If you just flew down from Ganymede (um, the largest moon of Jupiter) and attended a Sundance/Slamdance party, you might think that Dos XX and Stella are the only beers on earth and Corazon Tequila is the only hard drink around. I've never seen such a dominant sponsor of any situation as these guys. Anyway, the day.
Today was nice, as we (Erik and I) saw some great movies. Who Killed the Electric Car? is a great documentary about, duh, electric cars. During the '90s (sort of coinciding with the dotcom days), GM produced this great car that runs for 100-300 miles on a single electric charge. However, even the company was skeptical, unsure of the market and not very forthcoming with production of the car. The ads were pretty melancholy and didn't show any sexy people, hence the project was scrapped and GM put their stupid efforts into the stupid Hummer. Well, there was a really passionate group of individuals bent on keeping the car (the EV) alive. The film features some great cameos from actors and politicians, reinforcing the fact that everyone in the Carter administration (outspoken environmentalists, even if they are really old now) 1) tells great stories 2) is really passionate about alternate energy sources. Don't let the Hummer win! More on this in my review next month.
Big quesadilla, then rush, rush up to the Slamdance theatre for Abduction: The Megumi Yakota Story. North Korean spies abducted a bunch of people during the late '70s with the purpose of teaching their organization how to be Japanese (i.e. language, mannerisms, then thirteen-year old Megumi Yakota being one of them. Wow, what a tear jerker. The brother of one of the hostages was in the audience and spoke a little about the ordeal. More tears. A decent low-budget documentary, even if the mood-swaying soundtrack and film techniques kind of pulled me away at times. Focus on the story, people! Anyway.
Slamdance/B.I.K.E./Game Developer awards ceremony next. Much of the aforementioned drinks flowed, some band with the word "tit" in its name played (note: it's a fact that girl groups can get away with out-of-tune guitars as long as they show some leg) then Le Force rocked a Flying V until my stomach almost ate itself – in a good way.
Another word on the Benicio Del Toro look-alike/Anthony, the co-director of B.I.K.E.. Lopez and I ran into him many times today; we're pretty much obsessed with him at this point. He had some nasty wounds on his face – I guess one of his co-stars tackled him, sending him to the hospital and forcing him to wear a hooded sweatshirt tied up over his bruised and scraped face) – but was gracious enough to invite us to his party. It was the same party we were going to, but nevertheless. I think Lopez might make a documentary about him...
Despite my previous belief that this whole even is a bunch of crappy movies all pimped at an unsuspecting, doe-eyed audience, there are some really, really great films. I don't have time to experience half of what I want to see. Damned day job.
In the words of Daniel Ash, "I wish I could be nothing at all" and "It's an American Dream". Think about it.
--------------->day six Erik Lopez writes....<---------
If it is movies you want, it's movies you'll get. Today I saw two movies: Who killed the electric car? and Abduction: the Megumi Yakoto story. Dave, in his post for today has pretty much elaborated what the deal was about these movies. Essentially, who killed the electric car? takes a wide-eyed view on alternative energy and energy saving sources of the luxurious medium of the automobile. The documentary tackles the history, fanaticism and blame for removing the electric car from the automobile market when it was efficient, environmentally friendly, quiet and all around amazing. What came off as being most astonishing aspect shown in the film is the small yet dedicated following and devotion this car had during its lifetime. Like most documentaries about interesting things, it was good.
Abduction: the Megumi Yakoto story was incredibly tear inducing and in my opinion, a little heavy handed. The story centered on Megumi Yakoto, a Japanese girl who, at the age of 13, was abducted by North Koreans. The larger context around this story focuses on North Korea's transnational abduction of peoples all over the world. While the issue was pertinent and important (yet again another strike against the dictatorship of Kim Jon Il) the filmmakers tended to pull the heartstrings so much that the whole emotional employment of the film was lost on me—but not on the two lovely ladies sitting in front of me who at the correct sequence and queue, let a river run. At moments I questioned my own devices of empathy and sorrow only to be kept in check by noticing the inner workings of the filmic machine. Again, not a bad movie, quite stirring. The coup de grace on the whole thing was that one of the participants of the film flew all the way from Tokyo to talk about what he is doing with the abductions, that he is still fighting the good fight, etc... He quit his job as an auctioneer of 24 years to tackle the government on what he perceives as a conflict of interest—the North Koreans come and invade, so to say, and the Japanese government provides food and aid to them as if nothing has happened.
