Sundance Before The Swag : A Memoir

by Elisabeth Sereda January 26, 2014
\"Laggies" Premiere - Red Carpet - 2014 Sundance Film Festival
Keira Knightly at the Sundance premiere of Laggies

Moguls started getting into fistfights over the sale of films, both metaphorically and literally. The most infamous dustup occurred 1996 in the Italian restaurant Mercato Mediterraneo when Harvey Weinstein allegedly pushed Fine Line’s Jonathan Taplin up against a wall because he was outbid on the distribution rights to Scott Hick’s schizophrenia drama Shine. That story got bigger as memories got longer. One persistent rumor even has Weinstein throwing a chair through the restaurant. Harvey denies that. And he was not the only one who lost his temper: in 2000 a Variety reporter was arrested for disorderly conduct because he couldn’t get into the CAA party and his colleague from THR almost got into fisticuffs with an irate Courtney Love who threw his wife’s camera to the ground. Sundance has its quirky moments. Last year a guy rode a camel through town to promote a film that wasn’t even part of the festival. And this year an ugly naked guy ran up and down Main Street. By showing off his short comings he didn’t attract much attention. Nudity and sex have always been part of the festival – onscreen. This year the German film Wetlands (the title refers to the leading lady’s nether region) caused people to leave in droves. After Wetlands’ explicit – and partly disgusting – sex scenes, the much hyped surprise screening of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac left the audience bored and laughing. Some visitors to Park City are here solely for the purpose of the after hours part of it all. This year’s number one party animal: Lapo Elkann, Italy’s colorful heir to the Agnelli/Fiat fortune. One party rule that still applies: don’t come too late or you won’t get in. Not only are the venues small but no event is open ended since so many book and double book the few available locations. Especially when the weather is not as perfect as it was this year. I remember Sundance festivals where I trudged through blizzards to screenings and interviews. Granted, as an Austrian I was better equipped to handle real winter than the California girlies who slid down Main Street in their ridiculous Uggs while freezing off their butts and bare midriffs. If you want to dress like Britney Spears don’t go to Utah in January. My hopes that the snow will keep seasonal amateurs away have been dashed over the years. Amazingly it only keeps them away from the most beautiful part of Sundance – the ski slopes. The runs of Deer Valley and (for snowboarders) Park City are the best kept secret of the festival. I have very fond memories of running into Rob Lowe in line at the Wasatch lift and listening to entertaining stories about his ongoing ski competition with Arnold Schwarzenegger – Lowe usually wins. Or interviewing Tim Robbins on the Sterling Express. When the ride was too short to finish the interview he suggested taking a slower and longer lift. I met up with Uma Thurman and her boyfriend Arpad Busson on a pit stop at the legendary Snowshoe Tommy’s on top of the mountain, where one can get the best espresso and a steaming turkey chili bowl, and had après ski sambuca with Patrick Dempsey at the Snow Park Lodge. Lowe and Dempsey – a former pro – are by far Hollywood’s best skiers. Bringing interviews back to the slopes and lodges is one of my goals for the next Sundance festival. The HFPA did get close this year, when we had a great round table with Maggie Gyllenhaal for her upcoming mini series The Honorable Woman (airing in July on the Sundance Channel) at the Stein Erikson Lodge. One thing that will never change, despite the private jets, are the LAX-Salt Lake City flights. Leaving L.A. one might be stuck in middle seats, wedged between personal publicists and producers. Coming back the Delta-flight usually turns into the ‘Hollywood Express’. This year we could have cast a movie, a documentary AND a TV-series, and with the exception of Kurt Russell the protagonists were all in coach: Anne Hathaway sat in 34B, Sofia Loren’s son, actor/director Edoardo Ponti shared a row with Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, Steve Coogan had a window seat, Rizzoli & Isles star Sasha Alexander was a row behind him, and documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy was in the back of the plane. Thankfully there was no turbulence – it would have made for a bad news story.

Elisabeth Sereda