Dirty Sundancing!

The summer heat is in full effect, and that means you’re probably doing all you can to stay near the conditioned air.  Well, no big deal because I’ve got the scoop on the coolest film festival this year—Sundance 2010.  Last January I spent a week in Park City, Utah with frigid temperatures, fast women, and fun films.  So, grab a cold one and tap your winter boots together because I’m bringing you back to the most severe winter in American history.  Better late than never, here’s a round up of my experiences/journal from the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Enjoy!


January 22, 2010


Butterflies.  It felt like I was twelve years old again and had my opening day of middle school to think about.  But it wasn’t school that concerned me.  I was on my way to Park City, Utah for my first ever Sundance Film Festival.


January 23, 2010


Luckily, I’m not traveling alone and am accompanied by a childhood friend who had had the privilege of attending the best renowned and perhaps most prominent independent film festival of them all twos times (2005, 2008)—Sundance.  He had gone practically every year of our college careers, whilst we lived together, but only traveled solo.   I’d been asking him to remind me of when he intended to purchase hotel reservations and airplane tickets.  This year, I had enough money saved up and could finally take the time off work to fly out to a winter wonderland.  It isn’t too often that you get the chance to participate in something you honestly believe in and value.

My first layover was in Atlanta, Georgia for a couple of hours.  I had to kill some time so I went to the only logical place—the bar.  After grabbing a bite to eat and pounding a couple of pints, we began to play the waiting game.  Everyone says waiting is the hardest part, and they’re probably right.  As we impatiently waited in one of the largest international airports on earth, all we could focus on were fragments of news about Sundance.  CNN had a piece about a documentary film titled “The Fence.”  As expected, they inserted their own twist to make it overly political.  Those handy Sky Magazines included a little article about how A-List stars flocked to a resort city once a year to catch newly produced motion pictures.  With over 50,000 attendees clamoring to watch 200 film screenings, this was shaping out to be one hell of a trip.  We were nowhere near celebrity status and just wanted to catch a glimpse of high-society and high-quality films.  This Martini the flight attendant made tasted like grape juice thanks to the puréed, artificial flavoring she put in as a means to spice things up.  I was hoping for something dry and calming, instead I got something watery and infused with sugar.  I guess I’d have to wait for Utah to have my real thirst quenched.


January 23, 2010


After the terrible “adult beverage” which ended up being a quasi cosmopolitan, I was looking forward to a long flight where I could catch up on some much needed rest.  Unfortunately, that was not to be so.  As the full plane docked on the tar mat, the passengers were informed that the hydraulics had malfunctioned.  So, three hours later and an airplane change, we ended up being 10,000 feet above sea level.  Though, as I write this, my flight has been severely delayed, the fact that this technologically advanced aircraft allowed for all-access movies somewhat made up for it.  “Inglorious Basterds,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “Up!,” and “Public Enemies” were all available for a free watch as I traveled through time and space in a long metallic transport.  What would you watch on a five-hour flight at about one in the morning?

Well, personally, I opted for a little “Inglorious Basterds” before I decided that it was time to catch a little shuteye.


January 23, 2010


Down under our traveling tube laid Salt Lake City.  The billowing clouds made the city lights below look as though they were burning embers glowing throughout the night sky.


January 23, 2010


We arrived at Salt Lake City, Utah hungry, tired, and mildly hung-over.  I never knew Utah could be so much fun.  At this point, we’re about half-an-hour from Park City and jump on the shuttle to take us to our Best Western Hotel.

We arrived!  The Sundance Film Festival!


