Days 5 and 6: Pico and the Sundance Kid

My last two days at Sundance were so action-packed that I didn't get a chance to blog at all. I started this entry while sitting in the Salt Lake City airport waiting for my (inevitably delayed) flight to LAX. I then arrived back to L.A. and suddenly "real life" wanted me back. I had to work. I had to unpack. I had to pay attention to my cats. I had to answer all the emails I had put off reading. And I didn't get a chance to blog until now.

I suppose I failed my pledge to blog daily, but I hope you can cut me a little slack. I did see a lot of celebrities in my last day, so that should make up for it a bit. Right? Okay, lets get straight to it.

Day 5: The Best Day

I was awake before dawn on Tuesday. I was determined to get into a screening of Choke before I left, and my only opportunity was to waitlist for an 8:30 a.m. screening at the Racquet Club. This meant getting there around 6:30, which is a half hour before the shuttles begin running. It was a slight problem.

I had considered walking the mile between the Yarrow Hotel and the venue, thinking a little exercise and fresh air would help keep me awake. But when I looked up the current temperature on my iPhone—0° F— and saw that the sun was still below the horizon, I called a cab. It was well worth the $5, as I still had plenty of time to freeze my ass off.

Arriving so early meant that I was twelfth in line, which pretty much guaranteed me a ticket. However, the waiting-list tent had apparently run out of propane for the heating system, and the temperature inside was exactly the same as outside (reports varied from -3° to 2° F), with the added bonus of large fans blowing cold air through the tent. It was so cold that my line-mate, Jeff, had frost on his beard:

Frosty Beard

After getting our waitlist numbers, many of us attempted to get some coffee from the kindly woman at the Racquet Club concessions stand. However, her bottled water had frozen solid overnight, and this had delayed the making of any warm beverages. After about 20 minutes I finally got some weak coffee, which temporarily warmed my fingertips and esophagus, but was generally unsatisfying. We were finally let into the theatre after nearly two hours of waiting in the frigid tent (which was definitely worse than my U23D waitlist experience, if you'll believe it) and proceeded to get the tingly thawing-of-extremities feeling for the entire length of the film.

Thankfully, Choke was hilarious. Sam Rockwell gives a brilliant comic performance, as usual. The filmmaking was very snappy, and though not as innovative as Fight Club, it certainly lived up to the Chuck Palahniuk aesthetic.

And Chuck Palahniuk was there! Look!

Chuck Palahniuk

(The picture sucks, I know. But it's proof, isn't it?)

I left Choke during the Q&A so I could go waitlist for A Complete History of My Sexual Failures at the Holiday Theatre.


When I got to the waitlist tent, I was reminded how different Sundance is on a weekday. During opening weekend, waitlist lines spill out of the tents, people scalp tickets for exorbitant prices, and your chances of getting in to a popular film are pretty slim unless you show up three hours early.

On Tuesday, however, the wait-list tent was a ghost town. I ended up with #8 in the waitlist, so I got into the movie and even snagged myself a good seat!

A Complete History of My Sexual Failures turned out to be my favorite film from Sundance. It's a British documentary by Chris Waitt where he decides to interview all his ex-girlfriends to find out why he keeps getting dumped. The premise is kind of "High Fidelity," but it evolves into Waitt's hilarious and sad journey to try and figure out what's gone wrong in his life up to this point. It's shockingly personal and leaves Waitt naked (both emotionally and physically) in front of the camera in ways I haven't seen before. It's not a perfect movie, but it was so surprising, genuine, and laugh-out-loud hilarious that it wins my very prestigious award:

2008 Pico Award

I must also mention that this was the best Q&A I have been to at any Sundance. Because the film is so personal, we all felt like we knew Chris Waitt, and thus the audience asked him some questions you wouldn't feel right asking Ben Kinglsey or Al Gore. For example: "Are you still taking Viagra?"

After the Q&A, I headed straight to Main Street to join the USC Alumni party. I had failed to successfully RSVP, so I had to show my USC student ID at the door before they'd let me in! (Thank goodness I still keep that one in my wallet.) At the soiree, I ran into my new USC friends I had met the night of Paranormal Activity. I also ran into an old friend from my graduate program (Master of Professional Writing, fyi) who was at Sundance with a fancy press pass. Some people have all the luck...

After three drinks and lots of good conversation, I headed over to the Library to see The Black List with my dad and stepmom. The movie is just a series of head-and-shoulders interviews with 20 prominent African-Americans including Toni Morrison, Sean Combs, Colin Powell, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Chris Rock. Elvis Mitchell was behind the camera interviewing each person, but you never see or hear him.

