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in Filmmaking
on Jan 29, 2010

This is the fifth of our posts from guest blogger Ron Simons, who produced Tanya Hamilton’s Sundance Competition film Night Catches Us. Scroll back through the blog for his earlier entries.

I’ve finally transitioned into the cooler, calmer phase of the festival. The weather is warmer and the snow is starting to melt (including the gargantuan stalactites hanging from the roof edges of about town).

No more press interviews in backrooms of galleries, TV studios or revamped office spaces. Gone are the paparazzi blocking traffic to get the best shot of Ben Affleck, Ryan Gosling or Paris Hilton. Exit the 20-something, mini-mini-skirt wearing, three-inch-heel-sporting painted vixens who had to be carried across two foot banks of snow and slush by their escorts.

Sundance has now eased into a calmer, quieter and saner pace akin to the Seattle International Film Festival. The streets are far less congested and you can actually walk into a restaurant at any time and, with no wait, sit down and enjoy a meal. I’ve also noticed that the demographics on the shuttles have changed dramatically. Most everyone around me is an average Joe/Jane who’s here just for the love of film. Based on my conversations with random fellow passengers, San Francisco seems to be best represented of those who remain to populate the theaters. It seems a good number of them actually arrived after the hubbub of the initial weekend knowing the madness and mayhem that accompanies the first 5 days of the festival. Whenever they got here, and for whatever their motivations, they are a chatty bunch who are eager to exchange their best and worst picks of the festival.

I should mention that while the daytime pacing of the festival has slowed down considerably, the nighttime festivities have not cooled one bit. The parties, the parties, the parties…

My favorite by far was the Sundance Filmmaker’s Reception. It was there that we were able to chill with our fellow filmmakers in a relaxed, beautifully appointed (lighting, seating, furniture) space. It took place at the Yoga Studio (ironically owned by the same man who owns the condo where I’m staying – one of the most altruistic and likeable people I’ve meet in a long time: David Belz). Great music, strategically placed and liberally used candles, open bar with pomegranate martinis and AMAZING food catered by the head chef of the Suburban restaurant in CT, made for the perfect setting to socialize with this collection of extraordinary people. I met the directors and/or producers of so many films here including the teams behind: Contracorriente (Undertow), Freedom Riders (finally chatted with the director), Howl, Obselidia, Restrepo, Zona Sur, The Visitors and Sympathy for Delicious among others.

I have now joined the ranks of movie goers and have enjoyed a few films in the last couple of days including: Freedom Riders (a MUST SEE doc that took choked me, up about the freedom riders of 1961, who bused from the north into the deep south to break the strangle hold segregation had on the nation’s bussing network), Howl (the beautifully crafted narrative that brings the Ginzberg poem, of the same name, to life) and Teenage Paparazzi (the light-hearted but surprisingly appealing doc by Entourage star Adrien Grenier about a 14 year old kid who’s a member of the professional paparazzi crowd).

On my list to see (that are still showing and can fit into my schedule) are:

Contracorriente (Undertow), a tale of a Peruvian fisherman whose secret threatens to destroy his relationship with his young pregnant bride. I met the director and producers here at Sundance and they are really fine people and want to support their work (plus, rumor is it’s a great movie)

Restrepo (named after the soldier who lost his life in the struggle in Afghanistan) is the doc about the soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Word is it’s everything a great doc should be: smart, engaging and enlightening. I also had a great conversation with the director Tim Hetherington the other night at the Filmmaker’s Reception and found him super smart and infinitely engaging (and not just because he loved my film).

Shorts Program II and IV — really, really strong buzz about both collections of shorts.

Pumzi — tale of an East African woman who’s fled an enclosed community 35 years after WWIII (yes, World War Three) seeking to restore her life.

With just today and tomorrow left in my trip, I am disappointed that I will not be able to see so many other great films here because time is just running out. Really, really wanted to see: The Tillman Story, 12th and Delaware, Bilal’s Stand, Cane Toads, Bhutto, Blue Valentine, Daddy Longlegs, Holy Rollers, happythankyoumoreplease, Nowhere Boy, Sympathy for Delicious, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child and Misleading Man, among so many others. Time just ran out. Others I wanted to see, but I’m less worried about, because they already have distribution, are Mother and Child (starring our lovely Kerry Washington) Hesher, Splice and Buried.

Ok, enough writing for now. I have to shower and dash to the film office to buy these screening tickets and pick up the HD-CAM of my film. (I have to buy tickets because my purchase of the SIO pass proved to be a less than smart investment since many of the once-only screenings I had to miss because of the press load during the first four days of the festival.)

p.s. Screenwriters, word to the wise — if you do not know about the Humanitas Prize, I suggest you go their website and learn about them. Tanya and I met with them this past week. They award screenwriters for film (and TV) substantial money to help develop their scripts. They will even accept the treatment of your script and give you money to live on while you develop your project. Check them out! — Ron Simons

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