How to avoid the Sundance Flu

Oh the Sundance Flu. It is more reliable than anything else in your life. As reliable as death and taxes.

Everyone I have ever known who has gone to Park City in January for Sundance or Slamdance has gotten sick during or directly after it at least once in their life, if not every year. My worse case was getting strep throat while there and staying in bed for two full dreadful days like an angry zombie while the festival continued on. There is nothing worse than being sick and not in your own bed.

It always starts out the same way. The entire film industry descends from Los Angeles and New York City – plus everywhere in between – and inundates a small ski town. You see old friends and colleagues as soon as you board the flight to Salt Lake City (airplane germs), then in the airport (more germs), then the grocery store (store germs), then the Marriott headquarters (hotel germs). You shake EVERYONE’S hand. There are hugs too.

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A crowded bus in Park City.

It’s chilly. Snow covers the surrounding ski slopes. Someone has a little sniffle here or a cough there, but it’s not a big deal. They’re just getting use to the altitude. It reminds you to drink some water. As the days go on, the coughing in the tight, long lines become more frequent. Every where you go you are in a petri dish of germs: the crowded shuttle buses, the tents of lines, the theaters, the bars. You meet people and shake hands. You have a drink because 1) that last movie crushed your soul and 2) you are attending your third reception for the night and the alcohol is free. You’re eating the small passed appetizer from the party because it’s the only thing you’ve had to eat in six hours. And so is everyone else with their germ-ridden hands. You stay out late. You are walking – no, you’re brushing against people – uphill/downhill on a crowded Main Street in the cold, multiple times during the night. You wake up early. You get back on a germ-covered bus. You get back in line. The sneezing follows you.

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Waiting in line at Sundance 2016.

Your hands dry out from the repeat washings and cold, harsh air. You get more coffee and your body wonders why you are still going. There’s a tickle in your throat. You take more airborne/Ibprofen/bourbon and move on. Your layers sit on your lap in the theater because the heaters are blowing at full speed above you, then bundle up quickly when you walk outside. Layers on and off… constantly. You hear rumors of so-and-so staying in because they feel sick. More uphill walking for blocks because the germ-buses are full.

You realize you need tissues all the time and not because the movies are making you cry. You try to hide your sneeze or cough. The plague is coming for you and there’s no way to hide it. It will either get you in Park City or as soon as you get home (because before you get home, all these flu-ridden people will get back on an airplane with you).

So how to avoid this? Well there are lots of theories and everyone has a technique to avoid the Sundance Flu. Obviously washing hands is a no-brainer. If you aren’t, then eww on you. How much it helps here is up for debate. Hand sanitizer is your friend.Take your vitamins before and during the trip. Hydrate. All.The.Time. Sleep is key too. Each person knows how many hours they can function on before all hell breaks loose. An extra hour of sleep can make or break you. The gamble: whether or not to miss a morning movie if it keeps you from getting sick. Eating helps too. I know it sounds dumb, but as I’ve written about before, you’d be surprised how eating regularly during a festival can be crazy hard. I believe the parties are where the immune system gives up though. As friend and fellow programmer Lane Kneedler likes to preach: “see more movies than parties.”

Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard and adhered to is simple: don’t touch your face. Just don’t do it. Don’t scratch your face. Use tissues if you’re wiping your face/mouth/nose. Think about it: how many times do you randomly touch your face in a given day? It’s way more than you think. Try to not touch your face for ten days (plus the other stuff above) and you may have a sliver of a chance to stay healthy while festing in Park City. If you do get sick, there’s the urgent care center which has been frequented by most Sundance attendees at some point. Including myself. They’ll be ready for you.

No guarantee the Sundance flu won’t strike you once you’re home though. Good luck!

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Films & Food: Sundance Film Festival 2017

Today begins my eleventh Sundance. If you had told 14-year-old Sarah that future-Sarah would have spent over a decade trekking to Park City, Utah, she would have laughed in your face. (She would have also probably not realized that Sundance Film Festival was in Utah.)

But here I am. My eleventh time riding up the mountain to stand in lines, cry in movies and overdose on airborne while trying not to catch the plague. Sidenote: the Sundance flu is real and faithful. Post on that next week.

With an Industry Pass, I attend most of my screenings without a public audience and with fellow industry colleagues. There is a distinct difference between Industry and Public screenings. Industry are notoriously more critical of films and it’s common for people to walk in and out of screenings. Buyers or programmers may decide in fifteen or thirty minutes if the film is something they are interested in and will not waste time finishing it if it is not the right fit. This was an odd thing to witness when I started attending P&I screenings long ago, but now I’m use to it and have played my part in it. Public screenings have a general excitement filling the room as you’re often sharing the space with the filmmakers’ friends, family and supporters – or people just excited that they got into a Sundance screening. Through my work I receive a few public screening tickets and it’s fun to share in that experience too. There is nothing like catching a premiere at Sundance. The anticipation in the room is palpable and emotions run high. The environment you see a screening can influence your approach and perception of a film, so it is something to keep in mind when hearing opinions on the film from others.

