Low-Budget Movies


A full-on Sundance bender is murder on the eyes. After a week of playing in the sun and snow all day and watching movies all night (sometimes vice versa—the Sundance resort keeps its cross-country trails open late during a full moon), I’m ready to put my head in a black velvet bag. For the wallet, however, it’s not such a bad deal: Nonstop moving images (as many as 60 programs a day, with tix from $7 to $10 each), the world’s best skiing, plenty of budget airfares, and, in years to come, a post-Olympic hotel glut.

Five years ago, my dawgs moved to Salt Lake City, and ever since then my crew has made regular pilgrimages to indie Zion. Even without a laminate (or a Lamanite), we’ve found you can see whatever you want, once you learn the drill. If you don’t want to shell out for a package, you could, for the first time this year, buy individual tickets on the Sundance Web site. Although many programs sold out quickly, every screening has a wait list, and every day extra tickets are released at 8 a.m. at box offices in both SLC and Park City (home of the festival proper). It’s not as bad as it sounds; with the time difference in your favor it’s easy to get ahead of the Angelenos, and the rush line is a decent source of leads on what’s good. It also helps to eschew films likely to open in NYC (i.e., anything with a distrib or a movie star) and favor the cavernous SLC venues over congested Park City.

That’s how we stumbled upon Michael Dowse’s killer guerrilla mockumentary FUBAR, about a pair of Canadian metalhead burnouts. The downtown Q&As can be painful: A FUBAR viewer didn’t get the joke and asked Dowse, who also starred, how much he knew about his subject when he started; at Face, set in Flushing, a sweet (Brigham) Young thing asked director Bertha Bay-Sa Pan where she found all those Asian actors. On the other hand, after a screening of his directorial debut The Business of Fancydancing, Native American writer Sherman Alexie said an unnamed major Hollywood player asked him the equivalent question at lunch in Park City.

Some events are unique to Salt Lake; we saw Two Towns of Jasper, a doc following up on the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. made by two segregated crews, for free at the downtown Calvary Baptist Church, where the racially diverse crowd was far better prepared to analyze the film than the bizzers up the hill. What with the global spread of the LDS church and the influx of young snowboarders and tech-wonks, the town has picked up a cosmopolitan edge (there’s even a lesbian disco night at the Tunnel). And if the locals freak you out, it’s easy to get away: We hiked up from the parking lot at the Olympic Village, blocks from the Temple, and within 20 minutes were in a massive Alpine valley inhabited only by a herd of shaggy elk.

Of course, the Park City buzz has its pleasures: bumping into the admittedly ubiquitous Christina Ricci by the locker room at the massive high school screening room; being helped off your ass on an icy sidewalk by Tim Hutton; hearing someone say, “My next project will be a nonfiction film with actors, like Pulp Fiction with lawyers” (I swear). You’re also more likely to meet the people in the credits, although with the advent of digital video there are fewer of them. Alexie (who also wrote and produced 1997’s Smoke Signals) claims to have spent under $100,000 with a cast and crew of 62, and most of them came to his chat. Arthur Dong brought the incredibly brave subjects of his heartbreaking Family Fundamentals, gay children of intolerant fundamentalist parents (including a local), and when the lights went up after Melissa Regan’s debut short doc No Dumb Questions, in which three adorable moppets discuss Uncle Bill’s transformation into Aunt Barbara, we were sitting next to Aunt Barbara.

Regan’s film got me for another reason: Like an increasing number of Sundance hopefuls, she made it with high-end home gear and software bundled with her Mac. It’s gotten so easy you can do it with your eyes closed. Maybe while my head’s in the bag, I’ll plot out my first film, Eight Ladies in the Late Eighties. Catch you at the Q&A?

More Sundance coverage:

Search and Rescue Operations: Losing the Plot at Sundance” by Dennis Lim

Gimme Shelter: Sundance’s Real Deals” by Dennis Lim