January 23, 2010


Following some much needed rest and relaxation, I woke up to see a couple inches of snow on the ground and more reportedly to come.  Since we’re here, lets bust out the schedule of screenings we have in mind:



7 days – 1/25 11:59pm*

The Killer Inside Me – 1/24 9:30pm*

The Shock Doctrine – 1/28 6:15pm

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil – 1/27 5:30pm*

Four Lions – 1/29 2:30pm

Jack Goes Boating – 1/24 9:35am

Louis CK: Hilarious – 1/26 5:30pm*

Holy Rollers – 1/28 9:00pm

Enter the Void – 1/28 9:00pm

Night Catches Us – 1/30 11:30pm*

Buried – 1/24 8:00pm or 1/27 11:30am

The Perfect Host – 1/24 11:30pm*



12th & Delaware – 1/27 12:00pm

The Mormon Proposition – 1/25 5:30pm*

A Film Unfinished – 1/25 3:00pm or 1/27 9:00pm

Russian Lessons – 1/27 9:00am*

GASLAND – 1/24 5:30pm

Catfish – 1/26 3:00pm*

Casino Jack and the United States of Money – 1/26 9:00pm*



A Celebration of Music in Film

On Writing

On Art and Culture


(* = Completed)


Now, whether or not we’ll be able to succeed with our makeshift itinerary remains to be seen.  Lets find out.


January 24, 2010


Oh, what a night.  Our first day at Sundance and what a doozy it was.  Where do I begin?  Well, we went into Park City to grab a bite to eat, pick up some tickets, catch a flick, drink some beers, and have some fun.

Rather than bore you with how we waited around to buy tickets, ate some lunch, saw a guy dressed up as a Yeti, and stood around for screenings, I’ll get right to the juicy parts.

We decided to hop on a waiting list (because all the tickets were sold out) to catch a fairly interesting premiere.  As we attempted to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s “Jack Goes Boating,” my friend and I were presented with a fairly serious moral dilemma.  Do we play by the rules or allow chaos to run rampant?  We chose the former.  On every “waiting list” ticket stub it clearly states that you must be present a full half-hour before the screening.  Some people, however, believe that they’re an exception to the rules and need not concern themselves with the welfare of others.  So, after hearing a sob story and cutting through about 100 people in line, a fairly butch, middle-aged women whose complaining about missing a shuttle wore on for sometime, my friend and I proceeded to lay into her pretty well.  Mentioning how everyone waited and that it was really unfair for her to take advantage of a situation.  She went on to proclaim how we were giving off “bad karma” and how we were bad people.  Don’t be mistaken, we were blunt, honest, but not overtly mean.  Needless to say, everyone cheered for us while she managed to evade the staff and end up in spot number 67 as my friend and I hung in the back at numbers 146 and 147.  Of course, as fate would have it, she made it in, and we got stuck waiting to no avail.

There isn’t any point in sulking in despair.  So, we went to the heart of Park City for a few more pints hoping to perhaps watch the midnight premiere of “The Perfect Host.”  Luckily, we made it in after being put on the waitlist and enjoyed a relatively nice comedic thriller that had a unique style all its own.  Since I don’t want to ruin anything for the uninitiated, this is a motion picture featuring a genius performance by David Hyde Pierce who truly outdoes himself every go around.  An amalgamation of dark comedy, sadistic carnage, and thrilling plot twists, the best way to describe “The Perfect Host” succinctly is to say that it was an out and out hoot!  A fun, unpredictable film throughout!

As our evening came to a close and we walked out of the Egyptian Theater on Main Street to look for a cab.  I’ve heard some pretty wild stories about the cabbies in Park City, though I had NO idea what I’d be in for.  Subsequent to talking about Russian mail-order brides, dog collars, and glowing prostitutes from radiation, I realized how spectacular of a place this Park City truly is.  If you ever get a chance to attend Sundance, make sure you take a cab every chance you get.

Wildlife in Park City


January 24, 2010


Posterior to a fairly lazy start to the day, which consisted of staying in our room, ordering pizza and watching Road House, we had one film on our itinerary that we thought would make for a good addition to the schedule.  So, it was back to the Eccles Theater where we’d hopefully have better luck with waitlist tickets than we did last time.  Before the film could get underway however, the waiting would have to begin.  While my friend went to the restroom, I waited with the promise of a premiere showing that would absolutely be a night to remember—and it was.  When my friend met me back in line, he had an auspicious smile on his face.  He went on to tell me that, during his business on the toilet, one Tom Arnold was in the booth beside him.  As the avalanche of Austin Powers jokes came pouring out of my mouth, I asked if he said anything.  “What was I going to say to Tom Arnold in the waterloo that hasn’t been mentioned already?” he noted.  After I got the stinky details about how they were stall-to-stall and washed up sink-to-sink, the line started to move and we were thankfully admitted inside.  Just another celebrity sighting in a bathroom, folks…your typical Sundance Film Festival fare.  My friend was honestly dump-struck.

