Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Sundance Film Festival Diaries
Day Two: In Line With Ebert

by Liza Bear

PARK CITY, UTAH, Friday, January 17

It's off to the first movie of the day, via lightning breakfast stop at the Claimjumper on Main Street, one of a chain of Utah steakhouses and this year's hospitality suite. Though spacious, the wood-paneled decor and dim chandeliers give this hang-out a lugubrious Victorian feel. Hard to pore over accordion-fold schedule, color coded in shades of purple, lavender and magenta. Puce for premieres.

Dark or not, the place is humming. At every table, people scan the trades, mark up the catalogue, read scripts. Beneath a stuffed reindeer head mounted on the wall, a shoot is being planned by four Canal Plus crew members, another sign of strong French media presence here.

Ulla Rapp from the Munich Film Festival is on the bus. With only 38 press screenings out of 127 features in the festival, for other films most press people must wait on line one hour in advance. With no guarantee of getting in. So I'm lured from my original choice, the French film "When the Cat's Away," (already shown in France) to Sarah Jacobson's "Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore" by the promise of a ticket from its publicist, also on the bus. Both films are seeking US disturbs.

It's the Yarrow Hotel's debut as a Sundance showplace and previous film is running late, alas, since the next on my list, "Clockwatchers" starts in two short hours in a distant theatre. Standing next to me in the crowded lobby is raincoat-clad Roger Ebert, New York Times in hand.

"These days, filmmakers sell grandma's gold teeth to make movies, " Ebert says cheerfully.

The producer of "35 Miles from Normal", a feature not in competition, introduces himself and his wife.

"I was born in Urbana," Ebert tells the happy man.

Their heads nod in sync between remarks.

"This festival's getting much too big for Park City," Ebert says. "Telluride does a better job. "

Once in our seats (hard ballroom chairs), it's another hour until the 16mm projector is working. The director holds an impromptu Q & A with the audience. After a while, a film evaluator from HBO in my row leaves but there's no mass exodus...

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