Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, both was and wasn’t everything that I expected.
I expected huge crowds, no parking, some paparazzi, sold-out movies (and therefore no waitlist tickets) and perhaps even a star sighting. Even down to the hazy weather of Salt Lake City isn’t what I got in the resort town along the Wasatch Back.
After entering the canyon I-80 cuts through to Park City, the sun came out, shining across the mountains, and I regretted leaving my sunglasses behind. Good weather, I figured, would bring out more people to this 11-day session of film.
Jon and I arrived in town just as 3 p.m. hit, which was when the free parking lot that was near our selected viewing opened to the public. I expected a line of cars waiting to get in and there were none. We parked with about five other cars and there were maybe 10 when we returned hours later. I guess a lot of people were willing to pay $20 to park, rather than walk 10 minutes for free.
We found our theater, the Holiday Village Cinema IV, and asked around about waitlist tickets. The waiting would occur inside a big, white tent in the middle of the parking lot. We found out that starting the waitlist line at 3:20 p.m. was too early for the 4 p.m. time when tickets would be handed out, and we were specifically told to leave the tent and not loiter.
We killed time in a sporting goods store in the shopping center and around a quarter to, we headed back to the tent and bypassed a group of loiterers. They recognized us (my lime green coat kind of stuck out) as the first arrivals from earlier and let us start the waitlist line. Those loiterers outside were a bit ruffled, but honestly, we were there before you anyway. We were only going to feel bad about Waitlister No. 3 if we would get tickets and not he, because he was a fan of the subject of our selected film.
Jon chose “Senna,” a movie about Ayrton Senna, a fantastic Formula One race car driver from Brazil who died on the track in 1994 as a three-time World Champion. This was the last movie I thought he would chose — I hadn’t even read the description in the Film Guide Jon had picked up a few weeks earlier — but it was the only film at our chosen time slot that wasn’t a love story. This reasoning elicited a chuckle but wasn’t a surprise. Nor was I going to complain, because one of the many things I read about Sundance was to use it as an opportunity to see a film, particularly a documentary, that you would not see otherwise. “Senna” embodied that thought perfectly.
Around 4 p.m., they handed out the bright pink waitlist tickets and told us to be back by 5:15 p.m., 15 minutes before the Sundance rules suggest.
Now, a pink piece of paper doesn’t get the ticket holder into a film. That’s what the whole business about returning at 5:15 p.m. was about. After more time to kill spent eating at the grocery store and walking about halfway to the historic Main Street area, it was time to get in line again.
We lined up by number while the true ticket holders were also lining up by arrival time. These other people lining up had bought tickets in advance or had a pass. The people in the waitlist ticket line would take all the seats the ticket holders didn’t claim, and they could claim a seat until 15 minutes before the film begins.
As the 15-minute mark was approaching, the Sundance volunteers sold 10 tickets ($15 each) to the first 10 people in line. But even with a ticket in hand, a seat in the theater still wasn’t guaranteed.
Finally, at about 10 til, the first group of us was ushered into the theater. Jon and I had already decided we would rather sit in the front of the theater and be able to sit next to each other (this was our first time together in a movie theater!) rather than sit alone with less craning of the neck. We got seats in the third row from the front, which weren’t too painful.
I was quite excited. I mean, we got in to a Sundance film! And it was (without our prior knowledge) a North American premier! And, of course, the director, screenwriter and producers were there and would participate in a Q&A session after the screening.
For all my excitement, though, I wasn’t sure how I would respond to a film about race car driving. Of the sports I’ve seen on TV, I’d rank race car driving as the second-most boring sport to watch next to golf.
Ayrton Senna turned out to have a very interesting life quite worthy of a documentary. Everything the audience saw on screen was of Senna. There were no cuts away from the action to focus on the speaker. Everything said was either the audio on the original video (home videos, official racing videos, cockpit videos, news broadcasts) or voice overs from friends and family who were never seen being interviewed. The director credited his background in narrative film, rather than documentary film, for this setup.
It was constant Senna, and this man had a very challenging uprising into Formula One from go-karts in Brazil and easily found a nemesis in his some-of-the-time teammate and all-the-time challenger Alain Prost of France.
Two days before his death, Senna’s protégé Rubens Barrichello was seriously injured at the San Marino Grand Prix course. The next day Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger was killed in a qualifying race. When the official race began, one of the cars at the starting line stalled and another driver slammed right into him, injuring nine people in the stands.
Then on the fourth lap, Senna doesn’t properly navigate a turn and crashes into a barrier at approximately 135 mph. He was declared dead in the hospital that day.
An Italian court determined the cause of accident was from steering column failure. When he crashed into the barrier, the right front wheel came unhinged and crashed into the cockpit, striking his helmet, with other parts attached to the wheel penetrating his helmet.
It was refreshing to learn about something new at the screening and then hear about the film from the creators.
To make this experience even sweeter, I just found out today that “Senna” was the Winner of the World Cinema Audience Award for Documentary Film. We rated it well, and many of the other viewers must have done so, too.
We didn’t run across many crowds, nor did Jon and I see and stars or paparazzi. But that just shows that not everything is as expected, and what we wanted happened: a chance to experience Sundance Film Festival with an entertaining film.