The day after Awards Night, a blizzard hits Park City literally out of the blue. But had it not been for the snow then I imagine tumbleweeds would be blowing across Main Street right now. Saturday night's prize-winning pictures - the top award went to Shane Carruth's low-profile pic Primer - are being screened around town, but there are no queues, no sense of urgency. In short, no people. The unexpected whiteout seems to mirror the sudden emptiness of the place, offering stark contrast to the vibrancy of the last ten days.
While the festival was in full swing, I couldn't get away from the chatter of film fans, the pollution of polyphonic ring tones (digital renditions of all your favourite film scores), and the oily schmooze of deals being made. Young and funky sales execs and younger and funkier filmmakers all over town "touching base" - which always sounds like something dirty to me.
Nonetheless, touching someone's base is the only way to get a film sold at Sundance. I even had my own base touched by distributors, and newbie directors eager to get some column inches for their fledgling projects. It was occasionally pleasant, sometimes plain uncomfortable. I've been on the receiving end of enough drooling desperation and accumulated so many business cards that I could build myself a papier mache snowman.
OK, I confess I did a little drooling as well (re Jimi Mistry, Alec Newman), but the difference is, I wasn't selling anything. Although I've done everything I can to avoid it, I've handed out more business cards in one week than I have in all of 2003. No offence intended, but do I really want people sending me review copies of their latest digital epic? An urban tale of existential angst set in someone's mother's basement starring Corbin Bernsen and Parker Posey? (To whom it may concern: No.)
One of the reasons I came here was to keep tabs on the Brits, but while the pace has been hectic, the fact is: there aren't many of us out here. Scottish actor Alec Newman also noted this, although he's been lucky enough to have his first two features showcased here (Bright Young Things, The Principles Of Lust). "I don't think it's a programming fault with the festival," he notes, "we're just not making the films."
Although Newman has only recently broken onto the scene, he's already talking of upping sticks to the US, because, he says, "I was starting to think my agent in London had died." Likewise, Welsh director Marc Evans, who brought Trauma to the festival, recently landed an American agent and is currently sifting through a pile of scripts - no doubt slasher flicks set in the backwoods of rural Idaho.
Talking to Bright Young Things director Stephen Fry, I was surprised to hear that such a markedly British story as The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers, in which he stars with Geoffrey Rush, is being co-produced by an American company, HBO (and the BBC). And Touch Of Pink, which premiered at Sundance, stars Jimi Mistry, and takes place in London, was backed largely by Canadian money. Can you spot what's wrong with this picture?
"ALTITUDE, SINUS CONGESTION, DIZZINESS"
As well as the usual gripes about the decline of the British film industry, almost every Brit I've talked to out here asks me if I've been having problems with altitude; sinus congestion, dizziness, nausea, nosebleeds? (Answer: all of the above.) However, I'm not convinced the two things aren't unrelated. The stress of having to "play the game" with the big American players is heightened up here in the mountains, and I figure it's bound to induce a little congestion/dizziness/nausea/nosebleeds among the islanders.
My theory is strengthened by my first encounter with Stephen Fry, who expressed his pleasant surprise when I shook his hand without managing to give him an electrostatic shock. Apparently, he was a superconductor for everyone else in Park City and I'm sure the argyle jumper he wore was not knitted from synthetic fibres - I mean, this is Stephen Fry for crying out loud! - so what else can explain this phenomenon? If you're British, The Sundance Film Festival can come as a shock to the system, a reminder that we're not producing nearly enough films to make us viable competitors in the independent film market. For proof, you only have to look at the list of this year's award nominees - never mind the winners.
Nonetheless I've soaked up the electric atmosphere of the Sundance Film Festival with great relish and boundless enthusiasm. I've never engaged so freely with so many film nuts in such a short space of time. I came here a stranger and I'm leaving with a really tall papier mache snowman, and that's something. I can only compare the experience to Freshers' Week at university: the apprehension, the excitement, the consumption of alcohol. It's basically been one long party, and half of me is sad to be leaving. The other half is peering out a frost-caked window and worries that I'm going to get snowed in.