Guest post written by Jennifer Rhea Cross
The Sundance Film Festival is an American film festival that takes place annually in January at Park City, Utah. It is one of the largest independent film festivals in the United States. It is a showcase for new documentaries and dramatic films, from American and international independent filmmakers.
Earlier this year, I discovered that my parents would be going to Utah for business during the same time that the Sundance Film Festival was being held. I knew that this would be a chance of a lifetime, since I’m a film enthusiast and writer. So the process of getting my press credentials, or, as I like to call it, “the golden ticket” began. The best way to describe it is that it’s sort of like getting stadium seats for an LSU game rather than those nosebleed seats. The press credentials gave me admittance to theaters and public venues on a space-available basis. It permitted me to enter theaters to photograph film introductions and Q&A sessions with the actors and filmmakers, as well as access to press conferences, media areas, and press events.
Once I got my press credentials, Operation Cajun Sundance began. I had to prepare for the “freezing” snow and therefore bought the proper boots, pants, sweaters, and obnoxious snow hats (I didn’t wear any of them). As a matter of fact, it was hot. Not LSU-game hot, but more like Mardi Gras hot. Four suitcases for my parents and I, and we never wore half the clothes, hats, gloves, cuddle duds, thermal socks, and earmuffs that we bought. It snowed, but it was a “dry” cold. Even when it got down to the teens, it was never as bone cold as we get here in the 40′s. However, the dry cold did amazing things for my hair. You don’t need a blow-dryer because your hair dries as soon as you walk out of the shower. The cold does make your nose hurt and you take a million deep breaths because of the altitude. Combine the two, and you’re a sight to see…or maybe just a Cajun.
The first person that I met was Harvey Weinstein, legendary executive producer of films such as Pulp Fiction, The Aviator, and The Artist. He was casually dressed sitting next to us at the restaurant at dinner. He was interesting, not at all what I expected. I learned quickly that you have about thirty seconds to choose what you want, get a picture or an autograph.
One of the most interesting aspects of the festival was the “gifting suites.” I had the opportunity as a press member to attend many, and discovered the importance of them. As a non-celebrity (a.k.a Cajun), I just thought of gifting suites as places for famous, rich people to get free products that most people could never afford or even think about owning. Let me explain what a “gifting suite” is really all about. The premise of a “gifting suite” is for a brand to get the opportunity to have a celebrity be photographed wearing their product, an applied endorsement, if you will. While some were only for the “important people,” I was honored to attend a couple as a press member. I’m still trying to find out how to get a free pair of Ugg boots to replace my Cajun Reeboks; a Cajun gal can only dream.
L’Oreal Sundance Gifting Suite was fabulous because my mother and I got to get our hair and makeup done, and we left with some goodies. We walked down Main Street like celebrities until we got on the shuttle. Side note: Salt Lake City has incredible and clean shuttles.
Deb Durkin’s “Eco-Hideaway” at The Chateaux in Deer Valley was an honor to attend because everything that was given, decorated, or presented was eco friendly. Durkin chooses a non-profit organization to be highlighted at all her events. At Sundance, it was “Save the One Campaign” with Guard a Heart Foundation. I got the chance to speak with one of the brand owners Deb Miller President/CEO Hugrz Boot Wraps™ and asked her how gifting suites have benefited her product. She said, “The company is only 19 months old and I can’t afford the advertising in high-profile magazines. Festivals give me the opportunity to not only get my product out there, but it allows me to interact on a personal level with many different people.”
The Outdoor Retailer’s “Innovation Gallery” at Sundance gives the public a glimpse into brands that capture the spirit of the outdoors, as well as its role in independent film. Although this Cajun gal doesn’t get to use much winter gear, I found the “Outdoor Retailer” to be the Fashion Week of Sundance! The Outdoor Retailer assisted with promoting the Louisiana International Film Festival in Sundance, which will be held in Baton Rouge on April 18- 21. The Louisiana Film Festival staged a traditional “Second Line” up Main Street led by Jonathan Batiste, as well as people with Mardi Gras Beads, umbrellas and some funky moves!
Throughout my trip the most memorable celebrity sightings were:
Amy Poehler from Saturday Night Live, who was not only adorable, but surprisingly petite. I introduced her to my parents (they’re not up to date on celebrities) as “mom and dad, this is Amy Poehler!” She shook their hands and then kept re-introducing herself to them, on purpose. I was so excited to get a picture with her that I overlooked her Parks & Recreation co-star Adam Scott. Sorry Adam, you’re fabulous and thanks for photo bombing my picture with my new BFF.
Catherine O’Hara was a delightful and beautiful surprise to meet. It took everything in me to not ask her to yell “Kevin!” (Home Alone) or sing “Day-o” (Beetlejuice).
Must see Sundance Festival Films:
A.C.O.D. is a hilarious comedy film directed by Stu Zicherman and starring Adam Scott, Amy Poehler, Jessica Alba, Catherine O’Hara, and Jane Lynch. The name of the film is an abbreviation for Adult Children of Divorce. I had the pleasure to meet first-time director Zicherman and see his film; it’s definitely a must see, and I promise that you’ll cry from laughing with the stellar cast.
Sound City is a documentary about the famed recording studio in Van Nuys, California, which was the origin of records by Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, Rick Springfield and Tom Petty among many others. Rock musician Dave Grohl, of Nirvana and Foo Fighters, sets out to tell the story of a recording studio in his first film. The studio became famous for a single piece of recording equipment — a 1970s era sound board — that became a “hope diamond” for musicians. Sound City is a musical time machine that allows film and music enthusiasts to travel back through time to when music was recorded with raw, pure imperfections that led to many remarkable careers. It made me want to throw out my iPad and computer, and start typing on a type writer while rocking out to the Sound City soundtrack.
Blood Brother is a documentary feature film directed by Steve Hoover. It captured the grand jury prize and the audience award for U.S. documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival. Hoover traces the journey of his best friend, Rocky, who travels to India and changes his life forever. Rocky establishes a bond with children and their families with AIDS, who face life and death situations on a daily basis. This documentary made me cry, smile, laugh, and want to scream all at the same time. Hoover captures the pure innocence of AIDS as well as the horror with an end result that will transform views on AIDS. “The funding of this film is quite unique. It was all supported through donations. This means we have no debt and no one to pay back for the film, allowing any/all of the proceeds from the film to be used to help support the orphanage and the children with HIV in India, as well as supporting Rocky and his continuing efforts,” Hoover explained in his humble interview. Hoover admitted his ignorance towards AIDS at the beginning of filming. By falling in love with the children, his passion and need to help transcended his own thoughts on AIDS. When asked if Hoover felt like an activist for AIDS, he admitted “I’m not sure if I consider myself an activist because I don’t know what an activist feels.” It was at that moment that I knew that I was interviewing not only an AIDS activist, but a film director that will change the world through his lens.
Operation Cajun Sundance was challenging with a few disappointing moments. I may not have gotten to meet the most famous celebrities or watch every film at Sundance. I didn’t get to attend any of the premiers, or cover the red carpet. But the experiences that I did have were unforgettable and unimaginable. Besides the festival, I also took the time to visit the Utah Olympic Park. It was a competition venue for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games for Nordic jumping and the sliding sports of bobsleigh, luge and skeleton. I highly recommend taking the time to visit to see a glimpse into the Olympics.
Sundance took a little piece of my spicy Cajun heart. As I flew over the mountains on my way home to Louisiana, I smiled knowing that this Cajun will be back next year!