One of the most telling moments of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival didn't even happen in Park City. It happened some 1800 miles away.
While I was at Sundance with my brother Matt, my husband very graciously played Mr. Mom for a few days, a job that included taking our two year old to his weekly My Gym class. Chatting with one of the other moms by the trampoline, my husband explained my absence: Matt and I had gone to the festival to be with our brother, Eric, a writer-director whose film, 3 Backyards, was in the dramatic competition.
And so began the inquisition.
So is he out there looking for distribution?
So maybe when he's there they can sell the film, right?
Do you think he'll be able to get an investor interested?
And there you have it.
Whereas Sundance was once a place for film purists to celebrate independent film precisely for its independence from the commercial mainstream, so many people now view the festival as nothing more than a J.V. Hollywood. It's a place where people on bathroom lines chat about which film they think is going to be the next Clerks or Blair Witch Project, a place where buzz reigns supreme and even suburban soccer moms immediately inquire about an indie film's commercial prospects.
Which is why, when kicking off this year's festival, with its "return to roots" ethos, Robert Redford took a shot at none other than Paris Hilton. Redford said Sundance has been "sliding," allowing celebrities, swag and buzz to overshadow the festival's real purpose. "It kind of engulfed what we did," Redford explained. "You end up with parties and celebrities and Paris Hilton...and that's not us. Sundance has nothing to do with any of that." So perhaps it's only fitting that my 2010 Sundance Film Festival experience was about as far from Paris Hilton as you can get: I saw only one hauntingly beautiful and decidedly un-commercial film the whole time I was there. (Three times!) I didn't attend a single party or see a single celebrity, unless you count the supremely lovely Kathryn Erbe, of Law and Order: Criminal Intent and Oz fame, who is one of the stars of 3 Backyards. Had I gotten there a day earlier, I would have been hanging out with The Sopranos' Edie Falco, but since she's been my brother's dearest friend for almost 30 years, I don't really think of her as a celebrity any more. I wanted desperately to follow Eric's lead and refuse to read any so-called buzz, but alas, the lure of the Twitter search and the google alert proved too great for me.
So how was my Sundance experience? Perfect. We were there solely for moral support -- a nervous Eric told one interviewer he was "still looking for the 'fest' in 'festival'" -- and that's exactly what we provided. Eric introduced me and Matt at one screening, explaining that we had come to "rescue him;" we later joked it was between Haiti and Park City.
3 Backyards? Come on. I thought it was brilliant. But my brother wrote and directed it, so maybe you'd rather hear what Variety said. Or the Los Angeles Times.
Was it the most buzzed-about film at Sundance? Nope. Not by a long shot. But ultimately Eric transcended the ephemeral buzz and instead received an indisputable piece of actual acclaim: on Saturday night, he was named Best Director of the dramatic competition. You can watch his hilarious and heartfelt acceptance speech below. My screams were so loud I almost woke up the neighborhood.
Congratulations, Eric. Not that you'll ever in a million years read this, but I hope you know I'm so so so very proud of you, not just for "winning" but for being true to who you are and making a film you believe in. I hope you get to make a million more. And that you never, ever, have to work with Paris Hilton.