Likely the most controversial film at Sundance this year, “The Killer Inside Me” boasts a properly full-bodied cast with actors like Casey Affleck, Bill Pullman, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Elias Koteas, and Simon Baker.  Following a deranged detective who gets his kicks from sex and blood, this plot tried to stay true to the novel though never really succeeded in sewing a unifying thread.  Though a remake with some teeth, the film seemed to be overtly masturbatory when it came to its many violent scenes.  Believe me, I’m all for gore and gratuitous violence, but this picture appeared to use the gore as a crutch and not for anything of substance.  Nevertheless, this crime, western, noir had some outstanding performances yet the plot holes tended to unravel the filmic narrative.

In the wake of the screening, the director, cast, and producers were kind enough to take questions (Jessica Alba left early).  Of course, the first question (or statement) came from a rather distraught moviegoer who protested the fact that something so “vile” could make it to Sundance.  Certainly the violence towards women throughout the film along with the camera not turning away would dissuade those viewers unprepared for a challenging picture that was meant to leave an impression.  Afterwards, many viewers were lumped into either camp:  loved it or hated it.  I was somewhere in the middle and just felt there was no real cohesiveness that should have been used to guide the audience.  However, “The Killer Inside Me” made for a “disturbing” albeit confrontational motion picture.  This should likely get a big yes or a big no from the movie going public.


January 25, 2010


Unfortunately, we were off to a late start again and only had one film on our list for Monday.  “The Mormon Proposition” ended up being a highly popular documentary about the recent law passed in California called Proposition 8, which effectively banned gay marriage in the state.  Centering around the fact that Utah’s Church of Latter Day Saints poured a preponderance of money into an election out of state and the effect it had on gay couples nation wide, “The Mormon Proposition” resulted in being a very heavy handed look into what gay and lesbian individuals struggle with on an almost daily basis.  Using an overt amount of pathos and mildly skewing some dialogue of the opposition by using voice modulation as a means to up-play the sinister nature of certain Mormon clergy members, “The Mormon Proposition” did consequently have an emotive albeit cumbersome effect.

Of course, the filmmakers had an agenda but they were more than apt to open an objective dialogue after the film. The mood in “The Mormon Proposition” was welcoming, though it felt like they were alienating those that they were trying to “convert.”  Rather than preach to the choir, the documentary would probably have been more successful in turning heads of skeptics had it allowed for a more fair representation of the opposition.   Interesting, informative, but ultimately schema drive, “The Mormon Proposition” was poignant although didn’t actually further or change my already held libertarian opinion that more rights and less government is better for all.


January 26, 2010


We arose bright and early for a change in order to pick up a couple of tickets that were made available at the box office late last night.  The two of us very much-anticipated Louis C.K.’s stand up special titled “Hilarious.”  Louis’ vulgar jokes would make a nice change from last night’s emotionally draining documentary.  Luckily, we got our passes along with another set for “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” and “Catfish.”  Since we don’t have to stand around in the waitlist line, we’ll have ample time to catch all films along with some meandering bar runs in between.


January 26, 2010


Today was one of our more busy days as we had four wonderful films to attend all one right after the other.

It started with a cunning documentary entitled “Catfish,” which followed an online relationship between two individuals across the American landscape.  A rather unorthodox window into our technologically advanced society where the need for interpersonal relationships has taken a back seat to artificial liaison websites like facebook and myspace, “Catfish” artfully demonstrates the dangers and emotional heartache that often accompanies these fast track community websites that only offer false connections based on pictures and rudimentary information.  This film speaks specifically to where we’ve gone as a whole with these computerized relationship services versus actual physical connections.  Now, more than ever, it’s important to realize that reality is much more powerful and accurate compared to that of a computer monitor where everything may not be as it seems.  Interesting, and more importantly current, “Catfish” will freak you out at how prevalent these occurrences are.

