Star-gazers: Park City's full of 'em at Sundance

Published: Thursday, Jan. 28 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Melissa Leo, who's starring in two films at Sundance, signs an autograph during the festival in Park City.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

PARK CITY — When it comes to Sundance, there are star-gazers, and then there are autograph/picture seekers.

And there is a big difference, I found out.

With our $20 parking tab paid, we strolled from the top of Main Street, down and up and down again.

It doesn't take long before the buzz spreads that actor Ben Affleck has been spotted; and it's even quicker to figure out where he is.

Just follow the crowds.

I was standing among an odd group. It was filled with couples, some trying to act disinterested. There was also a group of giggling high school volleyball players — wearing no coats, but with cameras ready to go — worrying that Affleck wouldn't appear before they'd need to leave for their next meet.

It makes me wonder if at Sundance, do people just join random groups of people hoping to see somebody famous? Does anyone really know who is inside?

Affleck finally came out, after much of the crowd disbanded after assuming the fancy Hummer that pulled away was his. He made no eye contact, cracked nothing even close to a smile and walked up to a high-end pet store. Pretty anti-climatic.

That's the star-gazer quotient.

One type of autograph hound is in Park City to see anyone. They're happy to rattle off a list of the stars and pseudo stars they have seen. They hope to snap a picture, eat a good lunch and go home with good stories.

On the other end of the spectrum, the die-hard autograph seekers are not ones to be trifled with.

We made our way to the Eccles Theater for the screening of "Get Low," starring Bill Murray, Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek. There were three men standing outside with clip boards, folders and very straight faces. Due to their serious demeanor, I assumed they worked for the festival.

I soon learned, however, that they were there on a mission and didn't seem at all pleased with my meddling questions.

In fact, only after a bit of teeth pulling would any of them agree to speak. And the one who did, refused to give his name. "Nate Roaster," is what the journalism student from Utah State University chose to go by.

His answers had very little to do with a fun hobby. "I don't want to glorify it," he said, and only offered "this year hasn't been good — wrong place at the wrong time."

His two friends turned their backs to him once he began answering questions.

It wasn't at all what I had pictured.

Then Vicki Matafeo of Springville walked up. With a smile on her face and a camera around her neck, she was excited to spot a celebrity or two.

"It's so much fun!" she said. (See 'Nate Roaster?' How hard is that?)

"We've been doing this for 12 years," she said of her daughters and a small group of friends, who not only trek up from Springville, they will hand out awards among themselves for celebrities who are "cutest, nicest, rudest — stuff like that."

She would not dish — on the record, anyway — about which celebrities had been mean. But it didn't take much to get her talking about meeting Antonio Banderas one year.

"He was so nice, and handsome and genuine and he smelled so good," she said, adding that she finally asked him what he was wearing and later bought the same thing for her husband.

"We started this before the stars came," she said. "We'd come to meet writers, producers and directors. We've sure seen it change."

Matafeo also mentioned how aggressive the paparazzi can be.

"I remember little Lucy Liu and I think it was Mandy Moore — and they're little anyway — they were just being chased down Main Street!" she recalled.

"But the year Heath Ledger died, that was awful," she said. "No one wanted to talk. No one wanted to do pictures. He was at Sundance before and was really nice, kind of shy. That year was sad.

"But we love it, we come every year. It's like a little vacation from Utah County," she said. "And with my daughters, we can spot all the stars. … They didn't know who Jane Fonda was, but I did."

Matafeo now has a collection of 400-500 pictures of various celebrities, "I don't sell them or anything, they're just for me," she said.

"We look forward to when the movies are announced. We figure out who is going to be here and sort of make a schedule. Plus, we sort of know where they go, where they'll eat and stuff."

Aside from meeting celebrities — "Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman were really nice and so was David Arquette" — Matafeo and her group also meet people from around the world.

"You meet people from different countries speaking different languages, it's just fun."

And she's made a few interesting assessments of Sundance celebrities along the way.

"People from New York wear black. People from California wear white, fake furs and fancy scarfs," she said with a chuckle.

"But mostly they're all really nice," she said. "As long as you're respectful, they're really nice."

e-mail: ehansen@desnews.com

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