Finally, to round out the auspicious evening, we ended up going to yet another Slamdance party—this time for game developers. It was interesting to see the split between the two groups of partygoers: the filmmakers and the game developers. The game developers dressed up as most stereotypically geeky men do: in hip sweater vests rounded out with either an Izod or Polo shirt OR a long turtleneck coupled with some sort of slacks (pleated for extra points) rounded out with the high couture of a pair of either Air Jordons or similar shoe (perhaps a pair of BK's with the flashing lights on the back would have had the women screaming in erotic rage). I started out the night just hanging back, saw a friend I knew doing sound, and just drank nervously as I watched the parade of hot women glide by me in smooth enthusiasm for like-minded non-Utahans. By the third drink I was pretty much on my way to a non-stop talkfest. I happened to see the director and my newfound friend from the movie B.I.K.E. milling around. I engaged him in conversation about Utah, the United States, prostitution and anything else I could pull out of my bag of tricks. While we ended that conversation pretty quickly, we did end up riding tallbikes together, hanging out, getting crunk and then promptly getting politely escorted from the club for an evening well spent. All in all, it made the next day look like heaven.
––––––->Day Seven Dave Madden writes....<–––––––––
Now I'm makin' records, now I'm makin' tapes. Yes, I am literally mixing/mastering/writing a sick track with Salt Lake's own Lapsed (Ad Noiseam) as I write this (well, not literally, but you get it). It's coming out on a compilation for a Swedish label (other artists on there include Panacea and a bunch of other Ad Noiseam artists) that should blow up your expectations of electronic music.
Okay. The previous paragraph is not really that creative a plug for a product, but it's ten times more elaborate and unique than some of the things I hear at Sundance. People still use, "It has a lot of heart' (a random person on the street used that to describe Nick Cave to me). If I had a nickel for every time I heard, "There's a lot of buzz around this project/it's a Smoking Gun", I would have at least twelve dollars. I know everyone wants to get what they have out there, but is it actually worth getting out there? Where are the great story tellers? Probably sucked up by executives and those who control the means, people with no imagination. Anyway.
Another day of lots of movie viewing. Beyond Beats and Rhythms, the show about the post-college athlete turned motivational speaker, ended up really nice. He basically finally listened to the lyrics of gangsta rap (his poison of choice to pump himself up before a game) and decided to explore why everyone wants to be a thug, why G-Unit-ness sells so well. The director investigates the crowd outside the B.E.T. awards, listening to all these kids freestyle about being the toughest. He relates this to Talib Kweli, who says, "These are the kids who only listen to the radio and watch TV". I knew I liked that guy for a reason – besides his terrific music. In one conversation, Busta Rhymes essentially condemns gays and lesbians. Kind of sad.
Despite my dislike of Greg Kinnear (it's a personal problem), Little Miss Sunshine really impressed me. It has so much heart. Hahahahaha. No, I really did enjoy the story and the characters (Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin are terrific, and this kid Paul Dano is an awesome actor...or he was directed well). The director, Jonathan Dayton, is pretty much just a music video director, proving again that most of these guys know their shit.
I stopped by Starbucks for a second. The Starbucks lounge is pretty amazing (think Circle Lounge with more colors and less sushi), and I think just about anyone can get in. Buck 65 played the other night, these people held a "reading" of Asia Argento's new movie...yup, check it out.
------------->Day Seven Erik Lopez writes......<-------------
Alright...the boys, they alright. Dave and I were yet again fast on our feet to catch some movies. We started the day watching a documentary by former NFL star Byron Hurt on complex issues related to hip-hop music and visual culture as told and thought about by an official "hip-hop head." In one word: AMAZING! if for nothing else than it's ironic comedic value.
