There won’t be a book review this Sunday as usual, because I wasn’t able to actually finish a book this week. One of the reasons is the fact that I spent 18 hours at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday. It was an absolutely fantastic day, even if I did have to get up at 6:00 AM and didn’t get home until after 1:00 in the morning. I went with the Media Librarian at the university I work at, and I’m sure my Sundance trip would not have been as fun without her.
So, here’s what I did on Friday:
Got up very early in the morning to get to Park City around 8:00, when the main box office opened. We already had tickets to three movies that day, but we were hoping to see more. (Who wouldn’t?) The line was absolutely huge, and we decided that we’d just go see the movies we had tickets for rather than queue for a very long time in the hopes that the shows we wanted to see weren’t sold out. We hopped on one of the city buses—there were buses all over the place—and rode out to our first show: Mary and Max.
Mary and Max is an Australian claymation feature, created by an Academy Award winning animator. (He won for an animated short. So now I can say that I’ve been in the same room as an Oscar winner. Granted it was a 1500 seat auditorium, but that’s not the point.) A lot of people, myself included, often think that animated films are for kids. This one is not. It’s about psychology, coping with Asbergers and anxiety, self-esteem, suicide, life, and alcoholism. Mary is an Australian girl who, out of curiosity, writes to an American at random to ask where babies come from in America. (She’s been told that, in Australia, babies are found at the bottom of beer glasses.) Max is a New Yorker who has Asbergers. Since the film is set in the mid-1970s, his condition is not yet recognized. As the story progresses, Mary and Max learn from each other. It’s a story that you can’t predict. I love those, because so often when I watch a movie, I know where it’s going to go. There aren’t many (if any) surprises. Very enjoyable movie. I think it’ll come up at Oscar time.
After Mary and Max, we had a lot of time to kill. So we spent the time wandering around Park City. We had a good lunch at Spencer’s Grill. (Burger good, fries kind of crappy). We looked at the hilariously overpriced objets d’artes in the many, many galleries. We visited a combination bookstore and chocolate shop that had a friendly store cat.At mid-afternoon, we headed over to watch our second movie of the day: Toe to Toe.
Toe to Toe wasn’t on my list of movies that I wanted to see. I saw lacrosse in the film description and thought, eh. But I’m glad I got to go. Lacrosse was incidental to the story. Toe to Toe is, according to the writer/director Emily Abt, a race film. A black student who is working very, very hard to get a scholarship to Princeton attends an, I assume, private school in a rich area in or around Baltimore. (The movie is a little fuzzy on the details.) During lacrosse tryouts, Tosha meets a white girl named Jessie, who decides that Tosha will be her new friend. When she goes home, Tosha rides the bus into a bad neighborhood in Baltimore, where she is frequently harassed by a group of black teens. We get to see her family—a mother who works the graveyard shift and is kind of absent from her daughter’s life, a brother who has a young daughter and no job, and a grandmother who is always pushing Tosha towards Princeton.
Jessie, the other main character, is, at first glance, your average spoiled little rich girl who lives in a lovely, huge, empty home. Her mother is frequently criss-crossing the globe to attend humanitarian and economic conferences. The maid, Fadima, proves Jessie with meals and affection. Jessie treats her like a combination of friend and substitute mother. As I watched this movie, I could clearly see the racial themes that Abt wanted to discuss, but this really struck me as a gender film and I was much more interested in what Abt was saying about the roles that the females in the movie were portraying. Jessie is revealed to be the class wild child and slut. Tosha is a virginal over-achiever. Tosha’s grandmother is the proud black woman who, in the end, wants to reclaim the word bitch the way some people want to reclaim the n word. We’re also given three different visions of what it can mean to be mother. (The third is the mother of Tosha’s niece.) The men in the movie are not very well fleshed out except for Rashid, an aspiring dj who is attracted to Tosha but who sleeps with Jessie. He claims to be a good Muslim boy, but when he’s away from his family, he conveniently forgets that Islam prohibits drinking alcohol and sleeping with a girl who isn’t your wife.
