sundance themes, past and present
okay, so only one person voted on my poll, and that's. okay.
i've decided to keep my Sundance updates here, on "kind of . . ." because, well, it's a catch all. i'm not an especially theme-driven writer person, and, well, my thoughts about Sundance, while wandering from film reviews, celebrity news, and behind-the-scene stuff about working the festival *do*, in a sense, represent.
as you can see in the above photo, this year's theme is "film takes place," and if you're a fan of Marc Auge, and his theory of "non-places," you may appreciate the irony. because film sets -- which is where films actually take place -- represent "non-places," i think, because of how they represent "places of transience that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as 'places'" (from same wikipedia entry, which seems okay by me). i mean, of course, "film happens," and thus, "takes place" (the traditional meaning of "taking place"). but to consider film taking place through the lens of Auge's thinking about "places of transicence" -- film sets are obviously transient and merely representational spaces (and yet, they are "set" ?? . . . so maybe this theme is actually nuanced and cool, like the Sundance i know and love) -- one might also call up images of film crews blocking, cordoning off, and controlling certain places -- Vaquez Rocks, anyone?? think Star Trek and that fight between Kirk and that white horned monster "da da DADADADA da da da da da." i'm not a trekkie by any standard, but there is your memory of Vasquez Rocks.
someone is always shooting at Vasquez Rocks because it's "otherworldly," "extraterrestrial," "historical", or "barren landscape with craggy nooks within which to place your Terrified Heroine."
but so the point is that film takes places, takes over, and that's sort of fine, but kind of funny and horrible, also. and, not so tragically, it's not a place in any "real" sense of place as knowable, grounding/grounded, and/or permanent. and yet, it's "set." maybe it would have been more forthcoming to theme the festival "film takes space," but that sounds far more hideous and colonial and nasty (i.e., um, somewhat honest . . . sure, the film industry is fabulous, and i love it, but it's also kind of nasty, and i don't think anyone who works in it would actually deny this perspective). when i was in L.A. for my interview at CalArts (i probably should have taken that job #%$##!!! . . . despite the poor pay), i climbed up that highest jagged rock, and it was p-r-i-t-t-y cool, placing myself in those scenes from my memories of beloved films and cheesy t.v. programs. there's a picture somewhere. i'll try to find it because i can feel your fascination, your deSirE!.
so but it's easy to critique this year's theme, and there is certainly MUCH more to say. BUuuuuut, i actually love it. it's sort of simple. not going for too much highbrow metaphorical self-importance, as in years' past (see my PRE/TEXT piece for my thoughts on last year's theme -- ugh, flames . . . there aren't enough words . . . ). this image (right) is of the giant posters that marketed the festival and identified certain spaces as Sundance venues. the Film Guide (left), which is the index to all things Sundance, looks much better, but it's still clunky, that "fiery passion" theme. an insider told me it was all about Prometheus. ha.
the far better rendering of Prometheus came in the '06 retro-literary theme (Sundance is ALLL about "story," which is fine. maybe even good. but sometimes, the talk about story feels kinda creepy in its self-importance;it's like when people talk about their love of "WOoooords!!" please). so but '06: even the screen "fillers" -- images that fill the screen between events, creating a mood -- were pretty clever (various literary and "storied" figures sat in a film theater, doing the things -- in nanoscopically determinable moves -- that people do in theaters: eating popcorn, flirting, pushing past seated patrons to find a seat, etc. there was even, if i recall correctly, a trojan horse in the theater. that was kind of funny).
when i first started to volunteer for Sundance in 2001, the theme was sort of freakishly vibratory . . . sort of about motion and electric vibes and circuits (lordy, i hated that theme; see right). the colors. the mess.
better was '03, even if it was a little hippy-groovy. an image of a cupped hand holding what seemed to be a sun coming up over the horizon in the distance but was actually a large, orange egg. grooooooovy. but actually, groovy (see left, which is actually an image of the framed poster i took in my basement office, so it's not exactly clear, but maybe this ambiguity will aid in your appreciation . . . because. it is. pretty corny). maybe it's simply that 2003 was a great festival year, and my memories are so happy from '03. maybe this is why i can more easily tolerate the hoke. not sure.
2004 went full-on "cowboy," and i recall feeling angry that one promo book (right) contained images of male cowboys, exclusively (come on, Sundance!). there was a nice page that detailed "festival basics," (left) and it sort of resembled those cut-0ut articles of clothing you'd use to dress your paper dolls. still, it had a retro feeling that worked (and, well, maybe thus the male-only theme . . . retro . . . ???). actually, there may have been one cowgirl, but she feels like an afterthought, a smurfette (although in this image, she leads the charge; still, front and center is the blonde, Great American cowboy. heath? sorry).
as i write, i think, why haven't i done some writing about the visual rhetoric of the Sundance Film Festival? probably because the 12-hour work day exhausts and delights me in ways that occlude Serious Academic Thought . . .
and this brings me to the TRAGIC 2005 theme, "independent." yep, that's all. just "independent." and, i mean, well, of course. but here's the awful thing: Sundance usually screens these self-promotional shorts just before a festival selection screening (because, what? you might forget that you are at the Sundance Film Festival? . . . more like, let's work that theme we paid so much to develop, i guess, in my more cynical mode). anyhow, so the giant theme appears -- texty, as in the film guide image (left). and then a few letters drop out, so that INDEPENDENT morphs into INEPT. um. so. going for self-deprecation, i think? so it's kindofinaverytinyway funny, but to me, as a filmmaker and a theater manager who interacts directly w/ the filmmakers and actors and producers, etc. -- who show up full of nightmarish hopes and frightfully desperate, faith-wearying dreams -- well, it's a little insulting. more than a little, maybe. were i a comedian proper, i'd have to say, "d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s." but i'm not. so.
a bit of naughty fun. more later . . .