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2017 Press & Industry schedule with my hope-to-see highlights. And yes, there are days where more than one film at a time is highlighted. It’ll be a roll of the dice.

One thing I’ve learned from my many years of attending Sundance is putting together the puzzle of your personal schedule. If you’ve ever attended a festival at all you know this struggle. For Sundance, this becomes ten fold. You must figure in your travel time (it’s ALWAYS slower to get somewhere on Friday or Saturday night of first weekend – be ready to walk in those snowboots). Industry often camp out at the industry-specific theaters all day, so it’s possible you’ll catch a movie in the middle of the day only because it is easier than going to another location. Industry receive the screening times a month before the festival in order to plan. The trick during planning a schedule is leaving room for surprises and spontaneity. Once on the ground, the schedule may go out the window. One day you want to end on a “good note” so you decide to call it and meet up with friends. Or your dinner party goes later than planned. You may end up at a party that someone gets you in or are given an extra ticket to a public screening from a buddy. You may over sleep that 8:30am screening (because catching a shuttle at 7:15am feels so early when you went to bed five hours before). The whole day shifts as you fill in the gaps and see a buzzed-about movie. All of that is part of the fun. It allows for discovery, new friends and memories.

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Sundance 2009: walking in the snow, on the way to/from a house party, around 2:00am. I seem to have a LOT of blurry photos from past Sundances…

As for fitting food into that schedule, that can also be tricky. The food in Park City is not exactly…amazing. Ok, so it mostly sucks unless you can spend real cash (read: not on a non-profit org budget). The key is grocery shopping upon arrival and making whatever quick meals you can make in the condo. My go-to meals include:

  • ravioli with pesto
  • salads (a few grocery-premade ones which are not the best, but again, you take what you can get)
  • cereal (breakfast, lunch or dinner)
  • salami or deli meat, crackers & cheese

There are a few good spots for dining (and drinking) in Park City too:

  • Davanza’s – the best little dive restaurant in my opinion. Tacos, pizza and hamburgers for the win. I probably eat here too often.
  • High West Distillery & Saloon – one of my favorite places to grab a drink with friend (if it’s not taken over by a party).
  • Riverhorse on Main – This is $$$$, but totally worth a real, sit down meal when you need to take a time out.
  • Butcher’s Chop Shop – Another one on the expensive side, but a decent bar and cozy place to unwind.
  • Flanagan’s – An Irish pub that has very basic food. If you’re uphill on Main Street, you could do worse.
  • El Chubasco – Another cheap Mexican option. I always see someone I know in here. Close to HQ, Eccles, Prospector theater.

I’m looking forward to what this eleventh experience will bring, seeing a few old friends and discovering new filmmakers. I’ll post a few of the (shareable)stories next week!

Will I see you in Park City? What tips do you have for making a festival schedule? Any favorite restaurants in Park City you recommend? Let me know in the comments.

Film Festival Highlights: Sundance 2017

December means the end of a festival season. While films are being pushed by studios and distributors for the awards season, a new crop of films are announced for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival. As films are bought (or not) they will be rolled out over the course of the new year and festival circuit.

December is also a time of anticipation as Sundance spends the first two weeks announcing their lineup. As a curator, it’s exciting to see what projects you’ve heard about or tracked over the past few months (and sometimes years) will have their premieres in Park City. The 2017 festival seems to have many great films in store for us.

Sundance has announced most of their titles and you can dig into the full lineup through their press releases: the competition films, New Frontier, Premieres/Midnight/Family and Shorts. These are a few of the new competition titles I’m excited to see:

