A Reflection on Sundance: A First Timer’s Perspective

By Sara Clausen

This past week, I took my first trip ever to Sundance!

Here are some things that I learned:

Being a student = a license to learn. Sundance is an incredible platform to showcase the voices of up-and-coming filmmakers, and being a student puts you in the prime position to listen. The student card is a great way to get advice from filmmakers: it’s unintimidating, but credible. Play it wisely, and play it often.

Try Sundance solo! There’s no better place than Sundance to push your comfort zone – both creatively and socially. I went on this first adventure to Sundance on my own, and it was a transformative experience. It allowed me to reflect on my tastes and meet an incredible amount of people. Not having the safety net of a friend to talk to can be scary at times; looking back, it was one of the best decisions I made. I left the festival with a much stronger sense of my artistic voice and a better idea of what kind of stories I want to tell.

Expectations are, well, expectations. My experience at Sundance was constantly evolving. Leaving myself open to absorbing every moment—the good, the bad, and everything else in between—without getting too caught up in my expectations, this was key in helping me keep a positive attitude. Which leads me to my next point.

You can’t have them all. Two unsuccessful waitlists in one day, the choice between sticking around to meet a key creative behind a movie that just blew me away or getting in line for the next screening on my schedule, films that I didn’t quite agree with or ones that just didn’t sit right—Sundance isn’t without disappointment. That’s part of it the experience. There is so much to see in a short amount of time, and until we humans have learned to clone ourselves (hey, a girl can dream), you’re going to miss a few things here and there. Do your best to focus on the decisions that payoff—they will be the ones that you remember.

Everyone has an opinion. This isn’t a bad thing. While standing in line and making conversation, I came to realize that people really love to talk about what they think. Use this to your advantage! It’s a great way to observe what gets people going and what shapes their world views. These opinions can help you create more impact in your own work.

Finding your voice, and those who share it. As young filmmakers, we have a unique set of experiences that set us apart from other generations of filmmakers. There seems to be a growing concern that, in the postmodern world, filmmakers are running out of stories to tell. This one trip to Sundance quelled that notion. The films that succeeded in making an impact on audiences this year were the ones that knew their voice. Finding the story that you want to tell—and the people you want to tell it with—is everything. It just so happens that film school is the perfect place to find both.

Connecting… Deeper. My favorite film of the festival was, quite fittingly, the last one I saw: a Polish documentary called All These Sleepless Nights. It was poetry in cinema. The psychological realism, the aimless yet beautifully eloquent reflections on what they were feeling, filled an emotional void that I had been searching so desperately to fill but had all but given up on finding. Stunned, amazed, electrified; I stuck around to thank the filmmakers and had a short but meaningful conversation with the Production Manager, Janusz Bąbkiewicz.

This brings me back to my first observation: the advantage of being a student at Sundance. Being a student not only gives you a reason to start a conversation with someone whose work you admire, but also creates an opportunity to share their insight, making an impact on the next generation of cinema. Every filmmaker I spoke to was more than happy to spec about their work, a testament to the collaborative and encouraging environment that surrounds Park City this time of year.

Jansuz and I talked about the technicality of the film, how they went back to ADR for over 60% of the film in order to make the crew less invasive during shooting. Had a laugh about how we are our own harshest critics. “I can see the mistakes,” he joked. I assured him that I didn’t notice. He smiled and seemed relieved. Sensed that we were feeling the same thing, an unshakeable connection of a deeper level of understanding. He knew that I had heard the message in his film. So there I stood, outside the Egyptian keeping warm in my white SC beanie while talking to the very people that were responsible for the film that had so deeply moved me just moments before. It was one of many memories that made this trip so special.

I came to Sundance to learn, to explore, and observe. Although I left Park City with more questions than answers, I gained a new source of energy to keep seeking those answers. The trip was a reminder of the power of cinema and the ability to share knowledge, gain perspective, and evoke powerful emotions, tap into our humanity. Sundance was a truly amazing experience. Cannot wait to channel this newfound creative energy into my own work here at SCA!

– Sara Clausen, Class of 2017

Day 1: “Swiss Army Man” and some VR

Hello fellow Trojans and Sundancers! Blake Bauman here, junior Cinema and Media Studies major at SC. This is my first time in Park City, so there is much to discuss. Let’s dive in, shall we?

DAY 1

Quick first impression: this place feels very much like the environment at SCA, so therefore, it feels like home. There was not a single moment where I passed a group of people on the street and film was not being discussed. These people live and breathe cinema, which not only allowed me to engage in some great conversations today, but also made the viewing experience for my first screening so incredibly enjoyable.

Movie #1: Swiss Army Man

Directed by: Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

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Ok, first off, my expectations for this film have kind of been all over the place. It started off as the film I was most excited to see at the festival because of the sheer absurdness of the plot, and the fact that it would be primarily driven by a single actor, Paul Dano, given the lack of a supporting cast, except for Daniel Radcliffe’s lifeless corpse. Then, tragedy struck: the first week of reviews began rolling out and the media’s primary headline was how Swiss Army Man is just “one big fart joke,” leading to many walkouts during early screenings of the film. This gave the film some bad buzz, so I was worried going in, but still hopeful. I can honestly say now that, yes, the film, at first glance, is a big fart joke, but at its core, is truly something very special and genuine. Swiss Army Man is a heartfelt, emotional journey that is so perfectly balanced with laughs that would make most comedies jealous.

