Diary Of A Hollywood Refugee

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sundance, Slamdance, and Swagdance

"To appreciate the Sundance Film Festival, 10 days winding up Sunday, as it is, you must embrace its contradictions. Here, the most high-minded artistic and moral aspirations coexist with hype, corporate self-congratulation and a ravening hunger for money and attention. All the values and pathologies that define the movie industry, - and perhaps American culture in general - are concentrated into a bitter, dizzying espresso shot."

A.O. Scott, Film Critic, NYT.

For ten days in January, the streets, shops, and restaurants of Park City, Utah, a breathtaking pictureque ski town nestled in between snow covered mountains, are invaded by avid ski bums, film fans, Hollywood glitterati, and a litany of unknown producers, directors, actors, sceenwriters, cinematographers, all hoping to make an impact with their work as they take part in the Sundance Film Festival.

What I personally loved about going to Sundance was that for ten days, I could emerse myself in skiing while indulging my personal passion for the art of film making, and connect with young unknown film makers, actors, cinematographers, who aren't jaded and are void of egos the size of the Mountains surrounding Deer Valley.

Which brings me to Slamdance, Sundance's little festival within a festival, which offers up a wonderful ecletic menu of smaller inde films that didn't make the selection cut for Sundance. I often found myself sitting on a floor , munching on popcorn, surrounded by 18 yr old film students, some of whom were involved in creating the films presented at Slamdance. THIS is why I went to Hollywood, to be surrounded by the energy passion and genuine love for the art of film making that these young adults evoke. To be able to INHALE all that albeit for only a few hours, re energized me!

The Sundance Film Festival is the lovechild of Robert Redford, and has reached the level of success it now enjoys INSPITE of Robert 's worst tendencies. A festival no one cared about in its birth, Sundance has grown to command the respect of Hollywood elites, film students, film lovers, and the media.

For ten days the "ordinary masses" can mingle with in restaurants shops and theatres, with celebs, and film makers, press, Hollywood elites, movers, shakers, decision makers, while enjoying some of the best skiing in North America, and some of the finest film making in the world.

It would be fair to say that good portion of the films at Sundance reflect a liberal perspective, but in my view, good film making was never meant to be a complete reflection of the mainstream but rather a window to bits and pieces of the tapestry of humanity. In that respect, Sundance delivers!

While my personal politics are clearly not the popular voice of Hollywood, and while I agree that Hollywood films tend to lean LEFT far more than right, and reflect liberals viewpoints far more than not, I will NEVER agree with those on the "radical right:, who feel films should be censored, or rally against everything that Hollywood produces that to do not reflect their conservative values.

I have no problem with Brokeback Mountain, it's universal themes of loneliness, alienation, betrayal, confusion, love and loss ring true. It is complicated, thought provoking, emotionally heartwrenching, visually beautiful, and exquistely directed, with limited carnal acts.

I've seen more sexuality in tv ads for male erectile dysfunctional during the Superbowl, and half naked women selling beer and cars to conservative males at auto shows in "bible belt red states". I'm not prepared to embrace "conservative fanatacism or fundamentalism" but I do appreciate and recognize that liberal secular values do offend conservatives across all religious sectors.

I agree that a Hollywood needs a stronger conservative voice reflected in its product, and the good news is that the seeds of a conservative voice have begun to be planted. I can only hope they will come come to fruition sooner rather than later.

Back to Sundance!
It wouldn't be Sundance if there wasn't at least ONE big-money bidding war. This year it was for Little Miss Sunshine which netted a $10 mill paycheck from Fox Searchlight.

Other films of note:

Michael Gondry's, "The Science of Sleep" (Think "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

"Thank You For Smoking
" - a timely relevant comedy about the way in which an issue is framed becomes more important than solving a problem.

"Son of Man",
a South African film that retells the story of Jesus.

"God Grew Tired of Us"
a documentary executive produced by Brad Pitt, and narrated by Nicole Kidman, it follows three “Lost Boys of Sudan” over four years as they leave Africa for New York City and attempt to make sense of their new country.

Another documentary, the crowd pleasing "Wordplay." netted $1 million.

Since I worked closely with some of the best talented and award winning cinematographers, my interest lies in knowing who won the Dramatic Cinematography award. This year it went to Tom Richmond for Chris Gorak's "Right at Your Door," for his visually impressive recreation of a Los Angeles that has been devastated by the detonation of multiple dirty bombs.

The Excellence in Cinematography award went to James Longley's for his documentary "Iraq in Fragments" . James lived and filmed in Iraq for two years and "Iraq in Fragments," was touted as a beautifully made film that takes a ground-level look inside today's Iraq. The documentary won three separate awards.

While the left leaning denizens of the film festival loved this movie, I agree with Robert Koehler thoughts as found in Variety :
" As beautiful as it is unrevealing, James Longley's "Iraq in Fragments" rests on a debatable but firm premise -- that the embattled country is irrevocably separated by its three dominant groups, Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds -- but brings back nothing journalistically substantial from the war front. Presumably, current docs on Iraq should shed light on this intensely complex place, especially given U.S. military and financial involvement and the electronic news media's generally superficial reporting. In this case, the superficiality continues, but lensing is magnificent, assuring at least a DVD sale.

First section looks at the sorry existence of young, fatherless Mohammed Haithem, in and out of school and working for a gruff Baghdad auto mechanic. After this emotionally felt but less-than-penetrating look at disenfranchised Sunnis, the pic momentarily improves in a midsection set in the Shiite south. Longley scores a scoop as he records self-styled Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr's feared militia brutally enforcing ultra-conservative Islamic laws. Final section with a Kurdish farming family shows little of this group's well-developed independent culture".
Let's be honest here, apart from the films, the skiing, the open bar parties, great restaurants, and schmoozing, the secret obsession of many at Sundance is the SWAG Suites.

With well over $10 million dollars of SWAG to choose from at the numerous SWAG Suites, Sundance turns into swagdance, or an uber glitsy version of Celebs Gone Wild.

If you're wondering why any company would want to give anything to celebs who can afford to pay for everything, it's important to understand that "gifting" circumvents the need to advertise.

With paparazzi from every imaginable media outlet from every imaginable city on earth, a pic of the latest "It" guy or gal wearing, carrying, holding, touching, your product is worth more than the price of a Superbowl commercial!

For an interesting insight into just what kind of SWAG was given out at Sundance, check out "For Celebs Seeking SWAG,Its all in the Bag" .

During my years in Hollywood, I' ve received everything from $1000 spa treatments, to trendy clothes, sleepwear, sexy lacy Victoria Secret lingerie,Kate Spade bags, unique jewelery, Godiva Chocolates, food products, cosmetics; and that's just what comes to mind as I write this. Over 15 years, the list of SWAG I've accumulated would make a shopaholic cum in her pants...and this shopoholic should know!

SWAG is a must have at ANY event in Hollywood, from the American Music Awards to the EMMYS and the OSCARS - and here comes my shameless plug for friends of mine who created the well received "Award Suites" at those events, as well as SWAG suites at Sundance.

Ahhhhh.... the benefits of being in "the biz".

For more on The 2006 Sundance Film Festival, check out my favorite site, Rotten Tomatoes Fundance at Sundance '06