The energy in the room was electric; so many people in black with the most exclusive Sundance ticket packages gathering up at the Stein Eriksen Lodge to kick off the Sundance Film Festival 2015.
“Are you local?” I asked the family standing nearby as we moved toward the shuttles that would carry us to the premiere screening. They nodded yes. I said enthusiastically, “Really? Where do you live?” The parents live in New York and their daughter in Los Angeles. I chuckled. During Sundance, being from LA or New York is local. The filmmakers and patrons own this little ski town for 10 days in January and on this first night of the Fest- at An Artist At The Table- we’re all family.
Attending the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? about the legendary jazz artist Nina Simone was ancillary to the evening but it highlighted the fact that without the Sundance Institute there might not be this kind of voice in film.
The ‘artist’ at our table excitedly described his next film, a documentary about the woman who singlehandedly crushed the ERA from passing. Sundance Directing Award Winner Ben Cotner was back after last year’s Case Against Eight documentary to share his passion for Sundance.
He vouched for the sentiment that without the Sundance Institute that nurtures them there would be no Sundance Film Festival and possibly no true independent film voice.
An Artist At The Table was an evening of education, connections, introductions and awe. Norman Lear was at the table in front of me discussing the Memoir he’s writing, Christine Lahti was at the table to my right, Sundance alumni and the director of the Oscar-nominated Selma Ava DuVernay stood to applause at yet another table.
Unlike your everyday world, rubbing elbows with some inspirational filmmakers is commonplace at the Sundance Film Festival. The AATT facilitates this ten fold. Everyone around me had some sort of professional connection. They weren’t just coming to see movies. They were actors, producers, lawyers, ad execs, directors, writers and they all have a story to tell.
Morgan Neville sat next to me on the bus. The Oscar-winning documentary producer (20 Feet From Stardom) has yet another film in Sundance – Best of Enemies, a humorous look at the 1968 televised debates between conservative strategist William F. Buckley, Jr. and liberal writer Gore Vidal. Neville’s Sundance royalty but still an all-around good guy.
Last night was an opportunity to hear from the artists who have grown up through the Sundance Institute. The organization has been nurturing visionaries through their labs and workshops since 1981.
The AATT last night honored the programs and people that helped build their film career whether it was a screenwriters, filmmakers, directors or Catalyst event at Sundance Resort.And the rest of the week gives us all a chance to recognize both partners’ contributions.