US Narrative Feature Competition

  • Crown Heights / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matt Ruskin) — When Colin Warner is wrongfully convicted of murder, his best friend, Carl King, devotes his life to proving Colin’s innocence. Adapted from This American Life, this is the incredible true story of their harrowing quest for justice. Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Bill Camp, Nestor Carbonell, Amari Cheatom.
    Quick thoughts: Always down for a film adaptation from TAL.
  • The Hero / U.S.A. (Director: Brett Haley, Screenwriters: Brett Haley, Marc Basch) — Lee, a former Western film icon, is living a comfortable existence lending his golden voice to advertisements and smoking weed. After receiving a lifetime achievement award and unexpected news, Lee reexamines his past, while a chance meeting with a sardonic comic has him looking to the future. Cast: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross
    Quick thoughts: Haley’s last film, I’ll See You In My Dreams, also premiered at Sundance and was the opening night film at DIFF. Any film that can pair Sam Elliott and Nick Offerman is on my list.
  • The Yellow Birds / U.S.A. (Director: Alexandre Moors, Screenwriters: David Lowery, R.F.I. Porto) — Two young men enlist in the army and are deployed to fight in the Iraq War. After an unthinkable tragedy, the returning soldier struggles to balance his promise of silence with the truth and a mourning mother’s search for peace. Cast: Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Patric, Toni Collette, Jennifer Aniston.
    Quick thoughts: David Lowery is multi-talented and an old filmmaking friend. Always interested to see his work.

US Documentary Feature Competition

  • Casting JonBenet / U.S.A., Australia (Director: Kitty Green) — The unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey remains the world’s most sensational child murder case. Over 15 months, responses, reflections and performances were elicited from the Ramsey’s Colorado hometown community, creating a bold work of art from the collective memories and mythologies the crime inspired.
    Quick thoughts: Green’s previous work includes an amazing short film called The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul. I heard about this doc when I programmed that short a few years ago and have been looking forward to it ever since hearing the premise.

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    Casting JonBenét (2017)
  • City of Ghosts / U.S.A. (Director: Matthew Heineman) — With unprecedented access, this documentary follows the extraordinary journey of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”—a group of anonymous citizen journalists who banded together after their homeland was overtaken by ISIS—as they risk their lives to stand up against one of the greatest evils in the world today.
    Quick thoughts: Been a fan of Heineman’s work for several years, having programmed his previous two docs. If you haven’t seen Cartel Land yet, then add it to your queue to watch ASAP.
  • Dina / U.S.A. (Directors: Dan Sickles, Antonio Santini) — An eccentric suburban woman and a Walmart door-greeter navigate their evolving relationship in this unconventional love story.
    Quick thoughts: I saw this as part of my consulting work for Sundance. It’s a beautiful story of intimacy and love. Put it on your must-see list.

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    Dina (2017)
  • The Force / U.S.A. (Director: Pete Nicks) — This cinema verité look at the long-troubled Oakland Police Department goes deep inside their struggles to confront federal demands for reform, a popular uprising following events in Ferguson and an explosive scandal.
    Quick thoughts: Topical film from the director of another great doc, The Waiting Room.
  • Unrest / U.S.A. (Director: Jennifer Brea) — When Harvard PhD student Jennifer Brea is struck down at 28 by a fever that leaves her bedridden, doctors tell her it’s “all in her head.” Determined to live, she sets out on a virtual journey to document her story—and four other families’ stories—fighting a disease medicine forgot.
    Quick thoughts: I’ve been tracking this film for a few months. Having dealt with odd health issues myself, I’m sure this film will hit home with me.

World Documentary Feature Competition

  • Motherland / U.S.A., Philippines (Director: Ramona Diaz) — The planet’s busiest maternity hospital is located in one of its poorest and most populous countries: the Philippines. There, poor women face devastating consequences as their country struggles with reproductive health policy and the politics of conservative Catholic ideologies.
    Quick thoughts: Docs about women and healthcare – I’m all about it.
  • Tokyo Idols / United Kingdom, Canada (Director: Kyoko Miyake) — This exploration of Japan’s fascination with girl bands and their music follows an aspiring pop singer and her fans, delving into the cultural obsession with young female sexuality and the growing disconnect between men and women in hypermodern societies.
    Quick thoughts: Another film topic I’m always interested in: exploring the issue of female sexuality.

NEXT Competition

  • A Ghost Story / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: David Lowery) — This is the story of a ghost and the house he haunts. Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Sonia Acevedo, Rob Zabrecky, Liz Franke.
    Quick thoughts: Lowery and company snuck in the production of a strange little film back in Texas (amongst finishing and a publicity tour for Pete’s Dragon)Very excited for this team to be back in Park City with a new film.

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    A Ghost Story (2017)
  • Person to Person / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Dustin Guy Defa) — A record collector hustles for a big score while his heartbroken roommate tries to erase a terrible mistake, a teenager bears witness to her best friend’s new relationship and a rookie reporter, alongside her demanding supervisor, chases the clues of a murder case involving a life-weary clock shop owner. Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Michael Cera, Tavi Gevinson, Philip Baker Hall, Bene Coopersmith, George Sample III.
    Quick thoughts: Dustin Guy Defa has been on the circuit with short films for a while. Excited to see his second feature-length film.

 

What are some of the Sundance films you’re excited about? Let’s discuss in the comments!