(Note/Update:  While talking with several actors and editors days after our initial screening, it seems as though we’ve all come to a potential conclusion that “Catfish” may have been completely staged or fabricated.  Not that we didn’t know it was a documentary—or that it isn’t OK to script a documentary—but that a makeshift consensus was reached in that perchance a handful of instances in the film now felt planned.  A bit too perfect and coincidental to be pure happenstance, the directors were even asked at a recent showing if they plotted everything. They brushed off the question rather than address it.  Since I don’t want to ruin the documentary, I’ll leave out the questionable instances and just say everything came together a bit too cleanly.  Moreover, a few individuals recognized the people in the film as Hollywood actors.  Of course none of this is confirmed as I write this and is purely speculation, it shouldn’t dampen your appreciation.  Just be mindful that the wool may have been pulled over the eyes of the audience.  We’ll know in a few months from now if this is a hoax or all the pieces luckily fell into place.)

Next on our agenda was Louis C.K.’s “Hilarious.”  Featuring the contemporary standup mastermind’s comedy as well as a short intro, this highly amusing, vulgar and in your face style may not please everyone, but it’s sure to push the limits of what is considered politically correct.   I, for one, am a fairly big fan of his comedy style, which resembles that of Richard Pryor or George Carlin.  A standup special that is really anything but your average fare, “Hilarious” lived up to its name and seriously met my relatively high expectations.  Surely, many will find him overly offensive or just pass on his approach to what he considers funny, though if you’re able to allow his presentation as well as delivery into your psyche, you’ll indeed understand that he’s carrying the torch that his all too praiseworthy predecessors passed on.  Afterwards, Louis C.K. gave a well-done question and answer where me mentioned his upcoming show on FX along with a theatrical release of “Hilarious” (and later Comedy Central spotlight).  What’s more, the audience consisted of actors like Jason Ritter, an Inglorious Basterds supporting cast member, a Curb Your Enthusiasm guest star, and many more.  Hilarious?  That’s a big yes!

Lastly, we rounded out the night with another documentary titled “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.”  This all encompassing film centered on the fraudulent practices of Jack Abramoff who stole literally millions of dollars through front business as a means to influence lobbing political figureheads.  While it mainly focused, and rightly so to an extent, on Abramoff’s dealings with the George Bush Republicans, I couldn’t help feeling that more could have been said about the other side—the Democrats—who, though perhaps not as guilty, share some of the same sins as their “counterparts.”  It glazed over the fact that America, as well as practically the rest of the world, has a government system that is solely comprised of a duopoly schematic with a left/right paradigm program.  Moreover, award winning director Alex Gibney went on to blame capitalism and the free markets for allowing the egregious greed and unethical practices to exist.  When, in all actuality, it was the perversion of the free market that enabled these thieves to steal money under the guise of capitalism.  Running at well over two hours in length, it’s understandable that this large topic had to be cut out as a means for time.  Nevertheless, the question needs to be asked, would these sorts of criminal acts not appear in a communist system?  Of course it would.  Indeed, it seems that the rabbit hole goes much deeper than what appears.  Still, the overall documentary is very relevant and sheds light on the type of grotesque back dealing that goes on in practically all governmental landscapes.  Well worth watching as long as one does his or her own individual independent research on the cause and effect subject being undertaken.  Americans, no, the world, needs to know about this type of blatant deception that has overrun our governing bodies.

No More Questions, Please!


January 27, 2010


Another early morning means that I’m quickly being pushed out the door in order to catch our taxi into town.  I’m always on the run here in Park City, Utah.


