15 January 2009

Can't help you, Sundance.

As some of you may already have seen, I'm sitting this one out. Truth is, Sundance has never been much of a priority for me. At Time Out New York I was perfectly happy to let my colleague Nicole Keeter have that beat, freeing me to attend Toronto and eventually Cannes (plus occasional all-expenses jaunts to Berlin, Rotterdam, Thessaloniki—man, them were the days). Impulsively flew out for the first time in 2005 to support my friend Skander, whose screenwriting debut, Pretty Persuasion, premiered in Competition that year. Was recruited to return in '06 and '07 by Scott Renshaw of the Salt Lake City Weekly, which tried publishing a daily mini-paper but ultimately found that venture less than super-cost-effective. At that point I assumed I was done, but last year a civilian friend of mine wanted to go and found us a cheap rental in SLC for four days, so what the hell, why not? (Because we never got half our security deposit back from the deadbeat owner of the house, that's why not.)

This year, however, fuck it in my opinion. I'd rather save that money in the hope of being able to make it to Cannes come May. What's more, staying home doesn't especially hurt, because there's rarely any sense of anticipatory excitement for me. Sundance's laudable-but-look-out agenda—to discover new American filmmakers working in the creative margins—dictates that the lineup will consist almost exclusively of unknown quantities. Sure, there may be a Primer or Capturing the Friedmans in there somewhere, but the amount of sheer dross you have to sift through to find them can be daunting.

In fact, just now I looked back at the films I saw there from 2005-2008. Seven of those wound up on one of my top ten lists, which isn't too bad—nearly two per year on average. (If I sound unduly harsh in the Spout piece, it's probably because last year there were zero.) But of those seven, only Brick truly fits the Sundance mythos, in the sense of being a dazzling out-of-nowhere feature debut. All of the others were to some extent known quantities. To wit:

Grizzly Man (2005): Herzog.
Sleeping Dogs Lie. (2006): Bobcat. (Admittedly its excellence still took me by surprise.)
Half Nelson (2006): Fleck and Boden's first film, Young Rebels, played ND/NF.
Old Joy (2006): Reichardt's River of Grass just missed my 1995 top ten.
Joshua (2007): Ratliff had previously made a splash with his fascinating doc Hell House.
My Kid Could Paint That (2007): I'd seen and rather liked Bar-Lev's Fighter.

So even at Sundance—a festival expressly dedicated to discovering new voices—I tend to favor films made by people who've done notable work in the past. Which is hardly surprising, really, since first efforts are generally promising at best. (See also New Directors/New Films, a minefield of mediocrity that I now tend to largely avoid, since I end up walking out of almost everything anyway.) No doubt there'll be a couple of terrific pictures among this year's crop (and there'll probably be another couple that receive wild acclaim but strike me as painfully clumsy or mannered, à la Frozen River and the first third of Ballast), but I can wait for those to turn up in NYC, as they inevitably will. Hell, there's now an annual mini-Sundance within walking distance of my Park Slope apartment (at BAM), though I seem to recall that it tends to conflict with Cannes.

Speaking of which, while I've never run any ads on my main site or attempted to profit from it in any other way, I'm considering creating a send-md'a-to-Cannes fund in which those of you who'd really like to read my reports pledge whatever amount you feel they'd be worth. (I'm thinking like $10 or so, maybe $20 if you're flush.) Thing is, I don't want to take anyone's dough if I only wind up collecting $400 or whatever and find that I still can't afford the trip. Is there some service that'd allow me to collect pledges and only actually pull the bank trigger if the total hits a certain amount? E-mail me if you have any ideas.

1 comment:

Zack McGhee said...

Honestly, I think you should accept donations all the time. And while putting the money toward Cannes is a win-win, I've been reading your stuff for more than 10 years and haven't spent a dime on it. It's time for people like me to give back and show we really value your work.