Guest Column

Every film festival needs sponsors; every film festival needs movie stars. But this was the year that Sundance outgrew Park City. Sundance has become so crass and crowded that it’s lurched from “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” to “Girls Gone Wild.”

Earpieced and thick-necked bouncers stood guard at Zoom and Harry O’s. Filmmakers’ homemade one-sheets paled next to the banners of corporate brands. Even former chef and reality star Rocco DiSpirito, in town to oversee the would-be private party known as Chefdance, seemed appalled by the flying elbows and screeching party monsters who were supposed to be eating his food.

Don’t blame Robert Redford. Or Geoff Gilmore, or anyone else at Sundance. They did everything they were supposed to do: built the Eccles, found smart (and infinitely patient) volunteers, started the movies on time.

Unfortunately, the success of the festival has had unforeseen side effects. Combined with too much free stuff, a swankier Park City (thanks to the 2002 Winter Olympics) and the breathless coverage of gossip magazines, the festival is now attractive to thousands of people who think Steven Soderbergh is that guy who hangs out with George Clooney.

So what’s to be done? As the fest directors like to point out, they can’t control who comes to Park City. Nor can they stop corporations from paying millions to rent lodges with the sole purpose of handing out merchandise for celebrities to regift as their assistants’ birthday presents.

Still, there’s hope. Here are a few simple rules for making Sundance better.

  • Ban cars on Main Street. All cars, even if they’re sponsors. Not only will it make the street safer and less congested, but also it’s impossible to walk up those icy sidewalks in Jimmy Choos.

  • Ban limousines in Park City. This will ease traffic jams and solve the Paris Hilton problem.

  • Create a no-swag zone. Make it a five-mile radius, with the Egyptian Theater as its locus. Most celebrities won’t be able to make it to the movies in time, but they won’t notice.

  • Tax swag. It’s a free country and companies are free to give famous people all the free stuff they can carry. But unless Lukas Haas or Michelle Trachtenberg has recently incorporated under 501(c) 3, an actor isn’t a charity. So why not hand them a 1099 form along with their Uggs?

  • Charge a cover. Forget the lanyards and the wristbands; they don’t work. There’s no longer any place big enough or list exclusive enough to keep Sundance parties from being rib- and soul-crushing. However, the crowds might be less maniacal if Park City’s permits also required party guests to pay, say, $20 to see Snoop Dogg. The performances would still be sponsored, since the door money would go toward film school scholarships.

  • Attending films should be a party pre-requisite. With their door fee, guests should also produce at least one Sundance ticket stub for a screening within the last 12 hours. They must also agree to random film testing in which they may be asked to give their opinion on the director, the script and its chance of acquisition.

  • No more pet food sponsorships. Sundance could use the cash, but it might be more judicious in its choice of backers. This year, a brand that boasts “sophisticated food for sophisticated dogs” was an official festival sponsor. Was this an ironic commentary on indie filmmakers’ household food budgets?

  • Find a new city, one that’s inaccessible by major airports. Sundance is under contract with Park City through 2008, but it’s not too soon to look ahead.

After 32 years, the Telluride Film Festival is still universally adored because only the most die-hard film lovers are going to make the treacherous six-hour drive from Denver or face that terrifying local airport, where landing means looking like you’re about to fall off the mountain.

Utah has at least another half-dozen former mining towns that might offer the same charm, if fewer amenities.

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