January 27, 2010


Finally back in our hotel room with full stomachs and full of spectacle for the night, we had one hell of a day.  As the week wears on, it seems like each new adventure is better than the last.  Although we may not have been able to see everything we wanted due to sold-out tickets, we did manage to find a married couple willing to sell two tickets to “Tucker & Dale V.S. Evil” at the Library Theater.  But first on our schedule at an early 9am showing was a profound documentary known as “Russian Lessons.”  Documenting the recent and ongoing conflict between Russia and Georgia, “Russian Lessons” offers a startling look into what the mainstream media purposefully neglected to publicly mention.  This Russian director provides a different and all too real view of the genocidal mayhem that’s been happening around that region for some time.  A tightly made and genuinely accurate documentary that every individual should see as a means to counteract the misinformation provided by major media outlets, “Russian Lessons” is as real as it gets and never falters in its successful attempts to tell the truth about something as tragic as mass murder.  If you’re interested at all in the history of Russia and Georgia or just seek the truth, “Russian Lessons” is a must-see.

When it comes to transitions, this is about as juxtaposed as it gets.  Subsequent to the heart wrenching “Russian Lessons” was a much sought after film the two of us have been waiting to see—“Tucker & Dale V.S. Evil.”  Enjoy splat-stick horror/comedies?  Well, this may be the mother of all contemporary gore saturated laugh riots and pays major tribute to the old works of filmmakers like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson’s.  A mock of scare classics that actually does justice to the genre, “Tucker & Dale V.S. Evil” is as entertaining as it could possibly get and never comes off as over done or cheap.  With plenty of blood and plenty of laughs, I found this film to be one of the more enjoyable as well as flat out entertaining films thus far into the festival.  Granted this movie isn’t emotionally moving nor does it have something especially profound to say about the meaning of life, but what it does have is a fun and ultra entertaining premise, which any self-respecting horror or comedy fan could greatly appreciate.  To be honest, and this may seem a little non-cinephilia of me, this movie may be the most anticipated video or theatrical release I’ve come across at Sundance.  Bring a poncho and prepare to laugh until it hurts!


January 28, 2010


The late morning came and went as we hurriedly eat our complimentary continental breakfast in optimistic anticipation of the main box office having more available tickets for sale.  We slept in a bit more than we would have liked, but the midnight shows usually allow us to be back at our hotel at around 2:30am.  We waited in line for a few films and got lucky with an early showing of “Holy Rollers” on Friday.  Before that could take place however, we had two films lined up.  One was to try and waitlist for the visual feast called “Enter the Void.”  And the other was for a leading film on our list titled “7 Days.”


January 29, 2010


Our waitlist arrangement for “Enter the Void” worked because we were the first two in line and heard relatively good things about the film.  To our dreadful dismay, “Enter the Void” resulted in being an overloaded psychedelic frenzied about a drug dealer who dies then roams around Tokyo, Japan as a spirit.  This type of synopsis, if done properly, could probably be effective as a decent thriller.  However, “Enter the Void” is bogged down with hyper visuals that feel like I’m in the mind of an attention deficient disordered adolescent on loads of LSD.  It hurt to watch.  Not because of the content, but because of the sporadic editing and filming that went way beyond its tolerable levels left me sick and confused.  I tried really hard to find something noteworthy about “Enter the Void,” yet nothing has come to mind since the screening.  Very rarely do I walk out on a film.  I believe I’ve done it twice in my life.  Once for “The Fog” remake and now the other for “Enter the Void.”  The reason for this was two prong:  one, we just couldn’t take it anymore; and two, we had another midnight showing to catch—“7 Days.”  The last thing I remember during “Enter the Void” was a hallucinogenic abortion as I walked out of the theater.  Avoid “Enter the Void” unless you’re able to purchase hardcore drugs as a means to compensate for its disjointed cinematography and editing techniques.  Void of anything meaningful, “Enter the Void” has left me out of “void” puns and out of patience.

