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Sundance Feeds Hungry Egos -- Some Deserving, Many Not

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood January 22, 2014 at 3:12PM

Call it Sundance Head. There is one sad phenomenon that Sundance Film Festival publicists can’t do anything about: the fleeting, illusory and oxygen-deprived belief among certain of their clients that they have become, and will remain, the center of the universe.
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Sundance Short Films

Call it Sundance Head. There is one sad phenomenon that Sundance Film Festival publicists can’t do anything about: the fleeting, illusory and oxygen-deprived belief among certain of their clients that they have become, and will remain, the center of the universe.

Maybe they’ve had a few good screenings. Maybe they even got a standing ovation (from people, let’s face it, who are eager to say they’ve been at a movie that got a standing O, especially if they stood in the cold for an hour to get in). The filmmaker always knew it would be like this, his/her genius finally recognized, their place in the lineage of Griffith, Ford, Welles and Kevin Smith finally cemented by the adulation of the cold, hungry, wet and tired. And in a place that has spawned so many masterpieces of modern cinema, like “Happythankyoumoreplease.” Or “The Tao of Dick Cheney.”

Morgan J. Freeman
Morgan J. Freeman

It’s a form of dementia, perhaps unavoidable in some cases, given the white hot media light that shines on Park City. Sometimes, too, the disorder is simply part of a filmmaker’s DNA: One such auteur arrived in 1996 with his first feature, and proceeded to leave interviewers up and down Main Street drop-jawed with his arrogance. He's matured since then, and is up for a best director Oscar, so perhaps he had a point. Filmmaker Morgan J. Freeman shared his own Sundance Wild Ride.

But the story of Sundance is rife with stories of filmmakers on the precipice of obscurity, whose last known words were “Do you know who I am?” One candidate, a documentary director, is in the mix this year, and it’s almost delicious to watch his unmaking unfold. He’s been late for every interview. He begins each one by taking a phone call that lasts 10 minutes. He doesn’t go to bed till 4 a.m., and not before canceling his early morning press events. It’s a slo-mo self-immolation, around which a frost-bitten press can keep its hands warm, while waiting for him to get off the phone.

This article is related to: Features, Sundance Film Festival, Festivals


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.