuck with me: “At Sundance, if it’s past 11 p.m. and you’re not having a good time, it’s best to just go home and get some rest.” I’m certainly taking that to heart this time around. If I make it through without getting deathly ill, it’ll be a success!
Bringing my parents to the screening of a “mystery” film and having it turn out to be Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. They wanted to stay and watch it, so I made three friends sit between us so I couldn’t see them out of my peripheral vision. After it was over, my mom said it was “provocative and interesting.” I told this story before one of my screenings and Variety decided to interview my mom for her review.
I professed my undying love to a celebrity I adore and then randomly wound up at a party with her later that night. Turns out nobody wants to get stoned with their #1 fan and she spent the night avoiding me. Keep it in your pants if you meet your idol.
I was eating breakfast at the Yarrow restaurant in 2009 when I saw Jeff “The Dude” Dowd walk in. A few minutes later, from where I was seated, all I could see was Dowd backing up as a fist emerged and knocked him in the jaw with a kinda/sorta/(okay-not-really) good one. Turns out it was Variety critic John Anderson, who didn’t take too kindly to having his breakfast interrupted. As many times as I return to Sundance, I doubt that one will ever be topped.
Ben York Jones
In 2011 for Like Crazy, most of us with the film were staying in a house about 15 minutes from Main Street. Less than a half hour before the premiere, everyone was at the Eccles except for Andrea Sperling and me. We rushed to batten down the hatches at the house and get into the car… but the icy driveway wouldn’t let our shitty rental up the driveway. We tried everything. No traction. It was snowing. We finally called a cab, which was 20 minutes out — we were going to miss the premiere. We started laughing and that’s when we tried one last time… the wheels finally caught. We barely made it, but we did make it. In that same car, designated driver Andrea gave me and Dustin O’Halloran a ride home from a party. Dustin sat shotgun and I squeezed into the back, noticing I was sitting next to Gregg Araki (middle seat). He was talking to another dude on the left, who I couldn’t really see, about this emerging wunderkind named Xavier Dolan. I listened to them talk and asked a few questions. Andrea dropped off Gregg and the other dude…. “Andrea, who was the dude in the far left seat?” “Rick?” “Yeah, Rick…?” Andrea was distracted, texting someone, “Uh… Rick Linklater.” I suddenly sobered up a little. “You mean, like… Richard Linklater?” I asked in my enamored/intoxicated state. Andrea sent her text, “Yeah.” We drove off. Then my head exploded.