I’ll tell you straight out, “7 Days” was like a breath of fresh air after “Enter the Void.”  Without a doubt the most powerful, sad, and spellbinding film I’ve seen at Sundance so far—or within the last couple of YEARS—“7 Days” was just what the doctor ordered.  A French Canadian film with absorbing performances, exquisite cinematography, and brilliant visual storytelling, “7 Days” reminds me of Michael Haneke’s most resent remake of his terrifying masterpiece “Funny Games.”  In passing, I heard mention of others calling this motion picture “boring with no dialogue.”  Never did I find any scene boring nor did I consider the “lack” of dialogue detracting.  This captivating revenge story contains literally zero music as audiences are pulled directly into the life of a father/doctor who has gone mad with grief after his daughter is raped and murdered.  Not your average torture or revenge flick, “7 Days” is like a much darker version of “Taken.”  In my opinion, this is a near perfect film for my sensibilities thanks to its tight script, moving subject matter, and lovely framing.  This is definitely a must own, must see filmic triumph that I anticipate to be the talk of the town for months to come.  I wholeheartedly adored every aspect of “7 Days” and am overly compelled to get my hands on a DVD or BD release as soon as possible.  Do yourself a huge favor and watch this film!  If I go any deeper into the plot of “7 Days” I may spoil some key points.  If I praise “7 Days” anymore, I may sound like a broken record.  Nonetheless, this film gets my absolute highest recommendation!  Wowzers!


January 29, 2010


Our last day at Sundance consisted of a handful of films, which would more than likely take us all day long—morning to midnight.


January 29, 2010


Rather than immediately wake up and head out the door to catch our earliest showing, we opted to go back to sleep and catch up on some rest following that mesmerizing midnight screening of “7 Days.”  Even if we missed a film, hopefully we’d be able to make up for it on what would be our last day in Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival.


January 29, 2010


What a fruitless day so far.  We missed our first showing of “Holy Rollers,” didn’t get into “Four Lions,” nor did we get into “Wasteland.”  What seemed like all hope was lost quickly became redeemed by the fact that we did have tickets for a midnight showing of “Night Catches Us.”


January 30, 2010


Thankfully, all was not adrift on our last day of Sundance 2010.  Subsequent to a Blockbuster visit (which yielded a few nice finds, namely a stash of HD-DVD’s) we finally caught a flick today and it ended up being a rather decent period piece and character study.  “Night Catches Us” is about a group of former Black Panther’s during the late 1970’s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  A thoroughly proficient script made for a striking film with tons of historical importance that just demands the audience’s attention.  Understandably, “Night Catches Us” is really about two individuals, though does manage to meander to and fro while leaving some characters as mere skeletons.  The run time was fine, the direction was very intuitive, but it felt like a bit more exposition as well as development of minor characters could have enhanced the film’s impact.  Some actors were terrific yet others seemed to fall a tad flat.  I appreciated the full-bodied photography and editing, however I wanted to feel more for the characters.  On the whole, “Night Catches Us” is a smart, and cleverly put together motion picture that had its high points and low.  For me, the film couldn’t strike a solid cord as it twittered off into the wearisome.

Time To Take Our Last Shot


January 30, 2010


As our 2010 Sundance Film Festival experience came to an end and our flight arriving shortly, I felt a new level of appreciation for cinema like never before.  Sundance offers much more than a once a year opportunity to see some of the very best independent films worldwide.  It provides a chance to commune with like-minded individuals who—for the most part—feel the same undying affection for film as any staunch cinephile.  Even though we may have only caught 10 films altogether (comparatively shy of our goal) Sundance blew me away with its exceptional theatrical facilities including The Yarrow, Eccles, The Egyptian, Prospector, Temple, Holiday Village, and The Library theaters.  Park City, Utah is an ideal place to host such a wondrous assemblage of films and people.  If you’re able to wrestle together some monies, get time off work, and wish to familiarize yourself with one of the top film festivals in the world, Sundance is everything I expected and much, much more.  This spectacular holiday that I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy will forever leave an imprint on my consciousness.  Open to the public in the beautiful winter wonderland just outside Salt Lake City, Sundance is a safe haven for movie lovers of any echelon.  Hopefully I’ll see you next year for yet another sensational festival!  Thanks Robert Redford!

-Grant Iwan


2 Responses to “Dirty Sundancing!”

  1. Brian White

    What a great journal-like recap! Thanks Grant!

  2. Gregg

    Wow! This is some great content, Grant! Now I’ve got something else on the to-do list in the future. It sounds like a artistically thrilling time. Thanks for sharing!