South of Wall Street

Inconvenient Truths About Sundance

January 31, 2012

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Inconvenient Truths About Sundance

Middle America’s quaint pastimes are mocked. Quirky teens navigate suburbia’s dark, surreal underbelly. Filmmakers make films about filmmaking. Families are weird, the planet is dying, baby boomers are awesome, everyone’s gay, and America sucks.

Welcome to the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, which, as you can see from this year’s lineup, was indistinguishable from every previous Sundance Film Festival.

Aging actor turned mail-order mogul and wealthy landlord Robert Redford was instrumental in founding the festival in 1978, ostensibly to help local Chamber of Commerce types promote Utah to Hollywood as a shooting location (movies, not mammals or drugs). Today, Sundance is an annual busman’s holiday for the showbiz elite and those who aspire to join their ranks.

“If accusations of hypocrisy trouble Redford’s tousled head, he doesn’t let it show in public.”

Being able to say your movie “played Sundance” shoves a budding filmmaker into a higher caste. If it’s a festival hit, distributors will fight over it, your calls are more likely to be returned, and you may even snag an Oscar nomination.

Not all the entertainment at Sundance is up on the screen. This year, comedian Chris Rock manhandled a reporter and broke his camera when the fellow dared mention Newt Gingrich’s name in his presence. Those craving celebrity-spotting thrills of a quieter kind can take in the many dinners, concerts, and parties sponsored by the likes of Google and T-Mobile while rooting through their swag bags for high-end goodies.

The irony seems to be lost on these assembled blue-state hipsters that during their favorite film festival, Park City’s faux-rustic streets sport as many sponsor logos as the average NASCAR vehicle.

Sundance has become so “establishment” that it’s spawned the parallel Slamdance festival, a “guerrilla” challenge to the former’s elitist commercialism. Now in its 18th year, Slamdance has also launched some Hollywood careers, but its recent partnership with Microsoft and Xbox cost it some indie cred. Surely a counter-counter-“-dance” festival is taking form in some college kid’s mind. Luckily, Utah has lots of space.

Redford and company’s yearly journey to the Jell-O State is the farthest most of them get from either coast, not counting trips to Cannes.


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