PARK CITY — Hollywood is renowned for creating wormholes, matrices and parallel universes. In this mountain town turned cultural capital Friday, the out-of-towners are conjuring an alternative reality worthy of the industry’s biggest tentpoles.
It might be called “Trump Aversion Syndrome,” and it features thousands of outsiders determined, at least for the better part of one day, to shut out all news emanating from that locale alongside the Potomac River.
At least for those willing to talk about it at the Sundance Film Festival, Donald Trump is a regrettable, even loathsome, figure. Many are not sure his election was legitimate, due to allegations of Russian intervention and FBI dealings.
Many seemed loathe even to speak the Trump name.
“I’m not going to watch it. I don’t think a lot of people are going to watch it,” said one top Hollywood producer said before a meeting Friday morning. He added, by way of explanation: “I just don’t want to. I don’t have to. We can catch up on the news later.”
At least six screenings started early in the day as the Big Show kicked off in Washington. Attendance did not appear to suffer, though there was no way of getting a precise measure. An early screening of “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” – Al Gore’s ode to the ongoing climate change struggle – attracted a nearly full house to the 1,200-seat Eccles Center Theater.
And not many seemed wistful about what they were missing.
“The symbolism is not lost on us, being here,” said Ellie Becker, a New York City resident whose son is a film producer. “It is especially fitting and extremely meaningful because Al Gore is here. I think the face of the world might have been a lot different if he had been our president.”
A real estate agent named Liz left D.C. just as the barriers were going up for Trump’s inaugural procession. “The timing worked out just perfectly,” she said happily. Staying with her friend, Andrea, in Park City, the duo were content to be removed from the roar of national news, though Andrea couldn’t help but see a CNN news alert on her phone that reported Trump’s declaration that America would always come first.
“So it’s only about America. So he’s going to make us an isolationist country from Day One. That’s my interpretation,” said Andrea, who, like her friend, declined to give her last name. The two had just watched the Gore sequel and said they couldn’t be more struck by the contrast between the man who almost became President in 2000 and the one who is expected to sleep in the White House for the next four years.
“Men like Al Gore are men who I would be proud to have representing my country and being the public face of the United States,” Andrea said. What about Trump? “Not so much,” said the two friends.
Gore was greeted like a beloved statesman for the second screening of “Inconvenient 2.” The documentary kicked off Sundance Thursday night, a not-so-subliminal message from the festival leaders about their priority on presenting diverse and dissenting voices. The rest of the schedule for the two-week event is not shy about its progressive bent – taking on topics like environmentalism, the troubled state of health care and even the athletic doping program in Russia, that appears to run as high up as President Vladimir Putin, who Trump has said he admires.
There are doubtless people visiting Park City who watched the Trump swearing in and inaugural address. But they appeared to be doing that mostly from the privacy of their condos and hotel rooms. In theater lobbies and on buses around town, the new commander in chief was more like he who must not be named.
“I have not heard his name one single time all morning,” said Amy Eckman, an attorney who lives in New York and Santa Monica and whose son, Dan, is a film director who debuted a film at Sundance. “We came over on the shuttle and I did not hear anyone say anything about Donald Trump.” Her partner, Steve Pally, agreed. “People are in denial,” said Pally. His son, Adam, stars in “Band Aid,” a comedy premiering at Sundance about a couple that forms a band in a last-ditch ploy to save their marriage.
Trump Aversion Syndrome seemed to hold sway everywhere here, from busy restaurants to boutiques, with the most obvious symptoms being denial, deflection and despair. As a couple of volunteers greeted each other outside a screening early Friday, one groaned: “Oh gosh, I’m missing it. I’m missing it!” “Are you serious?” her friend responded. “NOT!” the first answered.
A volunteer on the other side of town was channeling the same mood. The Midwest transplant said she still can’t quite believe that the man previously renowned as a reality show oddity had truly become the leader of the free world. “I keep thinking, maybe it’s like Bobby Ewing in Dallas: You think he is dead, but he was in the shower all along!” said the woman. “Maybe this is like that, it’s not really happening.”
(All the volunteers asked not to be named, because Sundance helpers are not allowed to speak to the media about politics – or any other issue – while on duty.)
Eckman noted the marked contrast to 2008, when Barack Obama’s swearing in was the talk of Park City. Filmmakers worried about their films being scheduled during the inauguration and some screenings saw attendance slip, as the entertainment community dropped everything to catch the first African-American president address the nation.
Several people vowed that a new mood would show its face beginning Saturday morning, when many executives, agents, writers and actors plan to march down Main Street. The 9 a.m. demonstration, organized by talk show host Chelsea Handler and others, will coincide with marches around the country. The protests will target Trump and members of his administration, while promoting causes like women’s rights, peace, environmentalism and civil rights.