Sundance 2013: Diary of a Broke Film Lover

EDITOR’S NOTE: As I sit here ready for my third Sundance Film Festival, it’s fun to reflect on the last time I was here… in 2013 as a struggling, broke film lover…


The Cold Hard Truth
Punching in my account number for the fifth time that day, I held my breath waiting for the verdict. The familiar Bank of America logo disappeared as the state of my current financial situation slowly revealed itself. Please please please please please please please, I said to myself, then, damn it! as my eyes were assaulted by the inescapable truth: $0.24 in my Checking account, $0.25 in my Savings.

Savings. That word mocks me. Savings. I have none. This is the glamorous life of a freelancer, I told myself, a freelancer who somehow has to go to the Sundance Film Festival for a week from tomorrow with less than a dollar to her name.

Luckily, after two years hustling to make it in the big bad city of LA, I am extremely resourceful. And have amassed some amazing friends, always willing to help a plucky redheaded Aussie out. So, as it was, I managed to survive Sundance with no money, no accommodation, with a press pass that got me into no big films, and worst of all… with no hair straightener. And somehow make it kind of work.

Day 1: Early Flights Are Cheaper
Waking up in a fright at home, I checked my phone to see the time. 3:55am. Five minutes before my alarm. Phew. Nightmares of oversleeping averted, those five minutes early quickly turn into fifteen minutes late after entering in to the endless black hole of email-Facebook-Twitter-Instagram-repeat, so I rush to get ready, pack and tragically, leave behind my GHD hair straightener. I will spend most of the next week cursing this mistake.

Hours later, driving in a rental car from Salt Lake City alongside my friend Bonnie, we arrive in Park City to find… nothing. No-one. The calm before the storm. A quick nap in her hotel, a quiet dinner, and an early night is in order, I know what lies ahead is an air mattress (thanks to Alex for lending your only remaining floor space!) and little to no sleep.


Day 2: Don’t Tick The Working Press Box
Picking up my credentials from the Press Office I smile as I see the words ‘On-Air Host’ underneath my name. It’s only one of my many jobs, but one that I worked hard to achieve. Heading over to the ticket office, my ‘must-see’ list in hand, I start to fill out a request form.
“I’m sorry,” says the ticket guy, “Your pass doesn’t allow you to request tickets to public screenings.”
“Oh really?” I reply, unperturbed, “Ah well, I’ll just line up for the press only screenings then. Thanks anyway!”

Minutes later, I enter the press holding tent at the Holiday Village Theatres and walk towards the queue for the first film of the festival. “Excuse me!” called a cute female volunteer in a bear-shaped wool hat, “Working Press have to wait.”

I soon found out that when you apply for Sundance credentials, you should never check the Working Press box. Even if, as you fill out the form, you think I will be working, so that makes sense, General Press is the one you want. Working Press means even at press only screenings you’ll have to wait until all the General Press have gone inside, and if there happens to be a spare seat 5 minutes before the film starts, you might get in if you happen to also be at the front of the Working Press line. As one of the volunteers patiently explained to me, “Working Press do not need to see films, On-Air Hosts get their script given to them by their producer, and all they do is read it.” If only.

A valiant attempt at pleading, a quick try at rationalizing and some very awkward flirting towards the cute guy at the Press Office did nothing to help my situation, so I accepted my fate at not seeing the films everyone will be talking about. I know. You feel super sorry for me.


Day 3: The Films Begin
Waking up after a short sleep on my air-mattress-for-one, I am determined. I might not be able to see the big films, but let’s face it, those are the movies that will pick up distribution deals and come out in theaters anyway. My best bet is to try for the smaller, stranger, foreign films and documentaries, ones that may never see the light of day. It’s like playing a much less deathly version of Russian roulette… choose a film you’ve heard nothing about, line up, load the gun, and pull the trigger to see it. You might discover some little Icelandic gem that nobody has ever heard of. Or you might want to poke your eyes out. Either way it will be memorable.