The movie starts with Byron espousing his views on the gender politics of the hip-hop world—focusing primarily on the created male stereotype in hip-hop culture. This male needs to be tough, brash, and full of power, money and hoes basically. He then proceeds to go around to things like BET's spring bling weekend, a hip-hop conference, and anywhere else where he can educate and find out more about what it means to be male in the hip-hop culture. He has wild and zany interviews with the likes of Chuck D, Russell Simmons (who blows him off and seems visibly annoyed that he should even questions hip-hops hierarchies), the head of BET who sidesteps the issue and various bitches and hoes around the country who can't identify with the gender politics in rap videos. The list can go on with what Byron does and how "shocking" (as if you didn't know coming into the film how these issues effect those that listen to it). But let me point out some highlights of the film: there is a visible difference between the white and black hip-hop listening audience. While this is self-evident, there is more to it than that. The black hip-hop audience knows that if they want to get into hip-hop, they must act and play the part and they know full well what that entails—the three "P's": Pussy, Power and Pummeling for extra point you want throw in bling and the infamous "tip drill." On the other hand, the white kids see hip-hop as being a foreign and all to indiscernible culture that they will never have any first hand knowledge of: they like the beats, they like the lyrics but they don't seem to grasp what is going on with all of it. One fat white kid from Columbus OH tried to pimp his dad's SUV while listening to hip-hop and wearing a BILLABONG t-shirt with a dumb necklace—even going so far as to say he started listening to hip-hop when it first came out....back in 1992!!!! The other white kid, a girl in a high school went on to say that she listens to hip-hop because it helps her see another culture that she would otherwise not be able to have any contact with. When did hip-hop become stuff of a multicultural signification? Lastly, as was pointed out to me by Bob Leavitt—it is easy to find dumb people to prove your point.
After this, we went to go see Little Miss Sunshine staring Greg Kinnear and Steven Carell. While the movie was hilarious it seemed sort of generic. It eased smoothly between plot points, there was some funny dialogue and Alan Arkin plays a hilariously foul-mouthed grandfather that doles out pearls of wisdom such as "get laid by as many women as possible." It is also funny to think that Steven Carell plays America's premenent Proust scholar (but that jokes seems to fall flat as it tries to "run" somewhere but kind of just sits there). The characters interact well but it has that certain Hollywood aftertaste that makes it palatable in the same way that SPAM is neither good nor bad. Oh well, it is worth going to see as there are many laugh out loud moments but I don't think I would see it again.
I rounded out my movie watching by going to see Lisebkind (lovechild). This movie has been the best movie I have seen so far. It is the tense story of incest, sort of. It revolves around this girl named Alma who is trying to become an actresses. She is spontaneous, moody, quirky, and for all her upfront honesty a little confused about her identity both sexually and socially. Her father, who we are led to believe left her five years pervious, has returned and against her mother's wishes, Alma starts to hang out with him. The movie oscillates quite tightly in its tense portrayal of Alma and her social interactions between her and her father, her and other males, and finally her and other females. She seems to move in a world of amoral decision and fantasy making going so far as to...well I don't want to spoil what this movie has to offer. Needless to say it is a delicate and finely tuned movie. My only reservation about it is the ending, which I am ambiguous about. I came out feeling really heavy but found it to be a moving movie—not in a forced heavy handed sort of way, but just thoughtful.
I decided, with my better judgment not to go to any parties. I feel really great about tomorrow, when I will be watching Brenden Small stand-up, going to movies I have been waiting all week to see and maxin' and relaxin' like a totally awesome dude.
-------->Day Eight Erik Lopez writes.....<----------
I have been following the ideas and antics of the B.I.K.E. guys all week without having had, as of yet, seen their film. Today I was going to watch it. Previous to my watching this intrepid and quite revealing film, I had been tentatively and with quiet reservation been talking to the co-director of B.I.K.E. Anthony Howard.
The movie B.I.K.E. is supposed to be a documentary that zeroes in on a little known subcultural pocket of bike enthusiasts called the Black Label. While telling the story of the Black Label bike club and its subsequent branches in other major US cities, the documentary veers left and right as we follow the escapades of Howard as he tries, for a year and a half, to get into this prestigious "family." What ensues is not only the story of Black Label, its inclusive nature, its goals and ideals, but it also shows the intertwining politics of Howard as he deals with his own ups and downs personally as well as socially. Drugs, veganism, eschatology and other "off center" ideas play into this underground bike culture and we get to see it all first hand through the eyes and experiences of Anthony Howard and his Black Label buddy Ryan Doyle.
