The Sundance Film Festival kicks off its 40th edition when crowds gather at Park City and Salt Lake City theaters on Thursday.
I started going to Sundance back in 2018. I’ve since attended in person again in 2019, 2020, and 2023. Because of Covid, I attended virtually in both 2021 and 2022. This year will be different with once again attending virtually from the Windy City. The thing about going in person is not only getting to see film and industry friends but hearing the buzz while waiting in line, sitting down, or riding the bus. I think back to 2019 when I changed my schedule so that I could attend a screening of Luce before the festival ended.
I’ve had some pretty fun memories in attending the festival. It is unlikely that any Shabbos will be topped by attending the Shabbat Tent’s Festival Shabbat Dinner with Dr. Ruth Westheimer delivering a D’var Torah in 2019. The closest that comes to this is going to a Shabbos dinner during the festival’s second weekend and getting to meet an Israeli bobsledder. If you know me, my love of bobsledding dates all the way back to Cool Runnings. Anyway, the Shabbat Tent festivities are among my favorite non-film events during the festival. I know that they’ll be back this year and there’s the Bring Them Home Now event featuring Daniel-Ryan Spaulding, October 7th survivors, freed hostages, families of hostages, and other notable guests including Emmanuelle Chriqui, Ashley Waxman Bakshi, and Caroline d’Amore. Jew in the City will be hosting another panel this year, too.
It’s a bummer to be missing this year’s festival. Unfortunately, Airbnb costs keep increasing annually to where the trip is now impossible. The Press Inclusion Initiative made it possible to attend a few years ago but marginalized press are no longer allowed to benefit for multiple years. But then again, the state of trans rights in Utah do not offer any incentive to step foot in the state of Utah. The same goes for Texas and that’s why it’s unlikely I will ever be back on the ground for SXSW in the near future. Because of Shavuot, Tribeca is not in my plans this summer.
In honor of Sundance kicking off its 40th festival, here are some of my favorite memories from attending the Sundance Film Festival through the years:
- Meeting Leonard Maltin at the Legion M Lounge in 2018. I knew the Maltins would be there and made arrangements ahead of time so that I could meet a living legend. Not even two months later, I found myself walking alongside Leonard on the way to Alicia Malone’s SXSW panel. It’s been a pleasure getting to chat with Leonard through the years at festivals or the Critics Choice Awards.
- Meeting Damien Chazelle during the 2019 Film Festival. The Whiplash, La La Land, First Man, and Babylon filmmaker quickly became one of my favorite filmmakers of the younger generation. First Man was my official 2018 birthday movie and I had to tell him how I thought it was an underappreciated masterpiece. Babylon is another masterpiece and one that I came to appreciate even more because of my pandemic reading about Hollywood’s Golden Age.
- The Apollo 11 premiere. It isn’t just that the premiere and later awards party would lead to some lasting friendships but I heard someone call my name as I was walking towards the line at the Ray. It look to my right and see Julie Cohen. Both Cohen and Betsy West were attending the screening. Because of my limited time at Sundance in 2018, I missed out on meeting them a year earlier.
- The Siempre, Luis premiere and premiere party during Sundance 2020. Or what I would also refer to as the last best day of Sundance 2020. The next morning, I would wake up not feeling well and somehow push forward through the end of the festival. But in any event, this marked the first of two occasions meeting Lin-Manuel Miranda. Throughout the following week and later months, I felt guilty if I got him sick. We saw each other again during the Critics Choice Awards in March 22. I am thankfully off the hook. Getting to meet Lin-Manuel was one of my festival highlights and rare highlight for the rest of 2020.
- The world premiere of Flora and Son will likely go down as one of my favorite premiere experiences. I attended the screening with a few Airbnb roommates when the new John Carney film premiered at Sundance 2023. This was one of those films that you had to be attending in order to watch. It would not have another festival screening until TIFF in September. Because of the double strikes, I am so happy that the cast had their red carpet premiere at Sundance. Eve Hewson absolutely crushed the performance. It’s unlikely that she gets an Oscar nomination but I’m hopeful that John Carney and Gary Clark are recognized for their work.
- Jim Gaffigan, Jim Gaffigan, Jim Gaffigan. I can list the many times that I’ve met Jim through the years. It started with what is now Being Frank at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival. This continued with a whopping three films at Sundance in 2019. One of those films would play Chicago in May. We were both in attendance at the 2019 Critics Choice Documentary Awards. Go figure that I would catch him once again after the Tesla Q&A during Sundance 2020. After watching him do comedy, it’s nice getting to see him play dramatic roles!
- The Clara’s Ghost world premiere was one of the few public screenings that I attended in 2018. What I wasn’t expecting was to be so struck upon meeting Chris Elliott. I think it has to do with watching Groundhog Day repeatedly while growing up. The only other time I’ve gotten so starstruck at Sundance was meeting Lea Thompson at the Dinner in America premiere.
- Good Morning, Miami was one of my favorite shows during its brief time on TV. That’s why it was so exciting to getting an opportunity to talk with Ashley Williams about her 2020 short film, Meats.
- Improv reunions! Only I will fly from Chicago to Park City to chat with improvisers from Chicago. Okay, so a few improvisers had left Chicago by the time that I moved back in 2016. I also came out as trans in between, too. The real surprise was getting to see Andy St. Clair because I didn’t think he would be there for the press junket. But anyway, it was a real treat getting to catch up with Tim Mason, Abby McEnany, and Sam Richardson. It was also nice getting to meet Dave Hill, Maribeth Monroe, and Stephanie Laing. Two were there for Work in Progress while the rest attended with Bootstrapped.
- The world premiere of STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie was another one that was exciting to attend in person. A number of other friends were at the premiere. I wasn’t so lucky with having an All-Access pass in 2023 so I looked around for empty seats. I spotted IMDb’s Col Needham but there wasn’t a seat in his row that was empty. However, there was one near the aisle in the row behind and that’s how I ended up watching the premiere next to Oscar-nominated produce Lynette Howell Taylor. She was one of the producers of the 92nd Academy Awards.
- Meeting Ed Helms at the Corporate Animals premiere. I was going to end at 10 but then I’m like, it’s Ed Helms. You don’t leave out Ed Helms!
- Okay, one more and then I really, really need to be in bed. It’s late, alright! The To The Stars premiere and talking Kentucky with Martha Stephens at the press junket. It was also nice getting to see Jordana Spiro at the premiere after she saw me at one of my absolute lowest points at any film festival just one year earlier. I don’t recommend your cell phone turning on and not having any cell service! The black and white version of the film is just absolutely beautiful.
- Last one, I promise. Getting to meet Mission: Impossible – Fallout‘s breakout star Wolf Blitzer following the premiere of Mike Wallace is Here. I don’t know. I think he’s going places.
The 2024 Sundance Film Festival will take place January 18–28, 2024 in person and virtually January 25–28, 2024.
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