After the movie, Abt and the major actors went up on stage for a Q and A. I got to ask a question about the prominence of the gender issues in the movie, and Abt answered that she was more interested in race than gender when she wrote it. There are a lot of things that I liked about this movie. The dialog was superb—nothing felt forced, the lines rang true. The story was absolutely believable. Abt neatly avoided a lot of stereotypes with subtlety. It’s a bold, wonderful movie, and I hope it finds a distributor.
After Toe to Toe, we had some time to kill, so we headed back to Main Street and scouted out a good place for dinner. We went to the Wasatch Brew Pub, where they make Polygamy Porter. I tried out a raspberry wheat beer (tasty) and a brat with sauerkraut and strong Polygamy Porter brown mustard (a spicy sinus clearer). Good food. If I go back to Park City, I will definitely go to that pub again. We had a nice long dinner, and headed back out to Main again. We visited the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory to pick up some truffles and things. Since we were going to meet some people up at the movie, we headed back towards one of the many bus stops. I had a lot of fun crowd watching, trying to guess who was really somebody and who just though they were. There were a bunch of odd type there, too. For some reason, there were some guys outside a store who had hawks and falcons they actually used to hunt things. Petting one of the falcons (I think it was a prairie falcon) was a highlight of the day.
The last movie we saw was Rudo y Cursi, which starred Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, and was written and directed by Carlos Cuaron. This was the high point of the day because Bernal, Carlos and Alfonso Cuaron, and Guillermo del Toro were there to introduce the “bittersweet comedy,” which was making its international debut. All day we sat in the front left corner of the theater, which meant that we had really good views of the people up on stage. It also meant that we were in front of the reserved section, where the famous people and special pass holders sat. I swear I saw Anna Wintour sitting back there. If it wasn’t her, Wintour has a doppelganger.
Rudo (Tough/Rude) y Cursi (Corny/Sweet) is about two brothers, played by Luna and Bernal, respectively, who are spotted by a talent scout while playing soccer. It’s a story about sibling rivalry, really, so there actually isn’t much soccer in it. Rudo is the older brother, with a wife and children and a serious gambling addiction. He plays goalie. Cursi is younger and unmarried, and really, really wants to be a singer in spite of the fact that he’s not very good. The talent scout can only take on one of the brothers, so Rudo suggests a penalty kick. If he blocks it, he goes. If Cursi gets past him, Cursi goes. Rudo tells Cursi to aim to the right, so that he can block it and go with the scout. Cursi kicks right, and Rudo dodges right. Unfortunately, Cursi was kicking to his right and Rudo was dodging to his right and totally misses.
The rest of this fantastic story is about the brothers’ rise to fame as soccer players and how they lose it all. One of the best parts of the movie is watching Cursi trying to launch a singing career. He gets to record a Spanish version of “I want you to want me” and a hilarious music video of the same. During the Q and A, I got to ask why Carlos picked that song and if that really was Bernal singing. So, in a sense, I got to talk to Gael Garcia Bernal. And I didn’t stutter or anything. I could feel my coolness quotient rise.
The Cuarons, Bernal, and del Toro were hilarious during the introduction and the Q & A. While Bernal was speaking about working with Luna and making apologies for his absence, del Toro interrupted him. This is the conversation, as well as I remember it:
Del Toro: He’s here, he’s passed out in back.
Bernal: [turns to face the wings] Diego!
During the Q & A, an audience member asked if the female lead, Jessica Mas, was present. Here’s the conversation, to the best of my recollection:
Bernal: Don’t you think she’d be out here, too? You can see her from a thousand miles.
One of the Cuarons: We brought Guillermo, instead.
[Laughter. Laughter gets louder when del Toro opens his coat a bit to show off his T-shirt and jeans and does a little dance step.]
Del Toro: You can see me from a thousand miles, too. Someone asks you where the hotel is and you point and say, see that fat fucker? It’s behind him.
Bloody, fantastic day.
The librarian I went with had the camera, so I’ll post pictures as soon as I get copies from her.