After watching the film, I was a little disconcerted at the honesty it brought to the table. The movie to me seemed less focused on bike culture as a whole but more on the life of the charismatic Howard. We get to see interviews with his mother and father, his drug use, his reaction to the pressures around him as well his eventual drug rehabilitation. The Q&A centered around how the film was almost ran into ground because of drug use, how Doyle and Howard are friends and finally the interaction between Howard, Jacob Septimus (the other director) and the producer went into making this film. This gave me added further still to the "legend building" character of Anthony.
The other movie that I saw that I really liked was called We Go Way Back by Lynn Shelton. It was a quaint story of a girl from the theatre trying to escape playing roles and get back to who she really is. The main character, a girl with a big theatre background, gets the main role in one of Henry Ibsen's plays. The director, instead of directing it in a more conventional way, decides that he wants his leading lady to learn Danish for the part. As she tries to balance a job, work with the theatre, learn Danish and all sorts of other quotidian experiences, we see her go through old letters that she wrote for her future more grown up self from when she was fourteen years of age. By the end of the movie, her fourteen year old self and her current self collide and she finally is able to reconcile and find herself.
Other than those two movies, I was quickly able to catch a quick peek at Brenden Small comedy bit. It was less a comedy bit than an elaborate comedic commercial for his new animated show about black metal. Brenden told some jokes, explained black metal and showed some storyboards from his new show. As all this was going on people started to leave slowly but surely until, at the very end, there was only a handful of troopers left. Small was funny and he knew how to play a mean metal guitar lick....but comon—pitching me a show? I felt a little used in that regard. It was worth it, however, to stay for the whole kit and kaboodle because the Q&A was surprisingly thorough and well done. Small answered every imaginable question in great detail and, as an ending treat, played an instrumental version of the Franz Kafka rock opera as a parting gift. If you ever get a chance to see him perform in a town near you I would highly advice it.
---------------------->Day Nine Erik Lopez writes.....<----------
Two things worth mention here: 1) parties at Slamdance are incredible 2) the Science of Sleep is less than what I expected.
I'll start off by talking about Michel Gondry's new film first. Basically, if you have seen any of Gondry's music videos or saw Eternal Sunshine than you know what kind of party tricks Gondry is going to be bringing to the table. His lush and surreal visual style is still here as well as his imaginative narratives.
The film is about a guy who can't seem to separate reality from fantasy. And he also has a sleeping problem. When he sleeps he ends up constructing elaborate fantasies involving those that he associates with everyday—from his boss, to co-workers and finally to a just-out-of-reach lady friend who shares his same quirky creativity but not his neurosis. The fantasies start to interfere and transform the reality around him.
What makes this movie so ho-hum is that, if you are familiar with Gondry's ouevere, than there is nothing dangerous or groundbreaking about it. That isn't bad but it is uninspired. Gondry seems to be stuck in the same (if not great) creative tool box that he has been using for a while. I will say, however, that this film seems to be the culmination of that toolbox into an enjoyable full length cinematic experience. While I wouldn't see it again, I definintely would recommend it to others to watch in the theatre. It is nice to see how the movie seamlessly roll from comedy to romance to drama with ease. It is also quite incredible to get a mix of languages that add instead of detract to the films overall structure, plot and form. Finally, the movie ends on such an ambigous note that it would be worth it to see again just to put the pieces together in a different order. Mind you, I like Michel Gondry but I was expecting just a tad more—visual style, check, circular narrrative, check, fun, check...but what else can you do?
Finally, the Slamdance party. Originally, I wasn't going to go to it because I am all partied out. But I ended up making a guest appearance and having a great time. By the time I got to the party, it was already well under way. I saw Anthony Howard and Jacob Septimus who came over and gave me a hardy hello, a pat on the back and few manly hugs. With all this jovialness put aside, I went straight to dancing. Whoever was the DJ at the time was doing an incredible job—everyone was on the floor hipping and hopping bipping and bopping. After some time of moving and grooving, Anthony and Jacob invited me back to the VIP room to hang out, grab some water, etc. We then went back to the dance floor. Before the dancing commenced again, Anthony quickly and slyly and with much finesse grabbed a bottle of vodka from the bar.
