Over the years, the Sundance Film Festival has trained Utahns how to watch indie films. For 10 days every January, we get the chance to attend premiere screenings, while Hollywood and the rest of the indie film world comes to us. This year, we've rubbed shoulders with celebrities on countless red carpets, attended concerts and panels, eavesdropped on business conversation while riding shuttles between venues, and despite our press passes even gotten shut out of a few must-hit screenings. Oh, yeah, we've watched a lot of movies, blogged, tweeted, reported, and posted photos, all while racing to meet daily deadlines.
Here are a few of our most memorable moments from this year's festival:
Memorable Sundance movie scenes
Title • "The End of Love"
What do young Hollywood stars do for fun? In director-actor Mark Webber's "The End of Love," Webber's character a struggling actor named Mark goes to a party at Michael Cera's house, attended by other young Hollywood types. What's the highlight of the evening? A game of Balderdash.
Sean P. Means
Titles • "Hello I Must Be Going" and "Nobody Walks"
The Sundance Institute fosters original storytelling but there's a particular indie-movie cliché that pops up from time to time, and it showed up twice in the U.S. Dramatic competition this year. It's the final scene, where a young woman, having learned a valuable life lesson or made a life-changing decision, looks pensively out the window of her taxi as it speeds away to whatever awaits her. It happens in "Hello I Must Be Going" and "Nobody Walks," and variations of it were seen last year at the Sundance movies "Pariah" and "Circumstance." All of these films were projects of the Sundance Filmmaking Labs, which needs to retire that overused finish.
Sean P. Means
Titles • "LUV" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild," and "Bachelorette" and "Save the Date"
What are the odds? In "LUV" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild," there are scenes in which a black child is taught how to crack open a crab. And in "Bachelorette" and "Save the Date," there are moments in which a guy embarrasses Lizzy Caplan by pouring out his heart through music in front of a large group of people.
Sean P. Means
Titles • "The Surrogate" and "Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present"
Oscar winner Helen Hunt is 48. Performance artist Marina Abramovic is 65. They both appeared fully nude in movies that played at Sundance this year. Hunt played a sex surrogate in the drama "The Surrogate," while Abramovic is seen in the documentary about her, "Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present." And, speaking respectfully, they both look pretty good.
Sean P. Means
Titles • "The Comedy" and "The Queen of Versailles"
Sometimes the movie a filmmaker describes doesn't match the movie that filmmaker made. In the Q-and-A for "The Comedy," director Rick Alverson described his film as a satire of a certain character, the overprivileged hipster of New York's Williamsburg area. That would have been great, and certainly better than the movie's self-indulgent nothingness. Meanwhile, Lauren Greenfield, in the Q-and-A after her documentary "The Queen of Versailles," said the financial travails of time-share magnate David Siegel and his overspending wife, Jacqueline, made their plight "more of an everyman story." Maybe, if you live next door to Mitt Romney.
Sean P. Means
Title • "Hello I Must Be Going"
Scene • In Sarah Koskoff's heartfelt script, Amy Minsky (gracefully played by Melanie Lynskey in a breakout role) is demoralized when she moves in with her parents after finding out about her husband's affair. Amy suffers a series of laugh-out-loud embarrassments as she falls lustily into an inappropriate entanglement with a 19-year-old boy. His attention brings her back to life and leads to the movie's climactic scene where she meets her twitchy, deal-brokering ex-husband and realizes she doesn't need his familiar inattention. Watching expressions flicker across Lynskey's face matched by Koskoff's authentic dialogue makes this coming-to-awareness scene play with fresh power.
Title • "Ethel"
Scene • Ethel Kennedy, wife to Robert F. Kennedy, responding to daughter and documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy's question on film about how she dealt with the sorrow after her husband's 1968 assassination. "No one gets a free ride," she says. Somehow, all six of those words were packed with equal parts grit and grace.
Title • "Your Sister's Sister" and "2 Days in New York"
Scene • The inventive use of an at-home pregnancy test in both films as a pivotal plot device. Independent filmmakers will now raid their corner drugstore for similar ideas.
Title • "LUV"
Scene • The penultimate and closing scenes featuring child actor Michael Rainey Jr. as his 11-year-old character drives his Uncle Vincent's black Mercedes to North Carolina to fulfill the promise of seeing his long-lost mother. The scene is packed with emotional resonance, which underscores the strength of the young actor's promising talent.
