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H I G H L I G H T S  &  L O W  L I G H T S 
A Week At Sundance 2013

by Fred Topel


Boy, it feels like a year ago that the 2013 Sundance Film Festival began. That’s because so much happens in a week at Sundance that it feels like a lifetime. This was my third year at Sundance and the first that Raeanne wasn’t able to join me, so perhaps I had to experience double for both of us.

Sundance is always a prime spot for big movie premieres, celebrities mingling with moviegoers, and new discoveries of raw, visionary talent swooped up by big studios. My favorite part of Sundance is always the personal friends I make while waiting in line for movie screenings or riding the shuttles around Park City together. This year was no exception and I made perhaps more new friends than ever before.

The rest of 2013 will bear out how deeply my personal life will be affected by my one week in Park City, UT. The Sundance experience that will affect the rest of the world involves the movies, celebrities and events that took place. I experienced many of these firsthand, and for those I did not, Park City is a close-knit community of tourists and locals who share tales of extraordinary events happening along Main Street.

Love Them Or Hate Them: Movies To Think About
Twenty Feet from Stardom singers
Twenty Feet from Stardom - The opening night film got rave reviews, while I was busy seeing the lackluster Who Is Dayani Cristal and Crystal Fairy at press screenings. Twenty Feet is a documentary about the backup singers who actually sing the most famous choruses from hit songs. That sounds like my kind of music and my kind of harmony so I will look forward to seeing it when Radius-TWC releases it theatrically.
Sound City team
Sound City -  Another music documentary, directed by Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters, also became the talk heard on shuttle busses and mingling crowds throughout the week. Grohl’s film explores the famous recording studio in Van Nuys, the pristine-sounding but grimy Sound City studio is referred to as both a church and a dump. Both descriptions, it seems, are accurate. Legendary musicians like Lindsey Buckingham and Rivers Cuomo reflect on it in the film.
Lovelace Amanda Seyfried with media
Lovelace - The biography of adult film star Linda Lovelace has been highly anticipated regardless of where it premiered. Sundance gave the film a perfect premiere though. Early audiences, of which I was in one, confirmed that this is a classy production illuminating the truth behind a legendary story. Amanda Seyfried is heartbreaking as Lovelace, and her scenes re-enacting dialogue from Deep Throat are adorable.
Scarlet Johansson and Levit-Hewitt
Don Jon’s Addiction - Sundance darling Joseph Gordon-Levitt proved himself to be quite a good director as well as an actor. He wrote, directed and stars in this film about a ladies man who would rather be intimate with his internet porn. Gordon-Levitt clearly learned a lot from his directors over the years and brings a light touch to the subject matter so it’s not too dark or heavy-handed. The film sold to Relativity and will be released in theaters this Spring.
The Spectacular Now arcade machine
The Spectacular Now - This was such a hot ticket that very few people actually got to see the movie. Even the filmmakers couldn’t get additional viewers a ticket. The new romantic drama from the writers of (500) Days of Summer got very good reviews, and they did add additional screenings but they were after I left, so I will have to wait until the film hits theaters.
Escape from tomorrow boy
Escape from Tomorrow - I missed this little gem because the Sundance program guide did not give away what it really was about. It seems some filmmakers shot an entire movie in Disneyland without permission! If I’d known that, it would have been at the top of my list. The first audience that saw the film raved at its daring ambition, though once word got out, subsequent audiences said it didn’t live up to the hype. That’s how powerful Sundance is- one day of hype can set insurmountable expectations. I’ve still got to see it for myself.
Two mothers sons at the beach
Two Mothers -  Anne Fontaine is French and her first English language film stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as best friends who begin affairs with each other’s sons. As intriguing as this sounds, this was an embarrassing premiere to sit through. The film is very much a drama, but every dramatic scene made the audience laugh. The director, Anne Fontaine, was sitting right there and had to hear 1200 people laugh at her character’s sincere, but perhaps lost in translation, emotions. Maybe the premise was just too wild to take seriously, or maybe it made Americans uncomfortable, but it was definitely not a comedy and yet it played like one.
Camera man and actors in the East
The East
- My personal most anticipated movie was the Sundance return of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. The two co-wrote, she starred in and he directed Sound of My Voice, one of two Marling films at Sundance 2011. Her other film, Another Earth, won the Alfred P. Sloan prize and special jury prize. Her third written film and Batmanglij’s second as director totally delivers on the promise of their dual 2011 debuts. Marling again stars as an agent infiltrating an eco-terrorist group, and the film is full of suspense and moral questions. It came to Sundance with distributor Fox Searchlight, who bought both Sound and Earth in 2011, so they were just testing the waters with this screening, and it went well.
jOBS Ashton Kutcher on desk
- I had to miss the closing night film because I could not stay through the second weekend of Sundance. The biography of Steve Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher, has also been a highly anticipated Hollywood movie. Kutcher has said it was one of his most difficult roles, and he even became sick by trying to eat a fruitarian diet like Jobs. Reviews after the premiere were mixed, most saying Kutcher is great as Jobs but the film merely offers a chronology of events, never taking the time to delve into the emotional factors that led to inventions like the personal computer and iPod. Perhaps the Sundance audience is a tough crowd, exhausted at the end of a week’s worth of movies, but distributor Open Road is opening the film in April, so we can all judge for ourselves then.
After Tiller women
After Tiller - This was a documentary I discovered entirely due to buzz I heard on the shuttles between screenings. For a few days, people kept mentioning they’d seen this documentary and it was great. After Tiller is a documentary on abortion, a serious, complicated subject, but they were all right. It was worth seeking out, illuminating on both sides of the situation, and sensitive to all.
Before Midnight two people walking
Before Midnight
- Among everyone I spoke to, this seemed to be the unanimous favorite movie. It’s the third part in the trilogy of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, which were both good but it’s surprising how effective this third part became. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), the couple who met on a train in Vienna, now live together with their children. The strains on their relationship come to a boil in an articulate, emotional, draining night of conversation for the ages. You may think you know what you’re getting by the third film, and that makes Before Midnight the biggest surprise of Sundance.

