Sundance Part One!
Posted on Friday January 16, 2009, 22:50 by Damon Wise
Well, if the credit crunch really is affecting Sundance, so far it's done me nothing but good. In fact, after 24 hours solid travelling to get here, changing twice and stopping briefly in Las Vegas, I have none of my usual complaints (where's my luggage? where's my accreditation? what's that dead prostitute doing in my room?). It is simply this: Dear Delta air hostesses, why, when your beer costs $7 a can, and as charming as you are, do you act all surprised when you don't have change? Other than that, the flight was very pleasant, made even more convivial by the fact that filmmaker Steve Sheil and his producer Lisa Trnovski were on the same flight. Steve is the director of Mum And Dad, a very funny, but highly gory black comedy that stars the avuncular Perry Benson (although having said that, I don't have any uncles who have ever tried to shit on a newsagent's floor, as Benson so memorably did in Shane Meadows' This Is England). They're here because the film is screening over at Slamdance, a parallel festival I've never, ever been to, but not for want of trying. If you're in the Park City area, it's showing on Sunday night. If not, and that's probably most of you, it's still in cinemas/available on DVD/showing on cable as part of its crazy Christmas cross-platform release. If you have a strong stomach, have read Gordon Burn's Happy Like Murderers for more than just the juicy bits and think Marilyn Manson is a bit of a bell-end, I'd strongly recommend it.
The opening party was the usual shambolic free-for-all, with lots of young people and annoyingly big crowds at the tiny bars (rather lavishly for Sundance, these consisted of not one but TWO young ladies, with more than one bottle of vodka at their disposal). Producer Trudi Styler was due to pop in with her husband, a Mr Sting, but I believe they judiciously decided to give it a miss. I can't quite imagine how the stylish Ms Styler would feel about having to wear a plastic yellow bracelet that's “good for three alcoholic beverages”, while security was so chaotic I fear Mr Sting would still be there now, signing battered vinyl copies of Spirits In The Material World. However, the company was good. Jeff Goldsmith, the wild man of Creative Screenwriting magazine, was on hand to lecture me about going to more public screenings, while producer Stuart Fenegan was enjoying the first festival to show his first film, Moon, directed by Duncan Jones and starring Sam Rockwell. Jones left just as I was arriving, claiming to be tired, although I'm inclined to believe it was because he is, in actual fact, a great big girl. Still, I'm seeing his film today and am very much looking forward to it, and he has a whole week to reinvent himself as a party animal. Much more in the swing was Ondi Timoner, whose rock-doc DiG! I loved to bits and who's here with another doc called We Live In Public. Ondi Twittered me as part of her current project to Live In Public (see what she did there?) and, having seen my 'Ooh, ooh, ooh' rating system, told me her new film raised the Ooh bar. I'm seeing it Monday, and will let you know if it really can elicit an unthinkable FIVE Oohs. To cap things off, Jeff and I spent the early hours chatting in the Marriott lounge. The two bar guys walked passed and said hello; when they see me, I have a horrible feeling that they know the festival's really started.
Perhaps inspired by the story of Benjamin Button, I decided to do opening night in reverse, and saw the opening film, Mary And Max, this morning, an Australian Claymation feature about the unlikely friendship between Mary (Toni Collette), a bullied eight-year-old girl in Melbourne, and Max (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a neurotic middle-aged man in New York. Advance word from last night was a bit so-so, so I went with low expectations, but I was very, very pleasantly surprised by it. You can guess some of the problems just from the premise; it's quite episodic, simply because both characters are so far away, and because this is a friendship that largely exists on paper, director/writer Adam Elliott struggles at times to keep the framing story moving along (Barry Humphries does a wonderful job as the narrator). The debt to Nick Park is absolutely there, but it's affectionate rather than derivative; there are some beautiful moments in here, and the tone is wonderfully balanced between moments of exquisite dark comedy and genuine pathos. Both characters are indelibly drawn and, strangely, overcome the plastic limits of Claymation. Some may find the ending a little twee, but it's a strong, largely unsentimental film despite this; it's the kind of humour the Australians handle brilliantly well. Elliott was on hand to introduce the film and revealed that it took a staggering 57 weeks to film, with some five seconds of stop-motion being captured every day (“It's like making love. While being stabbed to death,” is how he memorably described the process. This human touch really shows, and the voice leads deserve some of the credit too. Eric Bana makes a fantastic cameo as Mary's closeted gay husband-to-be, but Collette is pretty great too and nobody says “Ooh” quite like Hoffman (apart from me, of course).
Today's screening programme continues apace with Moon, Brooklyn's Finest, Rudo Y Cursi and, if I'm still awake, Grace. In the meantime, remember: I bring you love, baby, not romance!