Sundance Film Festival

  • by Matt McGrath

Earlier this year I traded the sunshine of Alabama for the snow of Utah. The reason? Sundance Film Festival. Located just 45 minutes outside of Salt Lake City, Park City acts as a quiet ski village for 11 months of the year, but in January it is overrun with celebrities, press and film fans. I went during the second half of the 2 week festival, which is far more laid back, as Harvey Weinstein and his chums have already done their deals and jetted off back to Hollywood. This allows for the second half of the festival to cater to the film fans who’ve traveled just to see films, unlike the first half which is a media frenzy.

What really stood out to me most at the festival was the sense of community which Sundance has. You spend a lot of time sitting on buses, waiting in lines for tickets and even waiting in lines in order to get in lines. And while this could have the potential to make the experience very boring, the festival goers were so friendly and talkative that it wasn’t even a chore to wait 2 hours in order to see a film. When you’re sat on the bus there is always an active discussion between complete strangers on the films which everyone has seen that day.

I managed to see a total of 14 films during the 4 days I was in Park City, and this was accomplished with minimum sleep due to having to wake up at 6 to get in line for the early morning time slots, and getting home at around 3 after attending the midnight shows. I was completely taken by surprise at how exhausting it is watching 5 films in one day, especially when running on 3 hours of sleep. But tiredness was no excuse, as this is the first time the majority of these films have ever been screened and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to see them.

While on the plane to Salt Lake City I made my checklist of the films I wanted to see and planned the next few days of my life, giving myself enough time to get to each cinema 2 hours early in order to stand a good chance at getting tickets. And this method seemed to work since I managed to see the two films which I deemed unmissable; Breath In, the new film by Drake Doremus who won at Sundance in 2011 for Like/Crazy, and Before Midnight, the final installment in Richard Linklater’s brilliant trilogy. And while these films were everything I thought they would be, it was one film which I had heard nothing about prior to the festival which ended up winning me over the most.

The film was Blood Brother, which won the both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary. With complete sincerity it told the story of a young American man who travelled to India and ended up living and working in an orphanage for children with HIV. I’ve never seen a film which was so inspiring and I was incredibly lucky to end my festival experience by seeing this film, one which I cannot praise enough and would definitely regard as life changing.

Matt McGrath is a BA American and Canadian Studies student at the University of Birmingham, currently studying at the University of Alabama.

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