Maggie Woodward–Sundance: An Indescribable Impact

Maggie Woodward, Leah Railey, and Dillon Ward studying the Sundance program while waiting for the Theater Loop shuttle at the Main Street depot in Park City, Utah.
Maggie Woodward, Leah Railey, and Dillon Ward studying the Sundance program while waiting for the Theater Loop shuttle at the Main Street depot in Park City, Utah.

I’ll start with the facts. Over the course of eight days, I attended 24 screenings of 23 films in ten different Sundance categories. I sat in nine theatres that spanned the eleven square miles of Park City, Utah. I watched a looping, 61-minute New Frontier “experience” that slowed down a New York City street to the tempo of a Sonic Youth guitar track, romanticizing the discarded cigarette butts free-falling into grimy cement.

Street, a new video by artist James Nares was featured in The New Frontier at Sundance
Street, a new video by artist James Nares was featured in The New Frontier at Sundance

I went through an entire bottle of SPF 50 facial sunscreen. I used up two tubes of Chapstick. I lost three reusable water bottles and ruined one pair of boots.

My instinct in summarizing a days-long experience like this is to quantify things: to answer questions like how many?, how much?, how often?. But the Sundance Film Festival was unique. No matter how many lists I scribble, photo albums I create, or numbers I tally, I won’t be able to accurately describe how this class and festival experience impacted me.

Hit Record Viewing Party
Waiting for the Hit Record viewing party with Leah Railey, Maggie Woodward, Ted Hovet, and Dawn Hall

So much of Sundance is being in the right place at the right time, a talent I always thought I was lacking. However, somehow, in Park City, my luck increased tenfold. I managed to get into a small premiere party for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRecord on TV and watched the show with Joe himself. I conned my way into a secret screening of the yet-to-be-released film Nymphomaniac Vol. I, shown to a small crowd in the Egyptian Theatre.

"Nymphomaniac: Volume I" (von Trier, 2013) was a secret screening at 2014 Sundance
“Nymphomaniac: Volume I” (von Trier, 2013) was a secret screening at 2014 Sundance

I met my TV heroine, Aubrey Plaza, and I successfully saw every film for which I was on the waitlist. I met the lead actress (Carla Juri) for my favorite World Cinema Dramatic film (Wetlands); the director of my favorite US film (Gillian Robespierre/ Obvious Child) hugged me after I told her how much her story meant to me.

Popcorn at Sundance

I’m not sure how to encapsulate the joy and surrealism of attending this festival except to say that I don’t know how I’ll not go back. Despite the severe lack of sleep, meals skipped out of business, and frozen toes, I would do it all again tomorrow. I count the 2014 Sundance Film Festival as a singular experience that will continue to influence my creative and critical abilities.

Maggie, Leigh, and Ryan waiting to see MEMPHIS.
Maggie, Leigh, and Ryan waiting to see MEMPHIS.

Nathan Gjerstad–Sundance: “What Cinema is about after all–Dreams”

Wes Manakee and Nathan Gjrastad at Sundance
Wes Manakee and Nathan Gjerstad at 2014 Sundance

For me, this Sundance isn’t about how many stars I could see or how many movies I got to. It isn’t about the panels or the Q&A’s with the filmmakers. It isn’t even about the revolutionary art or the state of the art technology. No, Sundance is much more than the physical existences of being in Park City, Utah.

Nathan at Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Glasses at New Frontier in Sundance
Nathan at Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Glasses at New Frontier in Sundance

As film students, we dream about going to Sundance. Normally our dreams involve our films being screened and sold to distributors, but for us, on this trip, we lived our dreams. Despite the 15 films, 5 panels (including one that took place in a hot tub), 11 art exhibits and 9 lounges, Sundance allowed me to live my dreams, no matter how perverted it may have appeared. That is what cinema is about after all–dreams. Each film projected on those 18 Park City screens is a dream. The filmmakers behind the images worked tirelessly dreaming those pictures into reality. This trip to Sundance showed me that you should never quit dreaming.

Slamdance Hot Tub Summit
Slamdance  Hot Tub Summit

Even though I’ve been able to have such the experience the 10 days we were in Park City, there is always more that can be dreamt. Perhaps next is Cannes, or Toronto, or Berlin. Perhaps the next dream is simply to experience Sundance again, perhaps with my own film. Even if the dreams have nothing to do with the independent film world; even if they are just a story; Sundance has given the hope to dream once more. I sometimes question why I am a Film Major. What will I amount to? What will I do? I stop dreaming from time to time. I stop telling stories because I’m scared as to what life can bring to me. After Sundance, I have less fear. I can tell stories again. I can dream.

