Film Scouts Diaries

1998 Sundance Film Festival Diaries
You Can't Win 'Em All (January 23)

by Richard Schwartz

PARK CITY, Jan. 24 - The bus ride from Main Street to the Eccles Theater was causing major anxiety. Our late-braking driver, Don from Provo, almost brought about a massive case of collective whiplash by slamming on the pedal to avoid running over a snowboard-toting pedestrian.

But Don's driving deficiency wasn't the real source of my grief. Rather, it was Friday's Daily Variety, featuring a Todd McCarthy column calling "Slam" and "Pi" the two finest films at Sundance. And it was also a conversation between two people sitting across from me about "the best films they'd seen at the festival." One said "Smoke Signals," the other "Central Station."

I'd seen none of those films. The realization was beginning to sink in. No matter how much I tried, I'd never see all the films I'm supposed to see.

By "supposed," I mean to say those movies that will clean up at the Sundance awards, qualify for the critics' lists, become the next box-office successes, make it onto the distinguished roster of past Sundance successes. Honestly, I want to be able to say to my friends, "Yeah, I knew it was going to be a hit when I saw it at Sundance last year." Or, "I remember that director was nothing when he came to Park City and now he's the toast of Hollywood."

In fact, we all want to find the next Tarantino, the next Kevin Smith. We want to be the film scout who spots "Hoop Dreams" before the rest of the crowd.

Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush offers an anecdote that rightly captures this sentiment. Rush jokes that "thousands" of people approach him claiming to have been present at a festival screening of "Shine" a few years back despite the fact that the theater only sat a "few hundred." Everyone wants to share the credit for the film's success.

Had I attended Sundance that year, I probably would've skipped the Australian drama about a loony pianist to see Ethan Hawke in "Beyond Sunrise." Instead of risking the opportunity to see unknowns, we go with the proven commodities. Why watch Sean Gullette when I can see Ally Sheedy? Or a documentary on New England Puritans over one profiling teenage supermodels? I'm told that's not what Sundance is supposed to be about, but I guess I'm a bit more Hollywood than I am Sundance.

Still, if anyone asks, I saw "Pi" and "Slam" and loved them both.

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