This could have been horribly boring. Instead, it had me sitting on the edge of my seat. The interviews were so well edited, the subjects so eloquent, funny, and fascinating, that I could have sat through 20 more of them without getting tired. It's apparently sold to HBO, so keep an eye out for it. It's a real gem.

After the movie, I headed back to Main Street to meet up with the USC people. I had a few drinks and enjoyed the company of people my own age for a bit (sorry, dad, you know I love ya). Then I returned home to get my requisite four hours of sleep to recharge for my final day at Sundance.

Day 6: The Last Day

Waking up to see Sugar at 8:30 a.m. at the Racquet Club was a tad painful after five days of sleep deprivation. The one saving grace was that we had tickets to screenings all day, so we wouldn't have to waitlist. I was excited about Sugar, because it was directed by the same people who did Half Nelson, a movie I liked quite a bit. This movie is about a young Dominican baseball player trying to make it to the American big leagues. However, the pacing was a bit slow for my taste, and I found myself nodding off more than once. This means I can't really give it a valid review, but I can say I was disappointed.

We stayed for the Q&A afterwards, where people were generally impressed by the accuracy of the baseball scenes. I guess Sugar has got that going for it. I wouldn't know.

We then headed straight to the Library to see Death In Love. This, without a doubt, is the most provocative movie I've seen at Sundance. That's not to say I liked it. I don't think I did. But I've never had as extensive a discussion about a film at Sundance as I did with this one. The basic story is about a 40 year-old guy, played by Josh Lucas, who has major love and trust issues. But the crux of the story is about his mother, who as a young Jewish girl became the lover of a brutal Nazi doctor who performed medical experiments on concentration camp victims. The movie is all about violence and sex and how they're connected.

This movie brought out the vigilant feminist in me. The opening sequence was a montage of sex scenes, usually with women screaming in ecstasy, cut in with very graphic and bloody scenes of surgery and medical experimentation. Over all these scenes, the main character is reciting this very stilted monologue about how being old is horrible, 'cause when you sleep with young women you're jealous of their youth, and when you sleep with old women, well, they seem old. Clearly, nobody wants to sleep with old women, right? I found the movie's attitude toward women offensive and a little scary. The sexualizing of violence against women is so commonplace it's become passe. This poster is a good example of what I'm talking about:

Horror Fest 2006

Ooh! Sexy lady with scary demon about to devour her! Are we supposed to be scared or turned on?

Now, juxtaposing sex and violence isn't necessarily a bad thing, and I understand that it's a valid topic for discussion. But altogether, I found this movie condescending and, overall, a bit of a mess. There were too many stories to tell, and thus they all got short shrift. I do have to say that Lukas Haas did an amazing job as Josh Lucas' emotionally-unstable brother. Plus, I've had crush on Lukas Haas since I was a teenager, so I was excited to see him at the Q&A.

Lukas Haas

Did you just see me go straight from uber-feminist to giggling schoolgirl in one sentence? That's called being flexible.

After Death In Love, we all went to lunch and then spent an hour talking about the movie some more. Then we went off to see A Raisin in the Sun at the Eccles. Unbeknownst to us, this was the movie's world premiere, and thus all of its famous cast was at the screening. I was sitting about fifteen seats away from Sean Combs (a.k.a. P Diddy, Puff Daddy, you know...) and John Stamos (I had to refrain from yelling "uncle Jesse!" at him). Audra MacDonald was also there. She's awesome. And I don't say that just because she's also from Fresno. (Her dad was my high school principal. Yup.) Rent Wit and you'll see what I'm talking about.

The movie was just superb. The screenwriter had adapted the stage play ever-so-slightly, so it kept the integrity of Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 original without it seeming too stage-y. It was just entertaining, well-acted, and an overall good movie.

Of course, my camera battery had died at the last minute, so all I have is this video of Diddy as proof that we were in the same room:

After the Q&A, we headed straight back to the hotel to catch our shuttle back to the SLC airport. And that was the end of Sundance for me!

And I'll end with my obligatory Celebrity Sightings List:

  • Chuck Palahniuk (he's a celeb to me, okay?)

  • Sean "P Diddy" Combs

  • Audra MacDonald

  • Felicia Rashod

  • John Stamos

  • Lukas Haas

  • Jacqueline Bissette

  • Josh Lucas

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