WKU Class Photo at the Yarrow Hotel Theatre
WKU Class Photo at the Yarrow Hotel Theatre

We made a comparison of Sundance to Disney World. There are characters in costumes, parades of liberal activists and commercial representatives, a collection of different theaters to visit with their own theme, and hundreds of films that take you for the ride of your life. Yet, beyond the forced metaphor is the one true similarity between the two: being the happiest place on earth. Perhaps this will change as I experience more and dream further, but in this moment, Sundance truly made me happy. And the memories and lessons and advice I have been given at Sundance will provide me with happiness for the rest of my life. Even if I never physically go again, I will go again. Even if it is just in my memories, I will go again.

Studious Nathan on the bus right into Park City, UT
Studious Nathan on the bus ride into Park City, UT

This trip has been a jumping off point for me. I’ve meet people I would have never meet before. I’ve made new friends, experienced new things. I learned more in the ten days than I ever thought possible. I feel confident moving forward in my career and in my life having been on this trip.

Nathan crashed at the YouTube Lounge after films and panels all day at Sundance
Nathan crashed at the YouTube Lounge after films and panels all day at Sundance

Coleman Martin–Sundance Satisfaction

coleman with Director of Dawn
Coleman Martin at Shorts Program I with director Rose McGowan. Eight members of the class attended the 11:30pm screening of her short film DAWN.

While packing for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, I became filled with anxiety. What’s it going to be like? How on Earth do I compile a schedule for myself from a catalog of dozens and dozens of films? Would I get completely overwhelmed and shutdown? None of these things happened to me.

Once we got to Park City the first day and got acclimated, everything began falling into place. I learned how to schedule my days out so I could take events hour by hour and knew what films I’d be tackling for the day. I became a professional at the eWaitlist on the Sundance App. (Yes, there’s an App. for Sundance). It even became manageable to get around Park City on the transit system.

Coleman Martin with  Joe Manganiell after his film premiered at Slamdance.
Coleman Martin with Joe Manganiell after his film premiered at Slamdance.

Park City is a breathtaking city with views of mountains and wonderful little restaurants, shops, and art galleries. There’s lots to see and do that’s affiliated with Sundance like visiting the YouTube Lounge or the Music Café downtown Main Street. Be prepared while walking on Main Street because you could run into various celebrities like True Blood actor, Joe Manganiello, like I did or encounter Robert De Niro at a screening and be able to ask him a question. It’s always nice to have your camera phone or handheld camera ready for these spottings that could happen at any given time.

The Egyptian Theatre on Main Street.

The Egyptian Theatre on Main Street.

The films are probably the best part of the experience. Not only are you seeing films with like-minded people who have a passion for film and entertainment like you, but also most times during the festival, the cast may show up as well as the director and producer of the film. These are the best times to pick directors brains and see what the process of filming a movie is like. It seems that no question is off-limits like what did you leave on the cutting room floor or why did you cast a specific actor or actress in a role?

WKU class photo at Yarrow Hotel Theatre

WKU class photo at Yarrow Hotel Theatre

Overall, I couldn’t think of a more hands-on film experience than attending the Sundance Film Festival. I’m leaving here feeling more creative and inspired than I have in years. I’m even considering volunteering at next year’s Festival. I have made some contacts here that I hope to keep and eventually use after graduation from WKU in May of this year. If there’s another class coming to Sundance next year from WKU, jump at the opportunity! It’s so rewarding!

Tyler Cobaugh– Sundance: A Foothold into the Industry

Tyler Cobaughat 2014 Sundance trying out his celebrity/director look.
Tyler Cobaugh at 2014 Sundance striking his celebrity/director look.

I had a blast at Sundance. I feel strongly that anyone who is really serious about having a film career should take this class. It opened my eyes to how distribution companies, like Focus Feature, go about acquiring the films to be distributed to theaters and the public.

Philip Seymour Hoffman at a Q&A after his film God's Pocket at 2014 Sundance
Philip Seymour Hoffman at a Q&A after his film God’s Pocket at 2014 Sundance

Being amongst people who are in the industry was inspiring to me. It got me thinking on how I could get my foothold in the industry. I came to the conclusion that I would do a short film and submit to Sundance. I see Sundance as my springboard into the industry.

