Sundance 2013—Sex, snow and more sex dominate at reigning king of U.S. indie film fests

Posted on January 23, 2013

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BY ERIC RADDATZ

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ERIC RADDATZ
Naomi Watts & James Frecheville take Q&As at the Eccles Theater after their movie Two Mothers premiered at Sundance, the reigning king of U.S. indie film festivals in Park City, Utah

Splashed across gorgeous flowing blue skies with miles of crisp pinnacling white-blanketed snow hills ablazen with parties, music, snowboarders, filmmakers, food, fun and more film celebrity than you may ever find at one place except the Oscars, is Sundance. Everyone here is connected. Everyone here is from somewhere else. Everyone here seems to be having a pretty good time.

Several thousand miles from Fort Myers, this festival is bringing in $70-80 million of revenue for the locals, many of whom whine and roll their eyes about the thousands that congregate in a city that is usually just a quiet, quaint ski town.

Ask Robert Redford and he will tell you he did not set out to be commercial with Sundance, taking place in Park City, Utah all this week. “We set out to be diverse. It just so happens that being diverse proved to also be commercial.” The founder of the Sundance Film Festival met with press last week at the Egyptian Theater to answer questions and ponder the current state of what is likely considered by professionals as the reigning king of U.S. indie film festivals and discuss what direction it is heading.

Alongside of him was Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper, who after being asked  if anything stood out as different than in festivals past, mentioned that there were many films this year in which there seemed to be a lot of explicit sexually-charged situations and content. There was, in fact,  a hardcore sex scene in every movie I saw at Sundance this weekend. And I wasn’t looking for that.

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ERIC RADDATZ
Jerusha Hess, who cowrote Napolean Dynomite, premiered Austenland at Sundance, the reigning king of U.S. indie film festivals in Park City, Utah

Within the first full day of programming there was in fact Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter fame, engaging in a gay sex and masturbating scene, Joseph Gordon-Levitt masturbating to pornography in a film with Scarlett Johansson and Naomi Watts & Robin Wright characters having numerous nude and sex scenes— that seemed to be real — with each other’s sons. And that was just at the Eccles. In the days following there was plenty of sex—group sex, straight & gay sex, sex among cannibals and well— just about any sex you can think of.

When reminded of complaints regarding some of the content, Redford reminded the audience that “the narrowest of mind can sometimes bark the loudest. We’ve over time come to ignore it,” he said. “It’s a free country and maybe they should look at the Constitution.” After talking about the festival’s reach into London and denying any movement into Brooklyn he was sure to mention that that the city, while it may complain, certainly loves the monetary infusion.

Even back in the ’60s Redford might not possibly have imagined the day when not just indie film producers would celebrate with him in Park City with such savoir fair, but even the biggest of blockbuster stars would come in for the  celebration. Lots of them. Stars en masse.

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ERIC RADDATZ
A line of ticketholders outside the Egyptian Theater at Sundance, the reigning king of U.S. indie film festivals in Park City, Utah

During the festival you cannot help to run into stars. Without even trying very hard I got a chance to meet Michael Cera, Jerusha Hess, writer of Napolean Dynomite, Naomi Watts and Jane Seymour. Watts’ handshake was much firmer than Cera’s, I would say. Naomi giggled a little, a little louder than Cera, after I brought up that despite her movie Two Mothers being adapted from Doris Lessing’s Two Grandmothers, it totally had a SNL Motherlover’s feel to it. I had Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg’s song stuck in my subconscious the rest of the night, even at Silver, where I couldn’t believe the great hip hop & old school dance music playing. And way more intimate than Tao—where everyone seemed to be going. You could not bump into someone without them having a story about someone famous they met. The hills, clubs, cafes and theaters were crawling with them. (*CLICK HERE FOR A LIST ATTENDING AND EXPECTED TO ATTEND) (OR *CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS FROM SUNDANCE’S WEB SITE)

Just getting a ticket to a film required commitment and patience, however. Everyone is looking for a ticket at Sudance and it is no wonder. With multi-levels of ticket packages—from an individual ticket costing $15 to the thousands-of-dollars event packages— the festival with a reputation for excellence had most patrons averaging only a couple to a few screenings at best. It can be tricky if you aren’t one of the stars, VIPs or filmmakers.

In fact, the general public is asked to sign up months in advance, get assigned to a window of purchasing opportunity nearly two weeks before the festival and even then they generally come up short handed with the films they were trying the hardest for. So they are told to wait in line for standbys. Most will take whatever shows they can get and hundreds get in line every morning at the box office to see if any fresh tickets have become available.

Jane Seymour at the Eccles Theater for the premiere of Austenland at Sundance.

Jane Seymour at the Eccles Theater for the premiere of Austenland at Sundance.

Across the city the festival’s flagship Eccles theater, with a capacity at 1,400 or so, people would wait in line hours to get just a chance that some might not show up at the sold out shows they purchased tickets to. Early in the festival Crystal Fairy, the first to play the opening day, let about 50 of such aforementioned diehards in. The next film Austenland let in about 15. By the time Don Jon screened there were ZERO standby tickets given out. Hundreds filed out after waiting two hours in line and neglecting other shows they might have had a better chance to get in with groans and mumbles. Many, including myself were hoping to catch glimpse of Scarlett Johansson, who didn’t come as she was busy doing Broadway’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. “Anybody got a ticket?” was being said over and over outside the Eccles as Joseph Gordon—Levitt and Tony Danza paraded in for the screening of Don Jon.

Tons of volunteers work the festival so they can enjoy the festivities, actually. Seems to be a pretty good idea. Many who came in from all over the world were outside, directing traffic, working the box office and events for the perks. Many of them get to attend parties, screenings and meet many of the filmmakers and stars they would not get a chance to otherwise.

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ERIC RADDATZ
Michael Cera outside the Eccles Theater at Sundance after his film Crystal Fairy played at the reigning king of U.S. indie film festivals in Park City, Utah

If you personally would like to see some of the films but are unable to attend, the festival plays a dozen or so online during the festival hours at http://www.youtube.com/ytscreeningroom . Give it a shot. You may not get a chance to say you met any stars but you will save some bucks.

Or if you are having trouble getting tickets in town, check out http://www.sundance.org/availability/ as it updates what is still available to be seen.

The festival, presented by the Sundance Institute, takes place January 17-27, 2013 in Park City, Utah. For more information head to www.sundance.org

—Eric Raddatz is a filmmaker living in SWFL who has only once tried to submit one of his films to Sundance.

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