After some lazy shuffling we sat down and proceeded to drink straight from the bottle. Some security people approached Anthony and after a five minute conversation with them, he was able to persuade them to let him keep the bottle. I don't know how he did that or what he said but it was quite incredible to see him work the room like that.
After a few more swigs, some people came over to talk to him and Jacob about B.I.K.E and that was the end of that. The rest of the evening for them was talking to the ladies, entertaining those that came over to say hello and generally getting more and more beligerently drunk as the night went on. Knowing when to call it quits and when to fold my hand, I quietly left the party for some slumber. Dancing and drinking, saying goodbye to the friends I had met and going out with a bang—this is how my film festival experience should end. I still have one more day, though. Tomorrow is a panel discussion with an ending night Tromadance party. BOO YA!
----------->Day Ten Erik Lopez writes....<--------------
Finally....the last day. All I have to do is say a few words, nod a few times, talk with people and the whole experience will be done. Easy, right? You better believe it.
Up to this point things have been one hectic manuever after another—just the way I like it. But today I rolled up to Park City in a blistering snow storm, a bit of head of time so I could enjoy a few Troma films and get acquainted with what I was set out to do—talk about filmmaking in the age of multi-million dollar indie movies. Before leaving for Park City I ate at the Olive Garden and read a few essays about mass culture. My whole slant was to talk about the ideology of mass culture and how independent film was supposed to, ideally, revolt from the pacification of the entertainment market and bring art back to the people.
I mosied on up to the Rum Bunny bar 30 minutes before the panel and had a drink (or two) with Troma guy extrordinaire Kiel Walker. Kiel was the go to man help me arrange an interview with Lloyd Kaufman AND he helped me to set up the closing nights entertainment. Kiel is all around hilarious and pleasant. Now on to the panel.
The panel consisted of me, Pat Kaufman, and four other panelists—all of whom did a great job talking about the different aspects of independent movie making from music, to distribution to the actual process of making movies (my apologies for forgetting your names but it was nice to sit next to you as I nervously fidgeted and waited to talk). The disapointing thing about the panel was that I had a limited range of what I could talk about—the only major thing being how to get the word out about your film and my own thoughts about distribution. After the panel was done, which took two hours, everyone applauded and said it was the best panel they ever went to. I agree with that as well. The panelists were not only gracious and humourous when it came to dispensing anecdotes and wisdom but they did so with a thoroughness and patience that I had never seen at other panels. They also answered every single last question and got the audience to really have a dialogue instead of a Q&A. AMAZING. Lloyd moderated the whole thing with bad dick jokes and off color humor—appropriate for a panel dealing with independent film.
Agape was slated to play the closing night party with another band called the Street. The Street's sound was a cross between Motley Crue and the reanimated dead corpses of Alice in Chains. But they actually weren't. Instead they played their home brewed brand of bad cover songs from the early to late 90s. While the crowd was well pleased with the hits from Nirvana and the Pixies they were not ready for the real fire power---Agape.
Agape put on a fast and furious set that was made even more amazing with how many people actually really enjoyed the music and got up and danced. Half way through the performance, Ryan's assistant (forgot his name to) was picked up by the now well then worn Kiel Walker and spun around. This is what rock and roll is all about! Spinning someone around and around, dragging them on the floor, bumping into people and spilling over things. But this is only a quick summation what happens. The rest is talking to people, making an ass of yourself and trying hard to make a good impression on the girl you are having a drink with at the bar. I ended up meeting Lloyd's daughter Charlotte who is a whole hell of a lot funnier and sincere in person than she is on screen. The night and week came to an epic, battle ending close as I skidded my car at 3am in the morning over some black ice, crashing into two barriers and making a mess out of my car and its alignment. Luckily, I am still alive and my car is a little bit drivable. Would I do this all again next year? Will I be more prompt in writing out DAILY blogs? Was this whole thing a success? You bet your booty that is a resounding YES!!