Lessons Learned Panel with Joe-Gordon Levitt
Lessons Learned Panel with Joe-Gordon Levitt

One of my favorite moments was going to the film panel talking about media distribution with Joseph-Gordon Levitt. I got to ask him what it is like directing an independent film like Don Jon. He told me that you shouldn’t shoot for a feature your first try. Shoot little by little and keep on improving on your work. He also said that if you keep being tedious with your editing and directing then that is an indication that you are in it for the long haul and the movie industry is the place for you. That was inspiring to hear because that is exactly what I have been doing to this point. I am constantly honing in on my editing skills each time I do a video. So that was a great indication for me that I am in it for the long haul and I told myself I won’t give up on my dreams of a  bright future in the industry.

Dakota Bragdon–Sundance: An Enlightening Experience

Dakota Bragdon with WKU Class after a Film Crashing 101 session with Dr. Eric Pierson of USD
Dakota Bragdon with WKU Class after a Film Crashing 101 session with Dr. Eric Pierson of USD

I was hopeful when I came into Sundance, but enlightened when I came out.

I fully believe that these words could accurately describe the experience that the Sundance Film Festival gave to every single person that attended.

This Study Away course gave me the opportunity to experience the world in ways that I never thought possible. People from different countries like Argentina and The United Kingdom, or Brazil, presented beautiful films that showcased their work, their stories, and their dedication to the craft of filmmaking, thereby solidifying the following statement: The Sundance Film Festival is a festival for the world and can serve as a root of inspiration for future filmmakers to seek out the world and all the beauty in it.

The Babadook Q&A session with director Jennifer Kent and lead actress with producer.
The Babadook Q&A session with director Jennifer Kent and lead actress with producer.

This festival doesn’t give you the “everything is going to work out for you” speech that people love to give. The Sundance Film Festival brings the reality of an industry instead of the glorified expectation that so many film students are currently getting. It shows you how difficult the filmmaking process is, how many people are involved, the time, the money, and the patience it requires. Filmmaking isn’t an easy job. It’s one of the hardest jobs. But as film students, I think it’s important for us to understand that it isn’t a hopeless endeavor, but rather something to work toward.

In my experience, I didn’t get autographs or walk around simply watching films all day. I think that is on what some people expected us to do. But what I was doing was getting real world advice on cinema from people in the industry. I was making small connections, small simple strides to help me. I didn’t get a producer’s phone number or a picture with them or anything like that. That wasn’t the point of coming here. The point was to understand the filmmaking process, and by watching these independent films I understood what it takes to go through with creating this kind of art and having it appreciated by so many people.

WKU class photo at Yarrow Hotel Theatre
WKU class photo at Yarrow Hotel Theatre

In short, advice, understanding, and humanity. Those three simple, basic, but fundamental concepts that are so essential, is what the Sundance Film Festival teaches. It’s about experiencing people in the industry and taking (and learning from) advice they give you. Advice really, is the most important thing I could get out of Sundance, because that stays with a person the most. An autograph or a picture fades into memory, but advice that I can use is something that can have a real impact on me.

I was hopeful when I came in, but enlightened when I came out.

Enlightened.

I think that’s a fair description.

Caleb Peyman–Cinematic Immersion

Sundance Festival at Night
Sundance Festival at Night
 The Sundance/Slamdance experience has proven to be a week-plus immersion into U.S. and international cinema.  Through persistence, sleep deprivation (3-4 hours of sleep per night, with the occasional mid-day nap), and walking with purpose I was able to attend 23 features, 10 shorts, 2 panels, and several New Frontier installations.
Michael Nowlen, Tyler McDowell, and Caleb Peyman at the Sundance box office
Michael Nowlen, Tyler McDowell, and Caleb Peyman at the Sundance box office
The post-film Q&A sessions were insightful and generally increased my appreciation for the films.  While I did see several films that I had sought out specifically for the cast and crew involved, for the most part, the standout films were those that I had little to no familiarity with beforehand.  Taking a chance and being introduced to the work of emerging and first-time filmmakers was definitely refreshing and fruitful.
The Source at New Frontier 2014 Sundance
The Source at New Frontier 2014 Sundance

Ryan Duvall–Dreams of the Film Industry

Ryan Duvall after panel session on The Beauty of Failure in the Creative Process with Richard Ray Perez (Cesar's Last Fast)
Ryan Duvall after panel session on The Beauty of Failure in the Creative Process with Richard Ray Perez (Cesar’s Last Fast)

The WKU Sundance study away course is a dream come true. Being a film student, it’s been my dream to attended one of the most famous film festivals n the world. The knowledge and networking you gain here in Park City, Utah is great for anyone who dreams of being involved in the industry.

