What a privilege it was to be invited to the 2020 Sundance Film Festival as a member of the press. I was able to watch films morning, noon, and night, conduct red carpet interviews, and record multiple long-form podcast interviews with directors, actors, composers, and other behind-the-camera filmmakers. Below are a few of the highlights.
ARTIST AT THE TABLE
My wife and I started the festival at the Artist At The Table event. In attendance were numerous talented filmmakers, including Robert Redford, Ethan Hawke, Lea Thompson, and, sitting at our table, director Joe Berlinger, who directed the 2019 Ted Bundy biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, starring Zac Efron. In addition to a great dinner, we heard from veteran filmmakers and up-and-coming filmmakers about their journey into the arts, as well as the importance of the Sundance Institute to the independent filmmaking community.
RED CARPET EXPERIENCE
Having never attended a red carpet premiere before, it was quite a learning curve for me. How early should I arrive? Where do I stand? What equipment do I bring to capture the audio and video? What questions do I ask of the actors, directors, and producers when I have not yet seen their film? Fortunately the answers to these questions arrived in real time at the event, thanks to helpful publicists on the scene (who handed out “Face Sheets” for the talent available for interviews) , as well as veteran journalists who served as kind, generous, and sage guides throughout the process.
Going into these premieres, I thought the biggest challenge would be getting actors to talk to someone like me, who is not from a major news network. But I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong on this point. Whether the actors were A-list celebrities (like Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Zazie Beetz, Tony Hale) or behind the scenes producers or screenwriters, they were all gracious and generous with their time, answering my questions authentically and from the heart, even as I was holding up my iPhone, recording the interview like a complete amateur. Stay tuned for a separate blog post with video clips of these interviews.
One of the benefits of attending the first half of the festival is the ability to see the world premiere of films in the same theater (sometimes just a few seats away from) as the director, producers, and actors in those films. The actors typically have not seen the film before the premiere, so you are part of a collective experience of seeing the film for the first time. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how special that feels – that palpable sense of community and family in the crowd, all rooting for and cheering on the filmmakers who worked so hard to make it happen. Another treat at these premieres are the Q&A’s after the film. During these Q&A’s you get a sense of how much hard work and passion went into their film for years before it hit the screen. It really makes you appreciate how difficult it is to get a film project off the ground, across the finish line, and into a festival as prestigious as Sundance. Below are a few photos from the Q&A’s I was lucky enough to see, including Downhill (with Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Sergio (with Wagner Moura and Garret Dillahunt), Shirley (with Elizabeth Moss, directed by Josephine Decker, Screenplay Sarah Gubbins), Four Good Days (with Glenn Close, Mila Kunis), Beast Beast (produced by Alec Baldwin, directed by Danny Madden).
LONG-FORM PODCAST INTERVIEWS
Although I loved Artist at the Table event, the red carpet premieres, and the films themselves, the most special part of the Sundance experience were the long-form interviews I was able to conduct in Park City. I loved the opportunity to talk to filmmakers during the buzz of the festival, in the belly of the best, where deals are made and deals are lost, where some films premiere and are never seen again, and others go on to win Academy awards, all on what many consider to be hollowed ground for independent filmmakers.
The first of the eight long-form interviews I recorded in Park City will launch on Wednesday, February 19 – one per week for two months. I normally put out two interviews per month, but I’m so excited about this content that I didn’t want to wait four months for listeners to hear it all. There are great photos of the interviews but I”ll wait until those episodes launch to post them. I’m looking forward to hearing your feedback. As always, listens, shares, and reviews on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts are greatly appreciated.
Thanks for listening and for your support!
Bryan G. Smith