Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Sundance Film Festival Diaries
Sundance Diary

by Leslie Rigoulot

January 28, 1996

I was too excited to be scared, but by the end of the week, I was too tired to be either. Snow covered mountains, snow covered streets and eventually snow covered me as record snow fall kept everyone in the warmest boots they could find. At the Sundance Film Festival Press Office, I was handed my press pass (which is like the "E" ticket at Disneyland), an outline of movies and two schedules. One is for press screenings of movies and the other is for press conferences. I notice that they overlap. And for the first time it occurs to me that I can't do everything. This will not be the last time I experience this feeling.

Check in completed, I dashed off to the Diane Wiest press confernce. She was receiving the Piper-Heidsieck Independent Spirit Award. I press the record button on my tape recorder, and find out that it is broken. My camera is in the condo. I'm falling farther behind as the minutes pass. But I have the presence of mind to ask director Peter Cohn for his card so I can call him later. This is the first of many business cards I exchange and learn that it is a time-honored ritual. It doesn't mean he will return my call or that I will even call him, but we are bound in a native dance.

I browse through the press screening list, compare it to the outline of movies and rate each as an A (must see) or B (can miss). The movies start at 10 am and finish officially at midnight. But there are midnight showings at the theaters that most of the festival goers attend. You buy vouchers that you stand in line to exchange for tickets so you can stnad in line to see the movie. In many cases it takes longer to get a ticket than to see the show. It took me a while to catch on to the the purpose of the film festival. Not simply a show case for the best of independent film making, it was a de facto movie market. Distributors looked at "product" and made offers. Film makers looked for distributors and backers for future "product'. But the film students and the fans got to see some remarkable films in the process. With 128 features, documentaries and shorts, it was truly impossible to see everything. I could tell you that I deliberately planned to skip the features with distribution lined up because I'd be seeing them in the theaters, but I'd be fibbing. I saw as much of everything as I could, but remained within the safety and warmth of the press screenings most of the time.

What was the best I saw? "Follow Me Home" directed by Peter Bratt, if you tend to be mystical and into sociologoy. "Carried Away" directed by Bruno Baratto, if you like sensusous deep stories with the likes of Dennis Hopper and Amy Irving. "Caught", for those hooked on passion, and "Bound" for anyone who can get a kick out of a lesbians-versus-the-mob story.

I walked out on "Miguel", a short about tatooing and body peicering that was way too graphic when they investigated the extremes. I was bored by "American Job" by Chris Smith, and I guess that was his aim. His short "The Escape", about two Twinkies, was adorable, though.

So who did I get to meet/interview/see? Robert Redford, Alfre Woodard, Dennis Hopper, Amy Irving, John Goodman, Anne Heche (if you don't know who she is, just wait), Julie Delpy, Ellen Burstyn, Eric Roberts, Gregory Harrison, Oliva Newton-John, Lee Grant, Diane Wiest and Al Pacino. Luckily I went to the Pacino press conference at the end of the week when I was too tired to be intimidated by one of the great actors of our time. But who interested me the most was a group of actors and producers who banded together to do a 15 minute short called "The Spartans". Richard Hull is the ex-Dallas producer who seems to lead this multi-ethnic bunch who have various jobs in the industry. One is an editor for the TV show "Murder One" but they all want to make a movie their way. They are what Sunance is all about.

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