Ryan Duvall, Nathan Gjerstad and Ted Hovet at the YouTube lodge
Ryan Duvall, Nathan Gjerstad and Ted Hovet at the YouTube lodge

Attending this event has reenergized my passion for filmmaking. I have gained so many memories and friends along this trip, one of my favorite memories is when our group stormed the stage at Elijah woods Cooties Premiere and we got photos with the cast!

Jeff Shroeder from Big Brother with Ryan Duvall's Company Card
Jeff Shroeder from Big Brother with Ryan Duvall’s Company Card

The opportunities offered to aspiring filmmakers here at Sundance is unbelievable. I’ve learned a lot about the inner workings of the Hollywood industry and networked with some very big names. One of the unique things about Sundance is the Q&A sessions that follow the movie. Here, we get a glimpse of what it was like to create the movie. Being able to talk with fellow directors gives me hope that my dreams are more than just fantasy. I hope that other Western Film students will have the opportunity to try this unique study away experience and that it will continue for many years to come.

Blake Bragdon–The Takeaway: Sundance

Blake Bragdon with WKU Class after a Film Crashing 101 session with Dr. Eric Pierson of USD

Blake Bragdon with WKU Class after a Film Crashing 101 session with Dr. Eric Pierson of USD

One of the most important things that you could ever do as a filmmaker or as anything is make connections. These connections don’t have to be with big industry level people who have seven or eight movies under their belt, an Academy Award and a list of future projects and blockbuster hits their going to be working on over the summer. In other words, they can be normal, everyday people.

Over the course of the film festival I have met a small time cinematographer, a sales agent, a software developer, and of course, Sundance goers. All of them have given me advice, words of encouragement and a slice of reality.

Sign for events at the Filmmaker Lodge. Panels happened daily.
Sign for events at the Filmmaker Lodge. Panels happened daily.

The takeaway from Sundance is experience, knowledge and connections. This business is all about networking, if you don’t do that then you’re not getting anywhere. The best thing you could ever do for yourself is talk. Talk to people, anybody on the street in Park City who even looks like they’re there for the festival and you’ll be surprised. At the end of it all, what matters isn’t a piece of paper with a name or a picture of a moment with a famous person; those things live in the past. Take something that will stay with you, something that you can use, because if you don’t, all you have are pieces of paper and ink, two things that you can buy for less than $20.

Remember, what do you want to take away from the experience? Ask yourself that question, dig deep inside yourself and not only will you find the answer but the reason why you’re there to begin with.

Michael Nowlin–Sundance Poetry

Michael Nowlen, Tyler McDowell, and Caleb Peyman at the Sundance box office
Michael Nowlin, Tyler McDowell, and Caleb Peyman at the Sundance box office

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by merchandising, full-bellied hysterical bundled, dragging themselves through the white-bread streets at dawn looking for celebrity pics.

who sat sipping their lukewarm fair trade brown stimulant water in fluorescent beige corners swapping hollow yarns of distribution deals and star power

who sauntered slowly towards beckoning businesses in mini skirts and massive stilettos for anything costless

who ignored the mountains majesty and fixed their gaze on the endless dream-stained pavement

who fought ferociously so that their anonymous face might be broadcasted 900 miles to their proud parents

who nibbled (faux-turkey tofurkey), while in the doorway a baby’s howl briefly muffled their deafening emptiness

who traded their dignity for the casual violence of the viewfinder

“So you can.”
Water bottles.
Designer vests.
Credit cards.
Burger bars.
Japanese luxury cars.
Personal computers.
Social media.
A thousand rhythmless cell phone flashes. “Stay hydrated.”

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
If you look around a room and can’t figure out what’s being sold, it’s you.
Your image.
Your thoughts.
Your mind.
Your soul.

“Do you think we’ll see Redford?”

