Waiting, watching, wide-eyed

Three days at Sundance Film Festival


Park City, Utah -- My new friend Tom is lying on his back with his feet in the air, wearing a black suit with a Hawaiian-style purple shirt and expensive shoes. His upended feet are resting on a stack of folded tables, and his pant legs are sagging enough to reveal black fishnet socks. On the floor around our fluctuating group of seven to 13 people is a plate of half-eaten nachos, a loaf of garlic bread, beer bottles thinly disguised by plastic bags and playing cards used for a game with a name I can't print.

I'm waiting in line to see a movie at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. I found out that sometimes, waiting in line takes longer than the movie. You're not waiting for a ticket to the movie -- those sold out within minutes online, several weeks before the festival. Instead, you're given a number for a waitlist ticket to be handed out after everyone with a regular ticket is seated. It's a crapshoot, and the wait-list lines can be cutthroat. People jockey for position.

A friend of mine got turned away from two movies after lengthy waits. She was only three numbers away for one of them, and just six away for the other.

In short, people are crazy about movies here, and with good reason. There are more than 40 screenings a day during the 10, round-the-clock days of Sundance. The movies being screened cover just about every topic imaginable.

I saw a film called "Man Push Cart" about a Pakistani coffee-cart vendor in Manhattan. The lead actor, Ahmad Razvi, used to work at such a cart and served coffee one morning to the film's director -- that was how they met.

"The movie is about a guy on the corner of the street who no one wants to pay attention to," director Ramin Bahrani said to the audience before the film's premiere screening. "I hope you will indulge me in paying attention to him for a little while."

Therein lie two joys of Sundance.

Before and after most films, directors, actors, editors, composers and whoever else happens to be around will speak with the audience and answer the kind of questions you usually ask your date on the way to the car.

Secondly, the films allow you to do just what Bahrani said: pay attention for a little while.

"In the Pit," for example, is a documentary about construction workers building a bridge in Mexico City in ridiculously noisy and unsafe conditions. Sitting unharnessed on iron bars high in the air, workers insult each other, laugh, eat and horse around. The music, a composed score of jackhammers and heavy machinery, kept me (mostly) awake through the midnight screening.

The movie I waited hours for with fishnet-socked Tom and our group of friends was called "The Darwin Awards." The film is about people who die in stupid or outlandish ways. We didn't get in, even though several of my friends worked on the film as crew members.

The screenings are all about impressing the investors who watch them -- Darwin sold for $3 million two days later.

I also didn't see any of the films that won awards at the festival, such as "Iraq in Fragments" or "Quinceañera." I didn't see any celebrities -- except Corey Feldman -- or get featured on E!.

But I did see Metallica in a nightclub. I saw copies of Entertainment Weekly, Variety, the Los Angeles Times and Sundance film guides tossed on bus seats, public bathroom floors and cafe tables across an invaded ski town. I saw many pairs of large sunglasses and a significant amount of fur. I heard, several times, that Justin Timberlake -- whose acting in "Alpha Dog" apparently is a "revelation" -- was being interviewed just down the street.

As my very good friend and road-trip companion Jill said after people waiting in line were reduced to tears and rude remarks:

"People love drama. It's Hollywood -- it's just out in the mountains this week."


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