Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Sundance Film Festival Diaries
Day One: Arrival and Orientation

by Liza Bear

PARK CITY, UTAH - Thursday January 16.

"I don't understand you New Yorkers," said the driver of the Rocky Mountain Super Express at about 11am yesterday as he whisked us from the airport across the Salt Lake City basin, "how could you not bring your skis?"

With the prospect of 127 films at the 19th Sundance Festival looming over the mountainous horizon, not to mention the "piggy-backed" Slamdance and a rumored Slumdance, he has a point. Even as a drive-by experience from the highway the Utah 'powder' snow is, well, phenomenal. Sky's overcast but still, everything seems overlit. Etched against the glaring white fields in the far distance are miniature horses and cattle, and tiny stick-figure skiers advancing horizontally. True, for $20 or so for, half-a-day of cross country skiing at Little Cottonwood or Emigration Canyon sounds not only tempting but within budget.

"Cross country," the driver sniffs scornfully. "Too slow. Too hard. 'Downhill's the thing. And with a snowmobile and a 2-stroke engine," he adds maliciously, "you can kick butt at 60mph."

The road starts to climb the Rockies at a 6% gradient, and the driver offers us gum to chew to alleviate changes in air pressure. Everywhere on the hillside the tall, elegant triangular shapes of the Douglas fir.

Closer up, thick curved wedges of snow hug the sagging branches like meringue.

"Not a trace of moisture," the driver says. "It's the best snow in the world."

Too early for check-in, but patience is rewarded with a different set of rooms with two exposures, one to the north and one to the west, and a balcony.

A long sleep's journey into morning.

Walking up and down Main Street, from hotel to press office:

Mighty quiet. A sprinkling of early birds. From the narrow sidewalk, stairways of a thousand steps lead directly up to the mountains.

First language overheard: French. First passer-by spoken to: a Navajo Indian carrying a tray wrapped in a white towel from door to door. Under the towel, minuscule Indian pottery.

First Festival goer spoken to: French reporter for "La Marseillaise". She recommends "L'Appartement" and "When the Cat's Away" which she's seen and I respond with "Kolya" and "Love Serenade" which I've seen.

Restaurant menus casually scanned in passing: mud pie, $3.75, cappucino $2, croissant ,$1.10. Pass on this survival info to a fellow Brit, searching for the Claimjumper Hospitality Suite. A producer seeking a first-time director for a film, he's chagrined to find Claimjumper won't open its doors till Friday, 'cause they're still training volunteers. The scoop on film production in the UK is that a new method of financing has just been launched: $270 million now available to finance independent production.

Note on drinking establishments here: by Utah state law, all of them are private clubs open to members only. Membership, of course, is always available.

By mid-afternoon, press screening schedules are issued. Only a few films have press screenings. Jigsaw puzzle fans will no doubt enjoy devising a timetable for films in 8 different categories showing at 7 linked-by-bus locations, not to mention conferences or social events at remote mountain venues.

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