Trudging up Main Street is like navigating a maze in quicksand.
People walking purposelessly.
Lost.
Aimless.
Searching.
Burning for a plasticine connection.
Hundreds of spectators dying for the chance to be an extra in someone else’s life by sacrificing the role of protagonist in their own.

“Big fan, can I get a picture?”

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?

“I’ve seen him on TV,” so I must eternally commemorate the time I saw him order coffee from across the street.

Moloch whose eyes are a million blind camera lenses.

Michael Nowlin Selfie
Michael Nowlin Selfie

Painted smiles hide Truth.
It’s all dying.
We’re killing it.
with every selfie
with every mediocre pet project
with every branded lounge
with every ballot
every wasted q&a
every amateur paparazzo
every hurled dollar

I am with you in Park City where you laugh inappropriately in the familiar darkness at the unfamiliar Darkness.

I am with you in Park City where the bars eclipse the cinemas.

I am with you in Park City where the workforce can’t afford to live.

I am with you in Park City where independence is commodified.

I am with you in Park City where you’re stranger than I am.

Banksy came to Sundance and left his artwork on the side of a building.
Banksy came to Sundance and left his artwork on the side of a building.

Tyler McDowell- Sleep deprivation, cheap pizza and careful planning: How I experienced Sundance

Elijah Wood and Tyler McDowell at the Premier of Cooties at 2014 Sundance
Elijah Wood and Tyler McDowell at the Premier of Cooties at 2014 Sundance

I had never stepped foot inside and airport, let alone an airplane, but on that cold January morning I found myself breaking that 21 year record. That was an experience in itself but I had a much bigger opportunity waiting for me and my classmates in Park City, Utah. Ever since I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker I found myself drawn to independent cinema and at the heart of indie film is the Sundance film festival.

The Yarrow Hotel Theatre
The Yarrow Hotel Theatre

In awe of the giant snow covered mountains and the busy sidewalks of main street I was excited to get started in everything Sundance had to offer. Before rushing out into the theatres, careful planning took place in room 281. Papers scratched up with scribbling of theatre locations and movie times over lapped the Sundance catalogs on the beds. We were ready to take on Sundance, with a goal to see as many movies as possible and get the most out of this experience. Whiplash was my first film; 9am in the chilly Utah morning I experienced my first park city bus ride full of other festival goers all excited just like me. I was blown away. This was a film that changed my perception of what Indie cinema can do. It set the bar high for the rest of the time I was there.

Tyler McDowell at the New Frontier
Tyler McDowell at the New Frontier

Cheap pizza at the Red Banjo was where I spent many of my post film meals, rationing out my money, in hopes of saving it for more tickets. It was an addiction, as it should be for any film major ( the tickets, not the pizza). A short walk from there was the Slamdance film festival where is saw a few great films that I would have otherwise missed and waited in line to catch a glimpse of Christopher Nolan, with no luck. The hard chairs and shaky projector made the Slamdance experience a little subpar to Sundance but the idea behind it made me want to support and become a part of this community of passionate filmmakers that will stop at nothing to get their imagination on screen.

Caleb Peyman Michael Nowlin and Tyler McDowell at the Sundance Box Office striking a celebrity pose.
Caleb Peyman Michael Nowlin and Tyler McDowell at the Sundance Box Office striking a celebrity pose.

The nights turned into mornings with every midnight film, quickly messing up my internal clock and causing me to ration out my energy, like my money. In a way Sundance became a trip of film survival.  My days were all but nonexistent as I repeatedly ask my friends and classmates what films they have seen and whether or not they were good. When I hear a positive review, it was back to my tentative film schedule, in which I wrote “subject to change” on top of the page. Sleep was a precious commodity that was quickly evaporating like the water in “Young Ones”, naps were gold and energy drinks were my drug of choice to fuel me from film to film and panel to panel.

The experience I had in ever film, every Q&A and in every restaurant was an experience I will never forget and one I would not change for the world. Every word the filmmakers said planted a seed in my brain and grew into a forest of information that will only benefit my career in filmmaking. I have learned a lot from my teachers and from my classes and am proud to be a part of WKU’s growing film program and this trip to Sundance gave me the opportunity to experience firsthand what filmmaking is all about, and how to express yourself and great something greater than yourself. I can only hope that Sundance can become a WKU film tradition because it was the best and most rewarding experience of my life.

Now I’m going to sleep…