Film Scouts Diaries

1998 Sundance Film Festival Diaries
A Mission to Utah #3 (Opening Night, January 15)

by Richard Schwartz

SALT LAKE CITY, Jan. 15 - Perhaps it was the heavy snowfall. Or maybe he was bored by the notion of a British film opening the festival for the fourth time in five years.

But whatever it was that kept Robert Redford away from the opening night of his Sundance Film Festival didn't matter to "Sliding Doors" director Peter Howitt.

"You come to the Sundance Film Festival opening night just to see Robert Redford and he doesn't even show up!" Howitt jokingly told the crowd at Salt Lake City's Abravnel Hall prior to the screening of his romantic comedy.

"I thought Paul Newman was better in that film anyhow," Howitt then deadpanned, bringing down the house.

For that matter, the man known as Butch Cassidy to Newman's Sundance was not present either at Thursday night's opening or the gala that followed at the Salt Lake City Marriott. In fact, there was very little star power as the crowd was instead largely comprised of black-tie-clad Salt Lake elite and black-turtleneck-clad publicists, a somewhat peculiar mix.

The few marquee names in attendance included "Sliding Doors" co-producer Sydney Pollack, who introduced the film, and Miramax chairman Harvey Weinstein, whose company financed the film along with Paramount. (In another bizarre note, the first image to open this "independent" festival was the familiar mountain logo of the decidedly non-independent Paramount Pictures.)

Another notable presence was lead Gwyneth Paltrow, who did not address the crowd. Dressed in a modest but classy black number (who am I now, Mr. Blackwell?), Paltrow still glowed onstage as she chose to let her director receive the share of attention on opening night. It was almost difficult to make out the expression on her face from my second-balcony seat.

But I swear she was checking me out.

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