There’s a certain sense of spectacle and wonder when you’re 7,000 feet above sea-level in Park City, Utah, during the last ten days of January. As you walk down Main Street in the bitter cold, the air is thinner and your breaths shorter. Strings of light glimmer in the night and during the day, despite the weather, there’s a hustle of film industry and festival goers that crowd the sidewalks. As you pass the Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre and see the words “Sundance Film Festival” boldly displayed on the marquee, a sense of accomplishment courses through your veins. Whether you’re there to support your own film or just to watch new innovations in independent filmmaking, you’ve found yourself a part of an important paradigm shift in cinema. This is where new trends in filmmaking begin.
In last month’s column, I introduced the two films I was involved in that were graciously invited to screen at this year’s Sundance. Being there and witnessing spectacular moments of glee and tears of joy as the directors of these films, caught in the limelight, reacted to all the hubbub, was a real treat. Although, as a producer, I stand in the shade, that giddy feeling came over me as well. I sat quietly in my seat at the premiere of LOVERS OF HATE and watched as writer/director, Bryan Poyser, walked on stage, already teary-eyed. Exactly one week after getting the call from Sundance on November 23rd, Bryan received another call informing him that his father, Kennedy Orville Poyser, had passed away. As Bryan introduced the film and announced his dedication of it to his father, the tears began to flow and he forced a laugh, promising the audience that it was indeed a comedy. I was particularly touched due to the fact that I had met his father when he owned a comic book shop across the street from the University of North Texas in Denton, while I was going to college, seven or so years prior to meeting Bryan.
LOH is a grown-up film and it’s a very real film. It doesn’t take the easy way out and make “movie characters,” as Bryan puts it, out of the actors. Instead, these actors genuinely feel like real people with real emotions and because of this, the audience sometimes isn’t quite sure how to react. All of the screenings were filled with intensity at some moments and boisterous belly-laughing at others. The queasy, uneasy feelings during uncomfortable moments, subsided with the hilarity of the general situation; and the audience played right along.
For me, each screening presented the film in a new light and to an ever-changing audience. As stated above, the premiere began in tears and might have ended in tears as well. I know it did for me. And it was the culmination of the film itself―the ridiculously amazing performances of actors Alex Karpovsky, Chris Doubek and Heather Kafka―and the fact that we were all right here in Park City in the snowy cold premiering a film Bryan had only just conceived of two years ago (in Park City, during Sundance 2008) and filmed one year ago (partially in Park City, right after Sundance 2009). For a moment it really hit me hard, as I realized how insanely lucky I truly was to have gotten the opportunity to help this film in its fruition. And I was really here, at Sundance; arguably the second most prestigious film festival in the world―second only to Cannes. That’s one of those rare feelings I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
I regret missing the second screening of LOH; however, I attended the third screening in Salt Lake City and, of the three (out of five) I actually caught, it proved to be my favorite. The great thing about having a screening in Salt Lake City is you’re almost guaranteed to have a majority of the house packed with locals just wanting to watch movies. The likelihood of having a great deal of press, industry or other filmmakers is quite slim―mainly, because the drive from Park City to SLC inconveniently requires finding transportation. But when you do get out there, the entire vibe changes. Suddenly, you’re no longer in the hustle and bustle of one of the great film events in the world; instead, you’re just a guy trying to order a sidecar at a local bar because you have no idea how to order a drink in Utah.
A very small group of us went to this particular screening; consisting of me, Bryan and the actors (and a few friends). Bryan introduced the film and we watched the opening sequence and then we hit Johnny’s, a local bar serving up enormous plastic mugs full of intensely weak draft beer. The savvy drinker orders a Hops Rising beer in a bottle at 9% alcohol per volume. Because Utah’s infamous liquor laws don’t apply to bottled beer sold in drinking establishments, the state has several such bottled delights. But the real delight was just hanging out in a total dive, drinking excessive amounts of beer, smack dab in the middle of a city that largely frowns upon alcohol consumption.
After guzzling down our spirited libations, we made our way back just in time to catch our film’s climatic conclusion. The audience appeared knee-deep in the movie and the majority stuck around for a Q&A that rivals any I’ve ever attended. Slightly lit, Bryan and the actors took the stage and entertained the audience with anecdotes and witty repartee, encouraging the audience to ask some really well-thought out questions. The actors talked about Bryan’s rehearsal and introductory process―an interesting combination of what you might find on the first day of kindergarten or at a retreat sponsored by Alcoholics Anonymous; they mentioned oddball outtakes and noted uniquely phrased improvised dialogue. Laughter ensued as the audience took it all in and the people on stage were obviously just having a really fun time. Chris Doubek, who plays a jaded failure of an elder brother, resentful of everyone around him, noted the real importance of the venue―this wasn’t a theatre created for the festival or even an art house; this was a real theatre, packed with real people. You could hear the munching of popcorn and slurping of soft drinks; and there were no expectations. This was pure entertainment.
Adam Donaghey is an award-winning film producer from Texas and his website is http://www.adamdonaghey.com.
*** Originally published in The SCENE Magazine – February, 2010 ***