Title • "The First Time"
Scene • Teenagers Dave (Dylan O'Brien) and Aubrey (Britt Robertson) have sex for "The First Time," and it's funny and painfully awkward. This may be one of the most realistic, non-graphic sex scenes in movie history.
Scott D. Pierce
When • "Silence is Golden Party," at Julie Nester Gallery, evening of Jan. 21.
What happened • To celebrate the premiere of the documentary "Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present," the renowed performance artist and HBO threw an avant garde party that required guests wear white lab coats and headsets and not speak or use cell phones. The point was Abramovic's philosophy of living in the now, defined by the sound of a ticking metronome. Unfortunately, smart phones have become an additional organ for most people, and the moment was marred by people taking pictures of "the now" and texting it to the broader world.
When • RVIP, a Los Angeles-based mobile "lounge and karaoke cabaret" found on Main Street on the evening of Jan. 20, and parked in Lot F in Prospector Square area on Jan. 21.
What happened • The lounge is a mobile home equipped with disco lights on the outside and a karaoke machine on the inside that can be used to keep the party going as patrons are transported from one club to another. The women responsible for RVIP Kestrin Pantera (who founded the company with her husband, Jonathan), Eve Kim (aka Eve Bunny) and Peggy Ellithorpe brought their rig to Park City this year. The RV accommodates a dozen people comfortably and will take more for the full shoulder-to-shoulder Sundance party experience. Based on the number of Angelenos who sought out the karaoke joint on Saturday, RVIP has a devoted following.
Sean P. Means
When • Volunteer Appreciation Day on Jan. 25, to honor the 1,850 unpaid folks who make the festival run.
What happened • Organizers marked the day with a surprise: a two-minute short film playing before movies. The film, "No Good Deed …," shows a guy named Derek (played by actor Derek Waters) waiting for a ride outside the Egyptian and shivering without a coat. A couple of volunteers walk by and offer him one of the ubiquitous orange Kenneth Cole coats that volunteers wear. A moment later, more volunteers drive up and, mistaking Derek for a fellow volunteer, drop off two boxes, saying, "Take these down to the box office." Misadventures ensue as Derek takes on various volunteer duties, from shoveling snow and vacuuming floors to hanging banners and staffing the information booth. He starts out grudgingly working, but ends up enjoying the hard work. The short was directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, who brought the documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" to Sundance two years ago.
Sean P. Means
When • Audience Q&A after Jan. 19 premiere of "Searching for Sugarman."
What happened • If you haven't seen the documentary yet and plan to read no further. The film is about the search for Detroit rocker Rodriguez, long assumed to be dead. The film explains the mystery as it confirms Rodriguez in is fact alive and well, having retired from the music industry nearly 40 years ago. After addressing some questions about the film, director Malik Bendjelloul suddenly announced a guest from Detroit. To the crowd's delighted shock, Rodriguez stood up and walked to the front of the theater, obviously relishing the praise that he had long been denied.
When • Bing Bar on Jan. 20.
What happened • The news of the morning was that Etta James had just passed away. Jason Mraz was performing an intimate acoustic set that morning, and in the middle of his set, began playing James' most famous song, "At Last," segueing into "Fly Me to the Moon," which in turn transformed into Mraz's hit "Lucky." To top it all off, he finished the medley by singing a few stanzas of "Lucky" in Spanish.
When • Red Carpet for "About Face," a documentary on supermodels, Jan. 22.
What happened • Three world-renown models, Carol Alt (1982 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue), Beverly Johnson (first African-American on the cover of 1972 Vogue) and China Machado (first non-caucasian in an American fashion magazine, Vogue), were on the red carpet for premiere. Only two photographers showed up for the event, along with a video crew from HBO, which owns the film. That was poignantly sad, considering the documentary deals in large part with aging, the models' biggest nemisis.
When • Red carpet for "For Ellen" on Jan. 21.
What happened • When I asked Jon Heder what he had coming up, he said: "Well, other than the Napoleon Dynamite cartoon. …" The expression on his face when I admitted hadn't heard about the project (or read my colleague Scott Pierce's story about it in The Tribune on Jan. 13) was worth my embarrassment at being caught without having done my research, because I caught on camera an amazing reaction from him. I know now, thanks to Heder, that the show airs Sunday nights on Fox. "But not this Sunday," he said when I tried to redeem myself by saying I had my weekend plans cut out for me. Jon, I will be watching this week!
