Sundance: a first-timer’s view

'Shining' moments amid snow and cinema

Slumping into a chair on just the third day of the 10-day Sundance, one veteran exclaimed, “I love this festival, but it’s hard!” He’s right on both counts.

For a Sundance first-timer, a slew of questions about winter attire (not standard equipment for an L.A. resident), transportation and lodging raise one big fundamental question: Why on earth would anyone schedule a film festival in the mountains in January?

Instead of immediate answers, that confusion persisted during the fest.

I was told the drive from Salt Lake City to Park City would take 40 minutes. In fact, it took three hours, due to a sudden storm (there were 56 inches of snow that week). And with other drivers spinning out or stalling on the ice-covered road, I wasn’t thinking of this year’s film lineup at all. No, the movie I couldn’t get out of my head was “The Shining”: high-strung people in frozen isolation. Cue the ominous music.

In Cannes, people walk.

In Venice, they ride bikes on the Lido.

But in Park City, it’s all about shuttles. The venues and lodgings are spread out over miles and parking is nearly impossible, so you spend a lot of time standing in the cold, waiting for shuttles.

And again, the question arises: Since nobody has time to ski, why a film fest at 7,000 feet in January?

Along Main Street, you’re likely to encounter a lot of people you know. But you are likely to not recognize them, because parkas, caps, mufflers and sunglasses make everyone look alike.

As you try to conduct business, you learn to cope with occasional dizziness from the altitude, spotty phone reception, a constantly runny nose, and acquaintances coming by to kiss you … then casually confiding, “I think I’m coming down with a cold.”

Again: Film festival. Snow. 21 degrees Fahrenheit. January. Why?

Finally, the answers became obvious.

First, because the scenery is stunning. Amazingly stunning.

Second, It’s fun to see showbiz colleagues, trying to look their best, coping with freezing weather. (High heels + slush = guaranteed hilarity.)

Third, the love of film is pervasive. Total strangers at restaurants exchange moviegoing tips. Nonpros come into town to see as many films as possible. The industry workers come to scout/encourage talent. And of course, to make deals. Art and commerce exist peacefully, with creativity to be found even in the pacts this year (sales to online and foreign companies, imaginative reach-outs to audiences, etc.). Without the distraction of gifting suites this year, it’s all movies all the time.

Early in “The Shining,” Shelley Duvall’s loopy character enthuses, “It’ll be lots of fun.” Jack Nicholson smiles about the location, “I love it.” OK, it didn’t turn out too well for that family, but I came to see their point of view. It was shivery, short-of-breath, nose-dripping, movie-loving fun. It was creative and productive. I loved it.

And that’s why they hold a festival in the mountains in January.

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