Being a film student has many advantages: the ability to make films with school-provided equipment, to receive feedback and advice from your peers in classrooms, and to simply study film for a living. But one advantage I only discovered last year was the ability to attend the Sundance Film Festival with a film student pass, a one-way ticket to seeing a bunch of awesome movies for a great price. So, with my roommate and fellow film student Emily Lichtenberg, I packed my bags and headed to Park City, Utah, to attend one of the most important film festivals in the world. No pressure.
My favorite film at the festival was Lake Bell’s In A World…, a hilarious comedy about a struggling vocal coach (Bell) who tries to break into the male-dominated trailer voice-over world. Bell also wrote and directed the film, her feature debut, and she dominates in all three roles, crafting a witty, sharp Hollywood satire with a strong, funny protagonist. The supporting cast, including Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, and Fred Melamed, is also fantastic, and the film is an all around delight.
Another excellent film I saw at the festival was Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale, based on the true-life story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year old black man killed by police in Oakland, Calif., on New Year’s Eve, 2008. The film looks at the last day of Oscar’s life, depicting a charming young man trying to make amends for the mistakes in his life, before being cruelly cut down by an over-aggressive police force. As Oscar, Michael B. Jordan (Friday Night Lights & Chronicle) gives a full-bodied, emotional performance and Octavia Spencer also impresses as Oscar’s mother. This is Coogler’s first feature film, and it’s a stunning debut (the film ended up winning both the Grand Jury prize and the Audience Award at Sundance).
With my film student pass, I was also able to attend three film-student-only events. The first was a meet-and-greet with some of the festival programmers, where we learned about what they look for in submitted films, and the challenges of watching movies as a full-time career. The second was a meet-and-
greet with members of the industry, who all come to Sundance to seek out what’s new in cinema. I was thankful my aunt had made business cards for me to hand out. And finally, the third event was a speed-dating event with filmmakers at the festival, where each filmmaker spent 10 minutes at each table of film students. There was more great information on how to get a film into Sundance, and business cards were passed around. Each two-hour event was a whirlwind, but I am so lucky to have been there.
All in all, my first Sundance was an exhausting, exhilarating time. In between seeing midnight movies about rock stars and short films about stud cats, I met a ton of amazing people and learned an incredible amount about filmmaking and the film industry. And beyond all the films and the industry and the whatnot, I had a great time just hanging out with other festival-goers, talking about movies and simply being excited to be there. I hope to return many times in the future.
PHOTO AND STORY BY CONOR HOLT