EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: EMPIRE OF THE SUN

Robert Redford says that the appearance of Paris Hilton at Sundance means the film festival has gotten out of control. Really? It’s not E!s presence there? It’s not trendy stores that give away expensive sunglasses to celebrities who can easily afford such things? It’s not the hype of major studio films masked as indies?

Paris Hilton seems to be the least of the festival’s problems.

Film festivals have been going on for quite some time. My very own Humboldt County has a short film festival that, if memory serves me right, is the longest running one in the country. If you’ve been on this site more than five minutes, you can’t help but recognize names of festivals like the Jacksonville Film Festival, Slamdance and so on. These are festivals run by people who love films for people who share their interests. Sundance, on the other hand, is a film festival in only the most liberal sense of the word, but it does serve a purpose.

Besides the side-effect benefit of some indie films getting noticed by media that would otherwise ignore them, Sundance lets Hollywood and its quiet elite feel like they still have a shred of artistic integrity. I’ll hand it to Redford and company, they created something that has benefitted indie films and the artform in general, but the festival lost its real relevance ages ago.

When I go to a film festival I want to see struggling filmmakers present something that knocks people off their feet. I want there to be a standout actor who was an unknown until that very first screening. I want film to be celebrated, loathed and worshipped. I don’t want Starbucks. I want movies, not a spectacle.

Redford should consider Hilton a godsend. She made the circus of stars “hip” with the “yungins.” Her appearance didn’t serve as the warning sign, it is concomitant with everything that festival has been working toward for who knows how many years now. She is exactly what one would expect at a festival that is the highwater mark for largely mediocre films masquerading as “high art.”

I still get excited about some of the films coming out of Sundance, but my list gets smaller and smaller every year. Instead, I look at what’s coming out of the other tiny festivals — the ones the stars don’t know about. The ones where films are a labor of love and not a tax write-off. That’s where good film is born. Sundance is where it is buried.

I realize that this may be a controversial thing to say on this site, which covers Sundance quite extensively, but I don’t feel as if I’m saying anything that isn’t felt by a lot of people already. And knowing that has made me think about running my own film festival. It would be one where film actually means something, and Uggs are nowhere to be seen. And, Mr. Redford, I can guarantee you Ms. Hilton would never show up. It’s not her kind of party … and I’d never let it turn into that. Of course, it wouldn’t be your kind of party, either. It would be about the films — and you left that little soiree quite some time ago.

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Posted on March 9, 2006 in Features by
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