Where The Stars Are

Nicole Kidman and directorNicole Kidman - Nicole Kidman has always alternated between big films like Moulin Rouge and The Others and indie films like Fur and Birth. Her latest film, Stoker, is somewhere in between, an American film by Korean director Park Chan-wook. Appearing on stage after screenings of Stoker, Kidman deferred to her director, singing his praises while a translator on stage told him what she was saying. 



Jessica BeilJessica Biel - The Hollywood sex symbol got the role of her career in Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes. Biel plays a grieving mother with an unusual way of coping with her loss, who meets Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario), a teen who lost her own mother. At a Q&A after the premiere of Emanuel, Biel said she jumped at the chance to work with a mostly female cast, and for female director Francesca Gregorini. Such girl power is a rarity in Hollywood.


Ashton KutcherAshton Kutcher - At the post-premiere Q&A for jOBS, Kutcher reportedly said he’d never seen Lincoln walk into a room but he’s seen Steve Jobs enter a room. His reference to the Oscar-nominated performance may sound dismissive but I think he means well. It must be tougher to play somebody we’ve all seen on TV or perhaps in real life, than the image we know from history books. Since his performance was the unanimous bright spot in jOBS reviews, Kutcher may have been right.


January JonesJanuary Jones - The Mad Men star came to Sundance with Sweetwater, a very graphic western full of grime, sleaze and blood. I got to interview her about the film, which I think will make people see her differently, and she was modest about it. She claimed she was interested in using her physicality and beauty as a vengeful gunslinger in a lawless world.



Michael CeraMichael Cera
- The Arrested Development star had two movies at Sundance, both from director Sebastian Silva. I actually interviewed him twice, once for Crystal Fairy and Magic Magic. Fairy is a comedy in which Cera plays an American tourist in Argentina trying to score drugs. Magic is a horror film in which Cera plays an American tourist in Chile, harassing a visitor (Juno Temple) and contributing to her madness. Cera spoke a little Spanish with me and admitted he had never seen Volcano, starring his Crystal Fairy co-star Gaby Hoffman.

Sthephenie MeyerStephenie Meyer - The author of the Twilight books came to Sundance as a movie producer. She produced Austenland, a comedy about a Jane Austen resort where women pay to be seduced by Darcy-esque actors. I got to meet Meyer at the premiere party and discuss fanfare for authors. Meyer’s books may have even more rabid fans than the classics, but Twilight wouldn’t make a very good theme park.




Loud & Proud- Sundance Unforgettable Events
Dave Grohl concert
Sound City Concert - I did not get to attend the concert for Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City, but it quickly became a legend around Park City. The next day, people were talking about the supergroup of singers Grohl assembled, and the standout performance Grohl and Rick Springfield gave, singing Springfield’s hit “Jesse’s Girl.”
Austenland Tea Party
Austenland Tea Party - When I got invited to a tea party for Austenland, I had no idea it was the actual premiere party. Because of my connections with the film’s publicity reps, I got an exclusive invite to afternoon tea with Meyer, Jane Seymour, Austenland author Shannon Hale and all the filmmakers. The tea offered some welcome warmth in the cold of Park City, but the casual socializing with the likes of Meyer and Seymour was what Sundance is all about.
Press and Filmmakers Reception
Press and Filmmakers Reception - As you can tell by the brevity of this “Events” section, I don’t go to a lot of Sundance parties because I’d rather be seeing movies and interviewing filmmakers. This event was an exception, because it provides a chance to meet many of the Sundance filmmakers who attend. Since this reception comes late in the festival, Wednesday, there had already been a good chance to see lots of films and discover new filmmakers. I met Francesca Gregorini at this reception and got to talk about Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes. The biggest revelation was that she’d come to Sundance before as a friend of Brit Marling’s, my big discovery two years ago! My world just exploded at that connection.

I wish Sundance didn’t have to end, but I packed so much experience into a single week that I can carry it with me the rest of the year. It can be exhausting hitting this many events and processing this many emotional films and lovely meetings with filmmakers and talent.

Now I need to recover, and when the above films make their way to new eyes, I can say I already saw it. / Issue 143 - September 3895
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