Otherwise known as “The One Where She Blatantly Skips School”
It’s 11:12pm, or 12:12am as far as my CST biological clock will recognize, and as I begin writing this, I’m just really thankful for 24-hour airport cafes. For a red eye-preferred traveler like myself, places like these are godsends for when you need that extra hit of caffeine or a veggie quinoa salad to wake you up and flush all the gluten and carbs you carelessly consumed on your Sundance trip. By “flush,” I of course mean “poop out” (Don’t be prude). See, I’m already feeling the laxative effects of my 20oz latte.
Indulge me just for this next sentence — but it all began with one text, one fateful day in September 2015:
I enlisted the one friend I know who is a bigger film fanatic than I — at 6:50am no less because apparently I like to have grand ideas at the ass crack of dawn — and we began planning the trip soon after.
Spreadsheets were exchanged and Google docs were made, and we eventually secured a schedule comprised mostly of our first choice films and that which required as little shuttling back and forth as possible.
The films were amazing. And the experience in and of itself was incredible. You’re up in the mountains, it’s snowing, the altitude gives you headaches, but all this is worth braving for the films. For such a large-scale festival, all of it felt strangely intimate. Watching these films see their first light of day with large crowds evoked visceral reactions from me. I laughed, smiled, sobbed, and grimaced more gratuitously and more heartily than I normally would. And for the duration of each film, I truly felt one with all the viewers around me. Most of the filmmakers stuck around for the second, less-Hollywood half of the festival we attended, and hearing them speak upon their work for crowds ranging from 200–1200 made viewing the films all that more exciting.
In total, we watched 9 films together and I watched one on my own after my friend departed. The titles I managed to catch were: Other People, As You Are, Certain Women, Uncle Howard, Joshy, Spa Night, Jacqueline (Argentine), The Fundamentals of Caring, Maggie’s Plan, and The Hollars. Of the 10, only one felt like a complete dud and interestingly enough, it was a critics’ darling. Critics across the board raved about this film, but as the credits rolled, there was a collective “…what…” of disbelief from us and others in the theater. This film reminded me that the audiences make the film, not the critics. What matters most is your own viewing experience and no critic can sway or change the fact that a film didn’t click for your particular viewing group. Sure, it was probably a well-crafted piece of art, but I won’t be revisiting it.
My standout favorites were Jacqueline (Argentine) and Spa Night. Jacqueline (Argentine) was just nuts. I loved it especially because it was nothing that I expected. We never would have guessed that in picking this film, we would get a humorous and bizarre mockumentary / political thriller about a Snowden-esque French woman. Based on the vague description and the misleading thumbnail in the catalog, I expected a mellow Euro-drama about a petite, white woman discovering herself through mild peril or whatever.
Spa Night, I definitely have a personal bias for. Written and directed by Korean-American filmmaker Andrew Ahn, the film was about a closeted second generation Korean teen exploring the dichotomies of his various identities. It holds a lot of personal meaning because there was so much to empathize with — especially regarding immigrant parents and exploring the intersection, or lack of intersection, between the protagonist’s identities as a Korean and an American. As a Korean-American myself, watching Ahn get his time on the platform that is Sundance moved me to my core. I had to fight back what I am now calling “Korea tears”; just insane feels brought on by filling my quota of nationalistic pride. Hearing him speak to mostly non-Asians about our experience in this country, as well as explain the importance of having such films in the cultural ether, was incredibly inspiring. I will never forget Andrew Ahn explain to the Eccles Theater audience that despite Spa Night being 70% Korean dialogue with subtitles, it is “as American as a Country Western” because it represents the Asian makeup in the American population. I had never before felt more heard or understood by a medium that generally marginalizes or appropriates people of my background.
We spent too much time and money in Lyfts, witnessed a fight nearly break out in a waitlist line, and battled swollen feet and aching backs. But we also met great people, dabbled in the underrated local food scene that is Salt Lake City, and got to bask in the aura that is Sundance. (Lists of threes are great, aren’t they?)
I didn’t stop whining about how exhausted I was when I came back, but in truth, I felt rejuvenated. I knew I would get more out of this trip than just watching good films, but I didn’t foresee the sense of empowerment I now feel. Something about actualizing a trip I had dreamed of for years, the tiring planning of said trip, and forcing a break in my routine to go do something I wanted to do, instead of what I was supposed to do by way of society, was exhilarating.
I think we willingly restrict ourselves into our daily patterns and societal duties because we’re told that’s what we should be doing. And we relish in routine because it feels safer and easier to carry on with what we know. But I think it’s important to venture outside of your normal; to take a recess from that same old air and give yourself the opportunities to truly do what’s “you.”