(A firsthand account of the films, celebrities, snow and occasional Mormons that compose the greatest film festival in the world, or that we've been to so far.)
By Glenn LaFollette
INT. -- HARTSFIELD-JACKSON AIRPORT -- DAY
A crowded terminal BUSTLES with the TAPPING of feet and the CLICKING of BlackBerry keys and the RIPPING of ticket stubs.
A thick, blanketing snow falls just beyond the terminal windows, clinging to anything it can find.
A lone WRITER sits at the end of a long row of seats, staring at his pants and the four-inch-long pool of ketchup spreading down his knee, GROANING because of his two-hour snow delay and lack of hot dog coordination.
This is how I left Atlanta â a booming, all-American city with too much traffic, great diversity and more homeless people than you can shake a stick at it. It's home and it's beautiful. Why would you ever want to leave? OK, besides running out of water and a retarded governor, why else would you ever want to leave?
Well, this particular week I had a very good reason. It's called the Sundance Film Festival, and it's everything a film junkie, budding writer or celebrity seeker could want. I find myself to be a little of all three.
If you're not familiar â and I'm sure you are if you've made it past the first 157 words â Sundance is an annual film festival in Park City, Utah, bringing together an eclectic mix of ambitious independent filmmakers. The festival has been going since 1978 and has given national spotlight to such films as Reservoir Dogs, The Blair Witch Project, Napoleon Dynamite, Little Miss Sunshine, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape. It's basically a springboard for the hoping-to-be-rich-and-famous to land a major distribution deal or at least some street cred.
What you'll find here are my collective thoughts, reviews, observations and drunken ramblings as I journey into the heart of Mormon country for the dream that is Sundance. Currently, it is nothing more than an idea. For all I know, it could just be a Mormon trick to fool the rich and famous into dumping one crazy religion â Tomcruiseology â for another.
Alien spirits or Jesus in Missouri? You pick your poison.
For now, I'm going to get back to cleaning my pants and waiting for the good people of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to de-ice my plane. From the looks of it, I don't think they've ever had to do it before. It must snow in Atlanta as much as it rains. Just something else for the governor to pray about.
INT. -- U.S. AIRWAYS FLIGHT 471 -- FOUR HOURS LATER
We're in the air, and this has given me time to do two things: read most of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men and highlight the films I'd like to see at the festival.
The first half of the journey I spend my time watching the in-flight movie: The Game Plan with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. I'm on my way to a film festival, so I think, "What the hell? Let's have some Arby's now so I can appreciate the escargot later."
I told myself I would review every film I saw, no matter how bad. So this is what you can expect. Think of it as our training-wheels review.
THE GAME PLAN
Directed by Andy Fickman
Starring the Rock, Kyra Sedgwick, Roselyn Sanchez, Madison Pettis, Morris Chestnut, Spike the Bulldog
Plot: Joe Kingman (the Rock) is a gridiron god who just can't get past his own ego to win the big game. With his self-worth reaching all-time highs, Kingman finds a surprise on his doorstep. What could it be? A big payday for mailing in a Disney film? Nope, his 7-year-old daughter who decided to drop in and let him know she exists. Can Joe find a way to be an MVP on the field and in parenthood? Stick a fork in your brain and find out.
Review: It comes down to this. U.S. Airways owes me money. Sure, I voluntarily plugged in my headphones. Sure, I laughed that time the dog was in the tutu. Sure, I got a little emotional when the Rock was like, "I never answered your question. What's the best thing that ever happened to me? It's you." But does that mean this is the film that should be used to kill one-third of my flight to Phoenix? The answer is a solid no.
Don't feel bad for me. I knew what I was getting into. I honestly did spend five to 10 minutes discussing the likelihood or unlikelihood of A) a man who looks like a middle linebacker playing QB and B) said man returning in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl with a separated shoulder to lead the game's winning drive with my in-flight neighbor, Charlie, a twentysomething Los Angeles native who spends his time rappelling off of skyscrapers to hang advertising banners.
I found this way more interesting than what I do, but anything that involves rappelling off something usually does. After the movie, I turned to No Country. If you haven't seen the movie, do it now. It will win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Atonement is equally good, but for different reasons. Since you're not a badass â like myself â take some time to go see these films, because they're the best of the year and the best that you (normal people not going to Sundance) will get to see. I'm pretty sure going to Sundance gives me the right to be vain and only take in the very best of the cinematic world.
Hold on, they're playing Transformers. Got to get back to you. I'm going to ... um ... read some more.
EXT. -- SALT LAKE CITY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT -- NIGHT
I'm instantly looking for celebrities, and then I realize everyone else is doing the same thing. My inside sources â my friend and his boyfriend â have confirmed two sightings: Jack Black and 50 Cent. They were together and for some reason this doesn't surprise me. Fitty obviously isn't making music anymore, so why not hang out with Jack Black.
The baggage claim takes about 20 minutes, so I take some time to soak in my surroundings. One of every three people seems to have skis, and I'm not sure about this, but there may not actually be any African-Americans in Utah. Wait, there's one. Scratch that. She's from South Africa and is here for the festival. I asked.
This doesn't surprise me. Everyone seems to be here for the festival. The minute my plane landed, seven different couples were dialing friends to assure they had tickets for that night's showings. My local friend, Johnathan, is actually volunteering, so I hope I'll be fine in that department. Nothing bad ever came from assumption, right?
One of the locals notices my Braves hat and inquires about my place of origin. I tell her I flew in from Atlanta, but to please not hold it against me. She asks why. I change the subject. She asks about our water-shortage issues. I tell her we're working on them and that the governor is praying for rain. She says that seems like a good idea. I realize I've met my first Mormon.
My local friends pick me up. It's my first time in the city, and from what I can see it's beautiful. Salt Lake City sits in a valley, surrounded by a group of mountains that makes the Appalachians look like a fatter, lazier younger brother.
It's too late to catch any of the Sundance films that show in Salt Lake. The festival uses both SLC and Park City venues. Instead, we head to a bar. This wouldn't be anything worth noting, but Utah must have been the last state to abolish Prohibition. Alcohol is not easy to get. Bars require membership fees. No average Joe can just walk in and get a drink. You have to be a member of the bar, pay for a three-week temporary membership or have a patron sponsor you. Restaurants are similar. You have to order food before getting anything to drink, and the staff can't deliver another beverage until the current one is completely empty.
My friends also tried to convince me you are only allowed to use the bathroom once every two days because of the city's waste-management issues. This was an obvious lie, but when a state holds alcohol hostage like this and tends to think Native Americans were painted by God for their sins, anything sounds reasonable to me.
It's the end of a long travel day, and I need to rest. I will call a couch home for the next eight days. That's not going to be a problem, but holding my No. 2, that's going to be killer.
UP NEXT: Exploring Salt Lake and the ups and downs of the standby line.