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Tom Harper's Sundance Blog

Date posted: 19.01.2007

Tom Harper, director of PULSE short film Cubs, reports from the Sundance Film Festival (18 - 28 January).

Sundance is held annually in Park City, Utah, and is considered the premier US showcase for American and international independent film. Read about Tom's experience of this prestigious event:

21 January 2007 - The Final Day
 
I get up early for an 8.30 screening of The Year of the Dog, Mike White’s new film. It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to as I am a big Mike White fan. Perhaps because of my expectation, it’s not as good as I hoped it would be, but it’s still brilliantly funny with a great cast (in particular a great turn from John C Reilly).
 
In the afternoon, I get to go snowboarding - it’d be criminal not to. It feels like the life I always dreamed of: films and snowboarding, pretty much my two favourite things. The snow is great and the scenery breathtaking.
 
Late and a bit knackered I wait for a shuttle bus to get to a meeting with the Weinstein Company. To my amazement a car pulls over and the driver shouts: "Where you goin?". When I tell her she shouts "jump in" before heading off at breakneck speed. The driver and her daughter live just off the main road, love the festival and have each seen 6 films already - and it’s only day 3...they drop me off with lots of good luck and well wishes and I get to my meeting on time.

This evening I also have to meet a couple of US agents – one from UTA and one from WMA. With these and several vodka tonics dealt with I feel like I’m just about getting over the jet lag. Shame I’ve got to go home tomorrow and face it all over again. I’m sorry I can’t be here for longer, but hopefully there’s next year.

20 January 2007 - Director’s Brunch
 
The famed Director’s Brunch takes place this morning. This is where all the directors taking part in the festival are bussed deep into the Rocky Mountains, about an hour from Park City, to Robert Redford’s ranch in Sundance - apparently named so because he saw the sun dance on the mountain and not because of his role in the seminal film. Yeah, right.  
 
Whilst tucking into the feast that has been laid on, Geoff Gilmore, the programme director of the festival begins his speech: "I’m sorry, because this is usually the time when Bob gets up here and talks about the importance of what you all do. And then at the end you get to come up here, shake him by the hand and then go back and tell your Mom that you met Bob - but instead you’ve got me…"

Apparently Bob isn’t here as he starts shooting Lions For Lambs with Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep in a couple of days time. Selfish. Not sure what I’ll tell Mum. However, Geoff goes on to give a brilliant and eloquent, Independence Day style speech about the history of storytelling and the ethos of the festival. 

Later On...
 
Back in Park City I catch Broken English, the story of a 30-something girl living in New York who has never really had a boyfriend and wonders if she’ll ever find that special someone. Along comes a sexy Frenchman to sweep her off her feet and everything smells of roses until he announces that he has to go back to Paris.

The people I was with liked it, but I found it hard to empathise with this rich and stunningly beautiful woman who was only ever able to have one night stands with famous actors - poor love.

19 January 2007 - The First Screening
 
I arrive bleary eyed at the Prospector Theatre at 8am where I meet the shorts programmer who will be introducing the screening. To my surprise it’s sold out and there is already a queue for returns.

Cubs is screening as part of Shorts Programme III and three of the other five film-makers are there. It’s good to meet them and to learn that they are all a bit nervous and excited like me. Two of the other films are from Colombia University and I learn that there are a total of 7 graduation films from Colombia, which is pretty impressive.  

At the beginning of the screening, each of the film-makers introduces their film and at the end there is a Q & A session with all of us. It’s a good response, I think, although the person sitting next to me had her head in her hands for the whole of the fox killing scene.
 
Later On...

There are shuttle busses that take you all over Park City and the bus drivers are extremely friendly and will often take detours off their route in order to drop people where they need to go. This is obviously very nice of them but very annoying when you’re late for a screening...

I just make Expired, directed by Cecilia Miniucchi. It’s about a lonely geeky parking warden (Samantha Morton) who hooks up with a volatile, misogynist and strangely likeable colleague (Jason Patric). It’s basically the story of their turbulent, attempted relationship and is at times funny and sweet, but wilfully ‘kookie’ and ultimately slightly irritating.
 
After the screening I meet up with another British film-maker, John Hopkins, who has made an excellent short in the festival called Goodbye Mr Snuggles. We head to a place on Main St called the Delta Lounge where we have been asked to have our photos taken for Indiewire. Park City has been getting increasingly busy as the day has gone on and there are hoards of people everywhere. Escaping off the street we are offered spiced apple martini’s as we have our photos taken on a balcony overlooking the hustle below – it’s surreal, but bring it on.