When • Red carpet for "LUV" Jan. 23 at Park City's Eccles Theatre.
What happened • Rapper Common, who plays the character of Uncle Vincent, arrived as last man on the scene to huddle with director Sheldon Candis in prayer and meditation before the film's world-premiere screening. Even with Common's PR people whisking away the press cameras, the moment was warm, genuine and undeniably moving.
When • Premiere of "John Dies at the End."
What happened • The Egyptian Theater was sold out and, due to a error, far too many waiting list nubmers were handed out. Spirits were running lower than the freezing basement under the theater when director Con Cosarelli and some cast members including Paul Giamatti and lead Chase Williamson descended into the concrete corridor to hang out and get pictures taken with waiting-line losers.
When • Audience Q&A after Jan. 20 premiere of Amy Berg's "West of Memphis."
What happened • West Memphis Three attorney Dennis Riordan came close to distilling in one sentence what it took director Amy Berg 150 minutes to chronicle in the documentary. Answering an audience question about whether the Alford pleas of the West Memphis Three might one day be overturned, he said: "It took a perfect storm to produce this case, and it may take a perfect storm of a different kind to overturn the result."
When • Prefestival interview with filmmakers of "Bindlestiffs."
What happened • Andrew Edison and Luke Loftin, both only 20 and living in a bachelor pad in Austin, were living the dream as their teen sex-comedy was accepted at the Slamdance Film Festival. One of the guys wrote me an email: "We got a phone call from Slamdance. Right around that point, things were kicked up a notch. Now our lives are crazy and are phones are blowing up. Ladies, call us: 832-524-1055."
When • Q&A after Jan. 23 screening of "The Surrogate."
What happened • Fielding an audience question about why he didn't feature full frontal male nudity in a film that offered plenty of female nudity, director Ben Lewin said: "If you show an erect penis, you're officially into NC-17 land. What's the point of showing it, otherwise?"
When • Q&A after the Jan. 23 screening of "2 Days in New York."
What happened • A die-hard Julie Delpy and/or Chris Rock fan took the mic to ask, ever so politely, for the chance to shoot of photo of both actors together. "Please," she pleaded. "I came all the way from Malaysia."
Also • At the same session, Chris Rock fielded a question about why he took the role of Delpy's boyfriend. "I thought to myself, 'Is Ethan Hawke dead? What's going on?' After I talked to Ethan Hawke and discovered he wasn't dead, I agreed to do this movie."
When • The Jan. 25 Filmmaker Lodge forum "The Wide World of Wit."
What happened • Comedian Mike Birbiglia justified his labeling of "Terms of Endearment" as the funniest movie of all time. "You've got to have something funny [in even the most serious films] or it's just not real!" Birbiglia said.
Also • At the same panel, when Mark Duplass was asked if he's ever stolen jokes from any of his children, he answered in the negative. "I have a 4-year-old," Duplass said. "Her agent's a super dick."
When • Q&A session after the Jan. 25 screening of "Price Check."
What happened • Parker Posey the queen of the indies was asked how many Sundance films she's appeared in. "I've been in 500 Sundance movies," she deadpanned. "Since 1915. I remember the prairie lands. The cows, the horse, the donkeys, the chickens. And there's a castle that I live in. It's made of air. It's a beautiful place."
Scott D. Pierce
When • Red carpet before the Jan. 21 screening of "This Must Be the Place."
What happened • An alleged "reporter" asked young Irish actor/Dublin native/Bono's daughter Eve Hewson, "Have you ever been to Dublin?" Other reporters audibly gasped.
Scott D. Pierce
When • Red-carpet interview before the premiere of "The First Time."
What happened • Director Jonathan Kasdan admitted he was surprised that his film was even accepted at the film festival "because it's a different kind of movie than you usually see here." Not gritty or powerful, but "a very John Hughesian romantic comedy," Kasdan said. "So I was thrilled and delighted."
Scott D. Pierce
When • At the press events before the Jan. 24 screening of the movie "Goats."
What happened • After interviewing David Duchovny at a round table to promote his movie "Goats," I told him I wasn't a stalker, but I would be back and asking more questions later that night on the red carpet. He challenged me to come up with new questions, then offered a fallback, saying I could always ask what designer clothing he was wearing. When I asked him that question later, he laughed, but he didn't know the answer, so he twisted around to look at the label inside his jacket to finish the joke.