Sundance: A look back

It is late January and the programming team of the Ashland Independent Film Festival is honing the final slate of films to be included in this year's early April event. Joanne Feinberg, our Lead Programmer, has been pouring over reviews, articles, blogs and industry gossip for months. Joanne, Executive Director, Tom Olbrich; Managing Director, Jane Sage; and I (a Board Member of the non-profit and the fourth member of the programming team), and over a hundred community "screeners" have been watching films every night and weekend since Halloween. With over 700 entries to choose from, the program is beginning to take shape.

At this time critical time each year we fly to Park City, Utah, to round out the festival's line-up with a few more fine films we find at the Sundance Film Festival. After driving up the canyon from the airport we drop our bags at our lodge (the annual donation of good friends), quickly put on sufficient layers to deal with the chill and hurry to "headquarters" to be issued our credentials and begin "the dance."

Attending Sundance is a tactical exercise but as a team this is our fourth year and we have the drill down. On the plane we have been pouring over the tickets we have purchased ahead of time and figuring the odds of getting into screenings for which we have no tickets. We tend to go to films that we think we have a chance of obtaining &

the new documentary that we know will appeal to our audience back home or the gem of a feature from a new filmmaker operating under the radar. We also gift ourselves with a few films that we have no chance of getting but really want to see in the rarified atmosphere of the most famous and influential American film festival of the year.

Park City at Sundance time: imagine a town the size of Ashland suddenly filled with an extra 40,000 people for 10 days; then imagine that it is zero degrees and has been snowing all night. The steep sidewalks are frozen and though you keep slipping you don't go all the way to your knees because there are so many people around you the sidewalk is unreachable. At times the path is blocked by a gaggle of paparazzi circled around an actor in obligatory oversized shades wrapped in black down and scarves whose only visible feature is a mouth. After one encounter I am told it was Charlize Theron after I finally made it around the crowd and pick up the pace to get to my next screening.

Though the media focus is on the stars, glitz and glamour, this is also THE convention of independent film and Sundance hosts daily panels with filmmakers, distributors, actors and producers in interactive sessions for industry staff like us. We have the opportunity to network with programmers from the major film festivals across the country, swap strategies and compare notes.

We take five days to cover as many films and panels as possible. The four of us usually separate, visiting various venues around town and a rhythm develops. The shuttle buses are crammed but a welcome respite from the bone chilling cold. The ride is slow, jerky and cramped yet you never know when you will be standing next to a filmmaker who was in our festival last year, the lead actor from the film you just watched, or meeting your new best friend who just left a screening that sounds perfect for Ashland.

After watching films alone, we arrange to meet for the ride up the hill. Arriving at the lodge, the four of us swap stories and impressions about what we have seen before sitting down to watch a few short films online or a DVD to potentially add to the mix before collapsing into bed.

After collectively seeing 50 films, living on too little sleep and too much finger food, coffee and Power Bars we occasionally reward ourselves with a couple plum events that can only take place here. This year Tom and Jane stood in line for a couple chilly hours to get tickets to U2 3D, revolutionary concert footage featuring Bono and U2 projected in brand new 3D technology (yes they wore the cool glasses) with state of the art surround sound. They were treated to a raucous mindblowing experience shared with an audience of 1,200, including Al Gore, Robert Redford, Bono and the rest of U2 &

only at Sundance.

As we head home the week seems to have gone by in a blur. We are weary yet feeling secure that we have found the final key films for our discriminating audience and the 7th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival in early April.

Self avowed film fanatic has been a board member of the Ashland Independent Film Festival for four years. He attended Sundance and filed reports for the Tidings in the late '90s.

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