As the films continue to premiere and the voting for audience awards moves forward, it occurs to me that Sundance is a place you don’t want to come unless you are willing to have your worldview questioned. Some will argue that Sundance has a reputation for a liberal agenda, and this is somewhat true if your lens is fixed on the political. But if your lens is made up of human stories about people’s ethical and moral choices as well as the subtle religious and overtly spiritual themes, there is much to like about Sundance. Throw in some other films that are just “out there,” such as Michael Winterbottom’s “The Look of Love” about Paul Raymond, the Hugh Hefner of the UK, and you will have a positive Sundance experience.
It’s not easy to navigate the terrain in Park City, Utah. Sidewalks and roads have slush and ice, and there are long distances between venues that discourage walking except for the most sure-footed among us. Did I mention that this city sits at 8,000 feet above sea level, give or take? Lots of water, hand and face lotion, and sunglasses are a must. To offset any discomfort, are the more than 1,300 volunteers who take tickets, lead people from the white waiting tents into theaters, answer questions, and get you on the right bus. I can say this because I dress down for film festivals, so people don’t know I’m a nun; these volunteers and bus drivers are helpful and gracious to everyone. The buses kneel down and though I might have to remind the driver in case he or she doesn’t see my cane (I have multiple sclerosis), they lower the front step willingly. Sundance is notorious for the long lines, even for people with tickets, and sometimes you have to wait and snake through the queues. Yet if you ask for a chair, the volunteers do everything they can to find one, then let you take a short cut and use the elevator if one is available.
After Sunday Mass today at the beautiful St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Park City, I needed to go to The Temple Theater (a synagogue has converted space) across a very large street. I asked a woman in the vestibule taking care of coffee and donuts if she could speed me across in her SUV (everyone has a large vehicle here, it seems), and she graciously agreed. After, it was getting late to arrive at another venue, and a volunteer at the bus stop offered to drive me in his car. He told me that all the volunteers, who come from near and far to work at the festival, want to make Sundance a good experience for everyone. I made it.
On the bus this afternoon, someone started talking about the excellent and moving documentary “Which Way Is the Front Line from Here?” about the life and death of photojournalist Tim Hetherington (1970-2011), and random folks started commenting. A young woman near me asked why I was at the festival, and it turned out she was Catholic and a filmmaker, Theresa Loong from New York. Her Taiwan-born father served in the U.S. military during World War II and was a prisoner of war in Japan. Her film documented his wartime experiences and memories, so Tim Hetherington’s story resonated with her. I am typing this at the house she and several other filmmakers and journalists have rented until it is time for the next film in three hours. These young people are mostly Asian and are making dumplings for an early celebration for Chinese New Year, and they invited me to partake. Yum.
Here are more reviews of Sundance films:
Which Way Is the Frontline From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington
Documentary directed by Sebastian Junger
(The documentary premieres April 14 on HBO.)
Hetherington was a British photojournalist who documented the faces of war. It was not the battle that attracted him; it was the people. Most people will know Tim from the 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary he made with Sebastian Junger, “Restrepo,” ….