The structure basically involves a lonely man, Hank (Paul Dano), who is stranded on an island, literally seconds from killing himself, when he discovers a washed up corpse, (Daniel Radcliffe) that cannot stop farting, on the beach. Hank begins to realize that this dead body is much more useful than he originally thought, so he drags the corpse along with him during his journey back to civilization.

Paul Dano is just fantastic in this film. Hank is a lonely, miserable complex human being, and if it wasn’t for Dano’s full dedication to this role, I would not have felt so connected to the character. There are some deep moments in this film, and require an actor that can be taken seriously throughout, despite the sometimes immature, but always hilarious, humor used here. This may be my favorite performance of his, and that is saying something considering his brilliant portrayal of Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy last year. And without going into spoilers, Daniel Radcliffe is even funnier than Dano. What he does with this role, that at first seems like just a prop, is unique, adds to the absurdness of the film, and is genuine as he lifelessly journeys with Hank.

This film tackles some very relevant themes. In the Q&A afterwards, co-director Daniel Kwan discussed how he wanted audiences to feel inspired by this story of smashing pre-conceived notions and making the world your own. He wanted viewers to be comfortable in their own skin and take chances before you regret not taking them. This is a bold film that is not afraid to take chances. I extremely recommend it.

 

Directors Daniel Scheinert (Left) and Daniel Kwan (Right)

Directors Daniel Scheinert (Left) and Daniel Kwan (Right)

The Treachery of Sanctuary

This exhibit was inspired by the old cave drawings based on the origins of man. Above is the artist’s exact description of what he wants guests to experience. We walked into a dark room with 3 large panels, with each section showing our silhouettes getting picked apart by birds and then reborn as a large winged bird creature. Very strange, but cool concept to experience.

Virtual Reality Projects

I spent the majority of the rest of the night checking out some VR outlets available at the VR Bar, which is basically self-explanatory: a small venue where drinks are served and VR can be tested. Fox Innovation Labs hosted the event so the main VR attraction was based on Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Guests got to relive Mark Watney’s journey from the surface of Mars back to his team waiting for him while orbiting the planet. There were still some glitches, but overall, I was impressed with how interactive the experiment allowed you to be with the environment. You could grab floating scrap metal, or reach out for the hands of Watney’s fellow astronaut. This was very cool to experience.

The next project was called Sequenced, which was an interactive, animated story about a futuristic recon named Sam who discovers a young girl, Raven, amongst a deserted city who is destined to become the Guardian of the Earth. The characters were flat, 2D animations but their environments were composed with 3D rotoscoping. Interesting story, but I only got a portion of the story so I’m looking forward to watching the rest.

The final project that I tried out was called The Unknown Photographer, which was my favorite of the night. It was basically a narrated journey through the works of an unknown World War I photo journalist, but the worlds in which these photos were shown resembled the description of the narration. Photos flew by to resemble a train when the narrator describes his hectic thoughts, and in another moment, I was transported to a cemetery with roaming giants lurking above me when he described the terror of the dead at the hands of the enemy. Very dark subject matter, but this was such a unique way to tell a story. I love that.

Alright, well, that was Day 1. Day 2 consists of my screenings of Operation Avalanche, Sleight, Outlaws and Angels, and American Epic. Thanks for reading!

Fight on!

TALLULAH Premiere with Producer Sophia Dilley

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USC student Siena Oberman (left), assisting the VP of Paramount for Sundance, celebrates the successful Sundance Premiere of Tallulah with Producer Sophia Dilley of Route One Entertainment. Siena used to intern for Sophia and says Tallulah is one of many people’s Sundance favorites. The film stars Ellen Page and was bought by Netflix prior to the festival. It was made by an all female department head filmmaking team, reflecting Hollywood’s progression towards gender equality.

Student demos VR at New Frontier

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Siena Oberman, USC Cinema and Business student as well as DKA Futurist, checks out new media at the New Frontier at Sundance. Her favorite part and personal recommendation was The Martian experience created by Robert Stromberg, Ridley Scott, and Ted Schilowitz. Siena believes transmedia VR experiences like Fox’s The Martian or Paramount’s Paranormal Activity are key in introducing audiences to the quality and storytelling potential of virtual reality.

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Sundance New Frontier – Interactive Media Gallery – Chris Milk

Hey Guys,

So it’s my official first day at Sundance, even though the festival kicked off yesterday… It was a long drive and super cold outside.

This year, I’ve decided to change up my video blogging or vlogging style and do reviews/interviews and cool s@!t, basically sharing what I like, encouraging you, the reader/viewer to share in my experience.

Here’s Chris Milk’s Sundance Institute webpage with more info. Sundance Institute New Frontier

Seriously, you guys, I was completely surrounded by the most beautiful sounds, making this piece an audibly and visually, interactive, captivating experience.

If you can read Chris Milk’s Artist Statement, I promise you it will be worth the strain.