As Bob Redford might term it, "The People's Film Festival" kicked off in earnest this weekend. I'd been told that Sundance was an unusually cosy event, as film festivals go, and after riding the complimentary shuttle through Park City, I have to agree. Still, when you're dovetailed with complete strangers, bumping and grinding with each dip in the road, a little tête-à-tête only seems proper. Actually, I usually insist on a spot of dinner before I contemplate the level of intimacy that's imposed upon you by the Park City transit system during festival time.
It was on the Main Street bus that I met Jonathan, a production coordinator specialising in television commercials who started out as a production assistant on The Watcher. In case it passed you by (be grateful), that's the pap psychological thriller starring Keanu Reeves and James Spader, which, for all its faults, was very well coordinated. As well as fitting in some time on the slopes, Jonathan is in town trying to negotiate his way back into the movie business. The industry term for it is "schmoozing", the tricky and sometimes painful balancing act of small talk and self promotion - a necessary evil for any aspiring filmmaker.
While waiting for the Festival Loop shuttle, I fell into conversation with Theresa, a budding director who's also hoping to make a few useful contacts during her stint as a festival volunteer. She related a true story to me of spiritual healing that she aims to develop as a short film for next year's competition. (We also had a lengthy conversation about Princess Diana, which is an inevitable occurrence for any Brit visiting America.)
Of course to schmooze effectively, you have to be invited to the right parties. Unfortunately for Jonathan and Theresa, most events are restricted. Even armed with a press pass, it's unlikely that you'll be rubbing shoulders with the A-List. When I received my invite to Friday night's Sippin' At Sunset, I naively envisioned cocktails with Kevin Bacon, or at the very least a vol au vent with Kyra Sedgwick.
"PARIS HILTON HAD POPPED IN FOR A WHILE"
My delusions were fuelled by the hoard of paparazzi gathered outside the venue (the tres chic Village At The Lift), where I overheard mutterings about Matt Dillon and Stephen Baldwin. (A tubby Baldwin is better than no Baldwin at all.) Feeling quite cocky about it, I flashed my invite and swaggered inside. Alas Matt and Stephen were nowhere to be found, and when I asked the bartender if I'd missed anything, she told me that soppy socialite Paris Hilton had popped in for a while but had swiftly popped out again. I suppose Paris was similarly perturbed by the absence of A-List guests, but I quickly got over my disappointment.
With previously prepared small talk, I sidled up to a group of partygoers that included a woman sporting a pair of ski goggles like an alice band. She introduced herself as film producer Melissa Balin, and she appeared to be in very high spirits. I naturally assumed she was drunk, but it wasn't the alcohol. In fact Melissa was drunk on success, having just landed a distribution deal.
Excitedly she told me that IceMaker is a comedy starring Bronson Pinchot as a doctor who discovers a way of turning dead bodies in diamonds. (To date, Pinchot is best known for playing miscellaneous foreigner Balki in 80s sitcom Perfect Strangers.) As though the set-up wasn't bizarre enough, Melissa revealed that Pinchot's leading lady is Tippi Hedren. Besides being mother to Melanie Griffith, Hedren was the obligatory blonde in Hitchcock's legendary thriller The Birds, although these days she's a little lower in the Hollywood pecking order. No word as yet on when IceMaker will be coming to a video near you.
Saturday night afforded another party opportunity, and this time it was open to all festivalgoers. A stage was erected on lower Main Street for Music On Main, with crowds flocking to hear live performances from the likes of Long Winters and The Presidents Of The United States Of America (no, me neither). I checked out the scene with a couple of visiting friends, Nanci and her boyfriend Brett. They make a cross-country trip to Park City every year, the kind of effort that reflects on the unique atmosphere of The Sundance Film Festival. Where else can film lovers from distant places get together and party on this scale? And who'd have thought you could have this much fun in a State that outlaws the consumption of alcohol?
Stella delivers her next Sundance postcard on Tuesday
Over the coming days, Stella's planning to interview the likes of Trauma director Marc Evans and the film's star, Mena Suvari; I'll Sleep When I'm Dead director Mike Hodges; and That Touch Of Pink star Jimi Mistry. Got a question for any of them? Why not email Stella here, and she'll ask it on your behalf