We take a much-needed break from the glitz and glamour of the Oscar race as we travel to cold, cold Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. The independent spirit is very much alive and well here in Park City, even if many feel like the crowds have gotten out of control. This is my first trip to the festival, and I have to say day one was mighty fun.
The flight was a lovely one, and the rest of the day was spent settling into the house we will be staying in for the week. Our first day is Monday, even though the festival technically started on Thursday. Our group consists of five Point Loma Nazarene University students and two professors. It’s a large house, and we all have plenty of space to call our own. Our host, Judy, is about as kind of a person as you’re likely to meet. She’s also a mighty fine artist; her house is filled with many of the paintings she has completed throughout her lifetime.
One thing that strikes me about Utah is just how beautiful it is. There’s something to say about real snow, something I experience very rarely. It positively glimmers. There’s a reason why it’s considered prime snowboarding/skiing territory. But, we’re not here for that. We’re here to watch movies. And watch movies we shall.
We spent most of our day exploring a bit, familiarizing ourselves with the bus routes, the crowds and the cold weather (below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or so I’m told). We are participating in a program called the Wind rider forum, and, during our initial dinner, we watched Oscar-nominated shorts from two filmmakers (maybe we’re not too far away from the Oscars after all). The first film, called “Head Over Heels,” is a wonderful stop-motion story about an old couple who have lost their spark, and learn to embrace their differences and love once again. The film is up against some tough competition from “Simpsons” and Disney shorts, but it truly deserves its accolades, and draws some justified comparisons to Pixar’s “Up.” We had the great opportunity to chat with the director, Tim Reckart, over dinner. There’s something about a passionate young filmmaker who has nothing to lose that is truly inspiring. Tim, age 26, is truly basking in the moment. He said the stressful part was getting nominated, but he’s not too worried about whether or not he wins an Oscar. He’s just enjoying the ride. In him, I see the true independent spirit.
When I say “independent spirit,” I struggle to define exactly what that means. It’s something more than having passion and drive, more than just distancing yourself from a major studio (in fact, many independent filmmakers would love to have a big-budget studio back one of their projects). I think it’s that burning desire to try something new, to never settle for anything less than your very best. It’s the ability to humble yourself and take the bruises along with the trophies. It means not only learning from your mistakes, but letting those mistakes inform your triumphs. That’s my working definition, anyway.
The independent spirit, whatever it is, is no less alive in Ariel Nasr, the producer of the Oscar-nominated short “Buzkashi Boys.” The story follows two kids growing up in Afghanistan, who have to come to grips with growing up and struggling with their identity. Although the film is very much rooted in the cultural traditions of its country, the themes are universal. The film hits home for Nasr, who is half Afghan. His goal is to demystify many aspects of Afghan life, a country that many Americans know little about, despite the fact that our military has been fighting there for over a decade. The work of these filmmakers is truly inspiring for anyone with a desire to create something that matters.
I was having some hesitation about this trip, but now I couldn’t be more excited. It’s a true must for anyone with a passion for film (and the real stuff hasn’t even started yet).