Courtesy of MCT
As I stepped onto the snow-covered ground of Utah, surrounded by mountains and open blue skies, Sundance Film Festival banners lined the walls and I felt a refreshing sense of excitement. I was going to the Sundance Film Festival, but I had no idea of the taste of celebrity life I would have.
The festival was started in 1981, and actor/producer/director Robert Redford was the first board chairman. Set in Park City, Utah, the festival provided a medium for actors, artists and directors to develop their creative ideas and to eventually showcase them in any one of Park City’s many historic theaters. This year’s festival was from Jan. 17-27.
In 2013, the festival has grown exponentially and the films are no longer accessible on a walk-in basis. Thousands of people populate the city, sporting their thousand-dollar admittance passes and pre-purchased tickets. I attended the festival with members of the Film and Video Society at Ohio State, and the locals soon became our enemies.
We waited for hours in non-ticket holder “waiting lines.” Two hours before each film was scheduled to start, a “wait list line” would begin and hundreds of hopefuls stood in frigid temperatures for a chance to see the prospective movie. Though the formal wait list did not begin until two hours before, any experienced wait-lister can attest to the necessity of arriving as early as four or five hours beforehand. Wait-list tickets were handed out in order to those in line, and though the ticket might say ‘No. 1’, this guarantees nothing. Theaters let in as many as 200 from the wait list or as few as zero on a space-available basis. That means waiting six hours in line for a film does not mean you will see it.
So why would anyone subject oneself to this cruel and chilly uncertainty? To answer perfunctorily, it was well worth the wait. What makes the experience of Sundance so special is not simply being among the first to see a new film – it is the interaction with those who created the film. After every film, there was a Q-and-A session where the audience had the floor to ask the director and cast whatever they had on their minds. Naomi Watts, Shia LaBeouf, Nicole Kidman and James Franco were just a few of the actors that could be seen on the big screen, on stage and on the streets of Park City. Many of the stars were receptive to hyperventilating fans and were gracious about taking photographs with them.
But the celebrities weren’t as generous with allowing fans into their after-parties.
I found this out as I waited in line outside what a paparazzo described to me as “the party of the weekend.” He told me that all of the big-name celebrities would be attending, so my natural reporter skills kicked in and I secured my handheld video camera. My source had said to be outside of the party location at 7:30 p.m. to see the celebrities walking in, but I unfortunately didn’t arrive until 7:45 p.m. (due to a very slow bus ride). This is when I decided to wait in the carpeted wait line – I was used to wait lines at this point – thinking I could possibly slip in to the party. But as I neared the front, I could hear the bouncer asking and ticking names off of a guest list. In a frantic attempt to get myself in, I told the bouncer I was the plus one to some D-list celebrity I had met earlier in the trip. To my absolute amazement, the bouncer sidestepped and ushered me up the steps to the loud rave music that pumped inside.
If you’ve ever read a magazine, watched E! News or daydreamed about a celebrity after-party at all, there are several stereotypical things that come to mind: mindless drinking, glamorous outfits, drug use and an overall posh ambience. Stereotypes are debunked all the time, but this is one occasion where such a stereotype was absolutely and inconceivably true. As I looked around the dark room, lit only by strobe lights, a disco ball and the fluorescent paint on the stomachs of strippers, a woman in a face-to-toe checkered body suit handed me a glass from her tray. A deafening flow of dubstep boomed throughout the party as I walked by exotic dancers and over to the crowd that had gathered to watch some sort of spectacle. In the center of the crowd was a bed with red satin sheets, on which a male and female dancer performed choreographed sex. The audience casually sipped their top-shelf mixed drinks and watched with mild indifference at an intriguing, if not disturbing, performance.
I continued to make the rounds, passing by Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”) as a white nameplate caught my eye; it said “Shia LaBeouf.” As in Shia LaBeouf’s table. Next to that was a table that said “Producers.” The two tables were overflowing with people and bottles of wine, but I couldn’t see LaBeouf. As I prepared myself to venture over to the table, a chorus of cooing and giggling erupted behind me. The bed had been taken over by strippers who began feeding each other slices of pizza. Once the girls had their fill of the pizza, they uncovered a plastic bag filled with white powder. Sprinkling it into neatly formed lines on their arms and legs, they lay down on the bed and I watched in wide-eyed amazement as party-goers walked by and took a casual sniff off a girl’s midriff. As the lines were inhaled, they were replaced with more. A man next to me asked his plus one if she wanted a “hit of some coke.” I know I didn’t. Once I left the party, I sat on the bus questioning my own reality.
The next morning – just hours before our flight – a small group of girls from FVS and I ventured over to the Eccles Theater to see “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman.” This was LaBeouf’s film. Once we were admitted, I sunk into my seat and proceeded to watch one of the best films I have ever seen. The film was something totally different for LaBeouf and his performance was made particularly engaging through the interesting cast member Evan Rachel Wood and director Fredrik Bond. The love story was adventurous, gritty and sexy – a combination that can be difficult to balance just right. As the cast and crew were called on stage, the girls I was with all giggled, remembering my stories of the previous evening. But only the director, looking tired and hung-over, came onto the stage and asked, “Where is my cast?” The emcee told him in an audible tone that the cast wasn’t in the building and the film’s producer shook his head, saying over the microphone, “I’m sorry, we had a wild night last night.”
As the shuttle pulled away from the lodge and we cruised through the mountains, I couldn’t help but think they were just as awe-inspiring and beautiful then as they were the moment I first stepped out of the airport. The beauty of Utah is undeniable and the adventure of Sundance is the stuff that movies are made of.