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About Utah: Sundance a free-for-all for creativity, place for praise

Published: Sunday, Jan. 31 2010 12:16 a.m. MST

PARK CITY — Ten days, nine "screenings," five snowstorms, two bottles of eye drops and one parking ticket later, Sundance Twentyten is history, for me anyway.

Arrivederci, Sundance. (Subtitle: So long, Sundance.)

I came into the annual film festival to see if I could get what it's about. I came away still not quite sure, which should make Robert Redford relieved.

What if guys like me figured it out? Once the mystery goes, there goes the festival.

One thing I did get is that Sundance is a free-for-all for creativity — not just in how people make movies, but how they walk, how they talk, how they dress, how they roll.

I was intrigued by what people wear. Scarves; long trenchcoat-type coats; boots in every shape, style and description. But somehow no one, I mean no one, dresses alike.

Something else I discovered is that Sundance is a place for praise.

And as connected as the world has become in the Internet Age, there's still no substitute for good, old-fashioned live applause.

I remember the night in the Eccles Theatre watching a film from Mexico called "Abel."

At the end of the movie, the director, Diego Luna, walked to the stage as 1,270 people gave him an ovation like he'd just liberated Paris.

More than anything, I think that's what filmmakers take from Sundance.

Another thing about Sundance: Spend enough time in line and it dawns on you that you are surrounded by people who not only take movie-watching very seriously, but have huge stamina for doing so.

On the day I watched four movies — for me, a new personal high — I was standing in line for No. 4, wobbling slightly, when I started talking to the man with the colorful scarf and stylish overcoat standing next to me.

"So how many's this for you today?" I asked, sure I'd be able to trump him.

"Let's see," he said, having to think.

Finally he said, "Six."

And that was for the fifth day in a row.

It turned out he was from Switzerland. Besides being a film critic, he helps acquire movies for a film festival in Zurich. ("You know," he explained, "the one where Roman Polanski was caught.")

"Sundance," he said, entirely unbidden, "is the most important film festival in the world."

"What about Cannes?" I asked him.

"Oh, Cannes," he said, pausing to consider what is generally regarded as the most famous and prestigious film festival of them all, and then added, "OK, Sundance is the most important independent film festival in the world."

Before I leave, a couple of updates:

After the first weekend, I reported that out of 1,523 Sundance volunteers, two had quit. Going into the final weekend, the number of volunteers had expanded to 1,590 and the number of dropouts was 43.

That's a turnover rate of just 2.7 percent.

That included people who got ill, had emergencies or funerals at home, and a couple who simply went AWOL.

"And there were a handful who abused some privileges, and I had to send them home," said Emily Aagaard, Sundance's volunteer coordinator.

She didn't elaborate whether the abuses were selling tickets, exchanging badges or sneaking people in line, but she did single out one volunteer who was asked to leave because he was so star-struck he kept asking for autographs.

I also did a column on Meg Palmer and Colter Wade, co-proprietors of the Back Door Deli whose goal (well, Colter's anyway) was to sell 500 sandwiches a day.

"That may have been a lofty goal," said Colter, who reported that the highest day for the Back Door was the first Sunday of the festival, when they sold close to 400 sandwiches. Overall, they averaged "maybe 200" a day — still well beyond the deli's non-Sundance average of 70.

They did dispense a lot more coffee than expected, a development that caused them to change their hours from 10 a.m. to midnight to 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"We sold coffee all day long," said Colter, which took me back to my conversation with the Swiss guy in the screening line.

When I asked him how he could watch six movies a day, he smiled and held up a huge mug of coffee.

Oh, and about that parking ticket. We deserved it; we were definitely blocking that driveway.

My wife and I were watching "I'm Pat Tillman" at the time, and I thought it was particularly nice of the Park City police to call and say the car was about to be towed.

When we came out, the officer was just finishing writing up the ticket.

"Merry Christmas," she said, looking a tad exhausted.

I'm not sure if she totally got Sundance either.

e-mail: benson@desnews.com

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