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Kindness, the Dark Arts and Viruses at Sundance: Taylor Hess’s Producer Diary #2

As I stand up to file out of a movie, a man shouts, “Hail Satan!” and I stand up a little straighter. There are bright blue spotlights and masks of ancient Egypt adorning the walls around me. It’s late Sunday night, the opening weekend of Sundance is coming to a close, and I’m feeling exhausted. A fresh-faced stranger strikes up a conversation, and I realize I can’t speak. Every time I try to talk, I start coughing. I’m offered an Altoid. It dawns on me that while watching a no-dialogue movie about Satanists, I’ve lost my voice. Dark magic…or something else? 

Over the past few days, we premiered our film. I sat between two of our actors and felt hyper aware of their reactions. To my enormous relief, they loved it. Just a short time earlier, we were in a tent having photos taken. Our editor had a little camera slung around his neck to take his own BTS photos. I wish I had thought to channel the anticipation into something other than texting. It’s not that I’m nervous per se, but there’s actually not much for me to be doing in these moments before the movie begins, and I don’t love feeling idle. 

Most of my time this first weekend is spent walking to meetings and movies and passing friends on the way. One friend was light-headed from the altitude. Another appeared in a crowd, standing in the cold outside a closed door to a party. “This is the party,” he said. I glanced at my beautiful friends bundled in their coats beside me, looked up at the sky, and said something trite about the stars. 

This was all days ago. The thing is, I haven’t been able to do anything, least of all post a diary entry. The night I lost my voice wasn’t because of the dark arts. It was just a good old-fashioned virus at work. So in a lot of ways, my Sundance came to a premature end after that screening about the Satanists, but in some other ways, getting sick and having to cancel a slew of meetings and screenings has taken on an experience in and of itself. I’ve suffered through a series of fever dreams about premiere tickets, for example. I’ve been in nearly complete silence, which has given me space to reflect. I’ve been reminded not to take my otherwise healthy body for granted. I’ve been cared for by a hero of kindness. 

At the producer’s brunch, Jonathan Wang spoke about such heroes of kindness, about feeling safe, and maybe the virus was already at work whittling away at my strength reserves and turning me into a potato because once I started crying, I couldn’t stop. He said: “When we put reciprocal care at the center of our process, then the desires for profit, fame, power, you name it, will all feel subservient to a higher order goal—one that is seeking the good of others.” 

So, I write this now as my fever finally subsides, and it’s looking promising that I’ll get out of here just a little more haggard than how I arrived. In some strange way, I feel buoyed by an ecstatic weekend that quickly turned. I didn’t expect it would go this way, but when does anything ever go as planned? I have the humidifier, supplements, pain relief meds, and kindness, and I’m making it through. I’m grateful for all of it. And when I look up at the sky one final time before I leave, I will kiss goodbye any pressure around what was missed or lost. Did you know the northern lights were visible in Utah? 

Taylor Hess is an independent producer who attended Sundance 2024 to world premiere Between the Temples in the dramatic competition. Director and screenwriter: Nathan Silver, Screenwriter: C. Mason Wells, Producers: Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page, Nate Kamiya, Adam Kersh, Taylor Hess, Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Carol Kane, Dolly de Leon, Caroline Aaron, Robert Smigel, Madeline Weinstein. Hess is also a contributing editor to Filmmaker.


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