Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sundance: Why I Miss Public Screenings

[Film Fest] Press screenings at Sundance are a wonderful convenience. For those of us who are there primarily to see the movies, it's a hell of a lot easier than ricocheting from venue to venue, fighting throught star-ogling, don't-you-know-who-I-am throngs.

But a few of my favorite moments at Sundance over the years weren’t about what was on the screen. In 1998, when an Egyptian Theatre screening of Buffalo ’66 experienced technical difficulties, writer/director/star/provocateur Vincent Gallo regaled the audience with his opinion that entertainment lawyers were “a bunch of creepy crawlers.” At the Salt Lake City screening of Donnie Darko in 2001, a reel was attached to the print upside-down and backwards, inspiring director Richard Kelly to improvise, “My movie’s weird, but it’s not that weird.”

I was reminded of how much I missed these filmmaker moments at the Tower Theatre screening of the World Cinema comedy Absurdistan, about a tiny, isolated town where the women go on a sex strike to force their men to fix a dilapidated water main. Director/co-writer Veit Helmer introduced the feature with an inspired bit: Taking a page from Borat, he described the film’s fictional setting as a real place from which the filmmakers journeyed first by donkey, and then by Greek fishing boat, “where the film was edited … Greek sailors are really the toughest audience.” He then introduced “Absurdistan’s leading historian,” who took the stage for an incomprehensible but brilliantly acted monologue in Russian. Like the warm-up act for his own movie, Helmer wonderfully primed the audience for the film’s off-kilter comic sensibility—and provided a reminder that behind all these movies, there are some fascinating people. (Scott Renshaw)

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