Notes From Sundance, Take 7: Final Thoughts

So, I went to NYU. My friend—I’ll call him Hans, because that’s his name—went to Columbia. Both our universities’ film schools have had an amazing presence at the Sundance Film Festival this year, with students and alumni all over the prominent entries in the festival. Did I mention that Hans and I can get a little competitive when it comes to our respective alma maters? We’ve been comparing who has more films competing, more stars at their respective festival parties, and eventually who collects more awards. The winner claims James Franco who, I’m told, is attending MFA programs at both schools simultaneously. Mmm, James Franco. But while I was at NYU’s Sundance party, Hans remembered that he was at the fest to watch films and skipped out on the Columbia party. Instead, he saw Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek in “Get Low.” So my victory was hollow.

That said, I did meet some really cool people at the festival, though they might not count as full-fledged “celebrities.” I heard that a group of unnamed producers are developing a biopic of Jack Kerouac. I seriously hope they’ll consider the impossibly blue-eyed Todd Rotondi, who plays Kerouac to James Franco’s Allen Ginsberg in “Howl.” If they meet Todd in person, like I did, they’ll be helpless to resist casting him. But what if they just IMDb him and move on to someone with a bigger bio? His picture is really tiny!

And who can guess what’s next for Denise George? She’s come from a childhood bit-part in the movie “Hackers” 15 years ago, to a lead role in the ultra low-budget but wonderfully-timed film “The Taqwcores,” about punk rock Muslims. The film, based on Michael Muhammad Knight’s novel, made a distribution deal before its world premiere last night at Sundance. Even with limited theater release, I predict a pretty good chance that people will be able to add it to their Netflix queues sooner rather than later. It’s about an exchange student at an engineering school in Buffalo, whose Muslim roommates rock out, then stop for traditional prayer, then rock out. I don’t think Denise plays the riot grrrl in the tea-length burqa and combat boots. That’s good, because we’ll at least get to see her face. I read an excerpt from Knight’s novel, though, and Denise’s character seems to be a guy. So, there are either some fundamental changes from the book, or this role may finally garner some real attention for Denise.

What did Denise like most about her participation in “The Taqwcores?” She said, “I got to be a rock star.” That’s not a bad break-out role.

So am I sorry I didn’t see more films? Yes. Am I sorry for the star-watching? No way!

More moments that will stay with me from Sundance 2010?

  • John C. Riley imitating a shofar horn that reverberated through the 1,270-seat auditorium at Eccles Theater before the premiere of his quirky new movie, “The Extra Man.”
  • Spotting famed “American Idol” contestant Constantine Maroulis sitting inconspicuously in a back seat at the Racket Club theater to catch Mark Ruffalo’s “Sympathy for Delicious.”
  • Listening to Juliette Lewis blaming her discomposure on the altitude—that was fun too.
  • I loved “High Art” director, Lisa Cholodenko, replying “I love you too,” to a fan at the Q&A for her new movie, “The Kids Are All Right.” “Gushing is nice,” Lisa reassured my pal Kaalomai, who tried to apologize for her I-love-you remark, afterward. “I always appreciate gushing.”

So, yes, celebrity-spotting flavored the whole, tasty festival. I think there’s nothing wrong with that. Celebrities are people who are prominent in the public eye due to their participation in prominent issues.

“That’s one of the great things about being scooped up and put on this platform at Sundance,” said Josh Fox, who directed “Gasland.” His topical and frankly terrifying look at the natural gas industry’s under-regulated invasion of ground water won a Special Jury Prize on Saturday. The immediacy of the problem Josh’s film exposes will be examined by viewers—immediately. And if Josh hooked up with any cute starlets he met between screenings, there’s nothing wrong with knowing that either.