Later that night with a few interesting films stuffed into my head, I met up with friends to check out the party scene. Last year, my first Sundance, I was working so much I didn’t go out. This time, I wanted to see what it was like. As expected, it was like being in LA, albeit with snow boots and hats. Pop up Hollywood nightclubs, VIP access, people begging to get in, celebrity DJs and Paris Hilton dancing on a podium. Does she travel everywhere with one?


Day 4: Free Veggie Burgers
Having all but depleted the $50 borrowed from my friend Kate, and with no sign of new payments, I walked down Main St in a haze of hunger. Suddenly, like a mirage in the desert, I saw… a Morning Star veggie burger logo. To my excitement, it was a pop-up restaurant designed to promote Morning Star by giving away free veggie burgers. FREE. VEGGIE. Those two words were heaven to my ears.

Over the next week, in between films, I ate here twice daily. And though the Morning Star workers didn’t seem to mind, I thought it best to keep up some sort of charade, to lift their spirits by thinking they had won me over. They had marketed their product to someone who had never heard of it before. Someone who will go back to wherever she’s from, heralding the word of the great veggie burger from Sundance and buying it on the regular. So, each time I walked in, I would pretend.
“Oh, what’s this?” I asked with wide eyes, “Veggie burgers? How interesting! Well, since I’m here, I might as well…”
Until the final day, when one of the waiters said quite loudly, “Oh hi again! You were here this morning!” and I knew the jig was up.

Day 5: Do I Even Exist?
Watching movie, after movie, after movie, after movie for days on end has a strange effect. Seeing so many lives perfectly distilled into 90 minutes, their full journeys complete with struggles, joys, love and loss; I started to think of my life in a similar cinematic fashion. Crunching through the snow on the way back to Alex’s condo I suddenly realized what film I am stuck in. I am the before girl in a romantic comedy. Slightly messy, trying to get herself together, waiting for her inciting incident and meet-cute with love of her life. My eyes wide with recognition of my life’s film clichés seen time and time again, I slipped on some ice and instinctively grabbed the shoulder of the man in front of me. He seemed to turned in slow motion, and I looked up, hand still on shoulder, waiting for a heavenly smile that would greet me, possibly accompanied by some angel ‘Aaaah’ music. A good-looking guy, the meet-cute I was waiting for. We would get married in the spring and his vows would speak of always being there for the moments I fall
Instead, what came in my direction was a grumpy look and a stern “watch it” before angrily shaking my arm off his and walking away.
Right, still on page 5 of my life script then.

Day 6: The Impossible Record
On the sixth day, I attempted the impossible. Six films, one day. Beating my previous Toronto record of five. Six films, that’s about 12 hours of sitting.

Could it be done? Would I collapse in a heap of over-stimulation? Would my terrible press pass thwart my efforts? I gritted my jaw and assumed the mindset of the mountain climbers in the K2 documentary I had watched. Getting to the summit is not the hard part. Most people die on the way down. I have no idea what that means in relation to watching films, but it made me feel tough as I lined up for movie after movie.

And I did it. Six films, one day. I’m not saying I’m a hero… it would be much more appropriate if someone else did.

Day 7: A Shell of my Former Self
That morning, checking Twitter, I was a little bit annoyed at the world. The world was abuzz about some sort of Presidential inauguration, and there was absolutely nothing about the giant natural disaster… that was happening on the top of my head. Seven days, no hair tools, and a lack of talent when it comes to utilizing my natural curl left me looking quite frightening. Hair stuck out everywhere, in spite of my best efforts to smooth it down or pull it back into a ponytail. Thank goodness for whoever created the wool-based beanie.

On the plane back to LA, I walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and gave myself a fright. A week on a 4 hours sleep per night had left me looking exhausted, peering out from two slits where eyes should have been, I saw the deep dark marks of eye bags underneath. Coupled with the hair, I began to understand why people had been asking me repeatedly if I went out last night, and the look of concerns when I said no.

Burrowing myself back into my bed at home, I checked my bank account once more, too tired to even do my regular pleading. Bam. Multiple zeroes. I had been paid for everything all at once. I had money. Ah well, I thought; and as I fell backwards into a deep, dark sleep, I dreamed of the non-veggie burger meals that awaited me, and hopefully, the upcoming makeover-montage in my life romantic comedy.