By Lindsay Utz, 2012 Fellow
In January I visited Park City for the Sundance Film Festival for the third time. I broke my own personal record for cramming as many screenings as possible into a festival experience, averaging 2.6 films a day over a period of 10 days. Actually, since I spent the last full day there cross country skiing (my first time ever) and most of the first day traveling I think it would be fair to say my average was more like 3.25 films a day, which isn't bad when you consider all the other things I had to do: sleep (when necessary), eat (when possible), bathe (a few times), socialize (constantly), etc.
I saw many remarkable films, but for me the true highlights included Sarah Polley's gorgeous and gripping personal documentary Stories We Tell, Baltimore indie filmmaker Matthew Porterfield's I Used to Be Darker, and the fantastical and entirely illegal all-shot-in-Disney World-without-location-permits Escape from Tomorrow.
For me, attending film festivals is a crucial part of my occupation. This is for four reasons: 1) to be reminded that, despite the solitude of editing as a craft, I am in fact not alone in what I do, 2) to meet and interact with real, live, in-the-flesh people, i.e. not simply the characters with whom one spends countless hours in the edit, 3) to watch high-caliber work with a critical eye... in a dark room... on a big screen... for many days in a row and, 4) subsequently discuss and debate ad nauseam the merits and weaknesses of every single decision made in the film.
But there was a fifth reason that made this particular festival at this particular time especially meaningful for me. I was only two weeks into the edit on a new film I'm cutting, In Country, when I jumped on a flight to Utah. As an editor friend of mine, and fellow Sundance-goer who was also working on a film put it, "we're so lucky to get this break from our own creative process." The importance of leaving the edit and coming back to it with a fresh eye and a perspective honed through seeing others' creativity laid bare on screen is something that cannot be overestimated.
I was particularly spongey since I was at this early stage in my own project and taking so many notes throughout the entire festival: what worked, what didn't and why. And I literally couldn't wait to get back to my edit. When you're first starting out, there's this feeling of the open road, the beginning of a long drive where anything could happen. That sense of exploration, discovery, adventure—it's thrilling. You haven't hit any deer yet or lost your way or gotten a flat tire or decided you were just too tired to keep driving through the night. You're in the early stage of your relationship to the material, and anything's possible.
But that's a fantasy. And the truth is it's gonna get hard, it always does. We dream in those early days of cutting the perfect film, but there is no such thing as a perfect film—not even at Sundance. Yet sharing the ritual of watching with so many like-minded people, going for ten long days to cinema's "church," if you will, reminded me that no matter how hard it gets, it is worth it in the end. It's a humbling and spiritual experience to hole up in the mountains with a bunch of kindred spirits who create and struggle the same as you do. It's a sort of therapy—for you, for your work and for your process.
That said, what I experienced in the days after I returned home was this sort of wild creative surge, this newfound feeling of being a little more daring, more likely to choose the less obvious route, to try things I wouldn't normally try, and then try them again.
In the end, it wasn't all the movies I saw or friends I made this time around that made Sundance so rich, but the adrenaline and fresh energy I took home to my own edit room, grounded in a sense of realism about my own process. I think that's the gift that a festival like Sundance gives to filmmakers—a reminder that we're all in this together, and the nudge to push harder, be better and do great work, even if it's not perfect.