Even Later On…

We have another screening that evening in Salt Lake City, about an hour’s drive away. Again, the screening is sold out and I’m a bit nervous as to how the film will go down. This one is filled with the paying local public, as opposed to the festival audience of Park City and I’m told it’s a conservative Mormon crowd (Utah is a Mormon State). 

We decide to watch Cubs (we’re up first) to see the response and then duck out and get a drink before the Q&A. It’s difficult to gauge the audience from the back of their heads, but I think it’s going well – until the film ends and there’s a deathly silence. I try to convince myself that they didn’t clap because it’s not the lovie industry festival crowd, but in truth it feels like a real tumbleweed moment. Time for a quick exit.

In the Q&A it turns out that they didn’t hate the film after all and I was surprised at how much the audience knew about fox hunting in the UK. One audience member even asked me if the film had been made as a direct result of the recent ban on fox hunting - a question that I haven’t been asked in the UK.
 
Back in Park City I head to the International Film-makers Reception. Although there’s a queue of people in the street desperate to get in, inside its overcrowded and loud and as far as I can work out there aren’t very many international film-makers here. Whatever, there’s free beer.

18 January 2007 - Arrival in Utah

 
The flight to Salt Lake City takes about two hours and from there we take a shuttle bus up to Park City. It is COLD (-8 and dropping to -19 tonight). I knew it would be, but my coat seriously isn’t cutting it. I have heard rumours that I get a free snowboarding jacket when I register, which I’m quite excited about – I just hope it’s true! 

We get settled in our condo (sort of ski flat type thing) before heading to the local supermarket, Albertsons, to stock up. It’s full of middle aged LA execs in their Prada ski wear arguing between phone calls about the quantity of pastrami they need.
 
Our cab driver on the way back tells us that he’s been doing it since the festival started. Apparently, just before Robert Redford founded the festival he was talking about it in a bar on Main St and our taxi driver went over, shook him by the hand and wished him luck with it. He insists that the success of the festival is down to the good luck he passed on to "Bob". I wonder how many times he’s told that story...

Next it’s to the Sundance HQ at the Marriott hotel to register and pick up my film-maker pass. Immediately I am made to feel very welcome and introduced to the festival staff I have been emailing over the last couple of months. Everyone is amazingly friendly and efficient. I’m also given a bunch of free stuff - including the jacket, thank God - and get tickets to 10 screenings of my choice.

The opening night film is Chicago 10 - a documentary, surprisingly enough, about the Chicago 10. It mixes an animated re-enactment of their trial with archive footage. Reading the blurb beforehand it didn’t immediately appeal to me but it was actually a powerful, compelling and fiercely relevant film. And Steve Buscemi is sat in the row in front of me. I am tempted to touch his hair. 

The opening night party is not as glamorous or crowded as I expected, but actually a fairly laid back affair - but by this point it is 1am, I’m knackered and bed calls. Besides, we have our first screening at 8.30 tomorrow morning.

17 January 2007 - BA Flight 2034

Ever since I first became interested in film I’ve read about Sundance and imagined it as a sort of mythical festival. Somewhere, surrounded by mountains, covered in snow and filled with all my film superheroes. A world away. So, when we heard that Cubs had been accepted into Sundance I knew I had to go.

It feels a long way to travel for just four days at the festival. Particularly as we’re 10 hours into the 11 hour flight to San Francisco (we’re stopping over for 15 hours before catching a connecting flight to Salt Lake City) and feeling a bit groggy from all the free beer I always feel needlessly compelled to drink because you can, and it’s free. Also feeling a bit guilty - I’m basically against flying, on account of the greenhouse effect, and seeing as we recently flew out to the New York Film Festival.

We arrive in San Francisco in just under an hour’s time and this thought makes me feel better.  I’ve never been to the West Coast before and I can’t wait to check out San Francisco.

Later...

The pilot informed us that we travelled 60 carbon miles per person - that’s not so bad, and seeing as the British Council have been so brilliant and given me a grant to cover my travel, the least I can do is offset my carbon miles. Phew. Carbon neutral again.

I think I love San Francisco. But it has been a fleeting affair.


Cubs will screen as part of ‘Shorts Program III’. It has five dedicated screenings in different venues between 19 and 27 January.

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