My First Sundance Journal, Day 0: Why is The Verge at Sundance?

Better late, nauseated, and underslept than never


Why is The Verge at Sundance? Dude, that is a really great headline for my first Sundance Gurnal entry. It's also a question I had more times than I expected to ask myself yesterday, the day of my journey to Park City.

The day started out promisingly: having spent the prior 24 hours dealing with a violent bout of food poisoning contracted at a trendy, overpriced Brooklyn eatery that shall not be named, I rolled out of bed at 5AM and scrambled to last-minute pack for my cinematic mountain retreat. (My first real adventure upon arrival at Sundance: opening my suitcase and finding out what I decided to pack in that particular delirium. I did not disappoint: there are absolutely no t-shirts or scarves, but the bottom of my tote bag is full of loose, lint-covered Emergen-C packets.) Still, I was doing better than I had expected the night before, watching Empire on Hulu in bed in a sweaty daze and wondering if I'd have to miss my first couple days of the festival. I was mad! My first Sundance, sabotaged by the [redacted] pork at [redacted] on [redacted] Avenue! Sundance — a storied, possibly wildly oversold media clusterfuck where I would actually kind of know what I was doing, missed because we just haaad to see what the fuss was about the [redacted] dumplings.

what if the movies are, I dunno, not good?

Anyway, that's what was going through my mind as I dragged myself to JFK that morning: "Why am I going to Sundance?" Again as I waited in security as my anti-nausea medication started to take its sedative effect: "Why am I going to Sundance?" Again as my flight to Phoenix was delayed for two hours: "Why am I going to Sundance?" Again as I tried to have two simultaneous conversations with equally unhelpful US Airways phone and desk agents: "Why am I going to Sundance?" And again as my flight was cancelled, and I waited another six hours: "Why am I going to Sundance?"

Even as I finally made my way out of Salt Lake City up into the mountains, the absurdity of this event, even aside from my gastrointestinal well-being, began to dawn on me. Here I am, one of thousands taking this long day's journey into a moonlit, snow-capped summit in Utah, mostly to sit inside a series of dark rooms for a week and watch some stories. People grouse about paying for movie tickets and parking when they could just watch something on Netflix; how much is actually at Sundance that makes this trip so perennially worth it? Like, what if the movies are, I dunno, not good? Does that even matter anymore?

Park City, Utah
The center of the universe, for now. (Raffi Asdourian/Flickr)

I've heard people with more experience than me say that this is both a more indie and more mainstream Sundance program than usual. There certainly appear to be a lot of films about white people having relationship problems, and at least one post-apocalyptic love triangle blockbuster. There's gonna be some Oculus happening somewhere, somehow. There are going to be a lot of female directors and writers and cinematographers, telling a wildly varied array of stories that offer some small hope that "women's picture" will no longer be considered a thematic genre.

There's gonna be some Oculus happening somewhere, somehow

Ultimately, there's not one particular thing I'm looking forward to at my first Sundance, and I feel pretty excited about that. And that's also why The Verge is at Sundance: this festival, along with a handful of major international festivals throughout the year, is one of the few chances we have to see movies with close to no interference. By the time the chosen ones of Sundance, Cannes, or Venice make their way to your local Cool Theatre, there will already be a storyline around them, molding your expectations. "The third act comes out of nowhere." "There's no way so-and-so doesn't get an Oscar nod this year." "I bet you so-and-so ends up helming Ant-Man IV." In an era in which a film occupies your awareness over months of marketing and buildup and two hours of inevitable letdown, it's exciting to just plop yourself down in a theatre with little more than a title, a director, and a logline to go on.

And yeah, there are parties and celebrities and altitude sickness, among other barriers between the festival-goer and the film. I'll try to take it all in as much as possible, but I have to be careful. Last time I did that it was innocently perusing the menu at [redacted] in Park Slope, and we all know how that turned out.

Entourage, The Sundance Kids, HBO
"Big year for women in cinema, bro!" (HBO)

Stuff I'm looking forward to this week:

  1. What Happened Miss Simone? — The Netflix Original documentary premieres tonight, and hopefully does one better (and sooner) than the dodgy-sounding Nina biopic starring Zoe Saldana.
  2. Sunday's premiere of Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, director Alex Gibney's documentary companion to Lawrence Wright's book. Really, I'm just going to be gauging the percentage of SciTis in the room by applause level.
  3. Saturday's premiere of Mistress America, because goddammit, the creative and romantic union of Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig has yet to do me wrong.
  4. The Power of Story: Serious Ladies panel featuring Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, and Kristen Wiig: our chosen figureheads in an already lady-dominant Sundance.
  6. Dope, aka A$AP Rocky's film debut.
  7. The inevitable surprise appearance by Rocky during Skrilly's set!
  8. The End of the Tour, aka Jason Segel's David Foster Wallace cosplay adventure, aka either the best or most disastrous thing at the festival this year. (I have no idea which! I'm so excited!)
  9. Continuing to build mystery and intrigue around which trendy, overpriced restaurant just off the G train gave me food poisoning and almost caused me to miss my first-ever Sundance Film Festival.
  10. The five-word review I'm going to make Bryan Bishop write for Z for Zachariah.

That's it for now! Now if you'll excuse me — gotta go shop for a scarf and write a very angry Yelp review.