The alternative to the alternative - Slamdance HQ
Sundance Festival Diary: Day 9

The snow is beginning to thaw in Park City, and the film fever that's infected the place for over a week now has dissipated. The paparazzi are noticeably absent from the usual foxholes as the stars head out and the suits move in for the final round of buying and selling. I'm in leisurely mood as I head to The Caledonian for an audience with actor/writer/raconteur Stephen Fry, who recently added the subcategory 'director' to his CV.

His fashionably late arrival at Sundance coincides with the festival's closing night premiere of his directorial debut, Bright Young Things, adapted from Evelyn Waugh's classic novel Vile Bodies. Of course the film has already been and gone in the UK, but I thought Fry would make for an entertaining entry in BBCi FILMS' Shooting People series.

Stephen Fry on the set of Bright Young Things

I'm glad to find him in similarly laidback disposition, sprawled on his sofa like a Roman Emperor in tweed. And he's pleased to find this isn't a TV interview because, he says, "I won't have to suck in my gut." Despite the informality, I've never felt as jaggedly common as sitting by Stephen Fry - especially when he tells me that he counts Prince Charles among his personal friends. You can read the details when Bright Young Things comes to DVD later this year, but for Ben Casey, who wrote in asking about Fry's next project, The Life And Death of Peter Sellers, and wanting to know what Stephen thinks about Geoffrey Rush in the title role, here's what he had to say: "I think people will be astonished at how he looks like Peter Sellers, although I'm not sure about sounds." He elaborates, "It's a very hard thing to do because Peter Sellers was the greatest mimic of his age. For Geoffrey Rush to sound like Peter Sellers, he'd have to be able to sound like Peter Sellers in all his different characters."

Fry plays Sellers' psychic advisor, Maurice Woodruff, but otherwise has no time for New Age spiritualism. "Peter Sellers believed in all that crap," he says. "Clairvoyants, astrologers, and spirit guides and all the rest of that horse****. It shows that side of him." And for Suzy Tate, who wanted to know if Stephen is keen to direct again, Fry reveals: "I hope so, yes. I'm getting sent lots of scripts every week so I'm trying to read them all, and have a think about it. And maybe initiate my own things - if I find I'm brave enough to do that."


After the understated elegance of afternoon tea with Stephen Fry, I had something of a culture shock when I ventured to the top of Main Street and inside the dark hole of Slamdance headquarters. Quite a lot of you have written in asking me about Slamdance, and if Sundance is the alternative film festival, then Slamdance - which runs concurrently - is the alternative to the alternative film festival. Or as The New York Times tagged it: "More indie than thou."

The Treasure Mountain Inn, which houses the festival, has a stifling Old World quality, with its flocked wallpaper, poky hallways, and dark wood panelling. I imagine this must've been where the cowboys came to get liquored up and laid in the Gold Rush days, and for this week in January, its walls are defiled with such gothic imagery as: the potbellied spectre of the undead dragging on a joint; the dog of Frankenstein riddled with maggots; and a pig in a pair of nappies stabbing a rabbit...

With some trepidation I ventured up to the press office, where a diminutive Goth writes me out a press pass for the closing night events. I'm stunned when she rests the laminated card on a block of wood and punches a hole through it using a silver bullet and a hammer that looks alarmingly unwieldy inside her bony grip. Seeing my apprehension she explains, "Oh yeah, we're a little bit punk rock here." She proudly adds that Slamdance is celebrating "ten years underground", and boasts an alumni including Steven Soderbergh, Chris Nolan (Memento), and Marc Forster (Monster's Ball).

Steve Harris and Charles Durning in Death & Taxes

I was here to see a mockumentary by writer/director Kevin Dinovis called Death & Texas, starring Charles Durning and Steve Harris. It's about a star football player on Death Row who is granted day release to play at The Mega Bowl, representing the State that will ultimately play host to his execution. It's a slice of Americana brought to you by British producer Stephen Israel, also the man behind Hollywood satire Swimming With Sharks. Except for the absence of beer puddles, the screening reminded me of film night at the student union, with foldaway chairs packed too closely together inside a room too large to be a caretaker's closet, but too small to be an auditorium. (I decide it must be a storage room for foldaway chairs.) Still I consider myself lucky as many of these hardcore festivalgoers are heaped together on the floor, propped up on their backpacks. How anti-establishment...

Kevin Dinovis introduces the film, but despite the ten gallon hat he's wearing, Stephen Israel seems reluctant to draw attention to himself. He timidly declines an opportunity to address the crowd so the light goes down and the movie begins. Shot in the digital format, the picture occasionally falls out of focus, but for the most part it's visually strong. The premise is also compelling, but Dinovis rarely follows through to any genuine insights, and the laughs are few and far between. Oh well. Now I know why Slamdance is sponsored by Tarantula Azul - the citrus-flavoured tequila drink.

Stella rounds up this year's Sundance Film Festival with her final postcard on Monday.

See Stella's latest gallery here

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