sundance 2023

Sundance, Day Four: Liquid Gold at Joey Soloway’s House Party

It’s all downhill from here. Photo: Rebecca Alter

Nicholas Braun as Cat Person has nothing on Alexander Skarsgård as Dog Man. I wake up Sunday still thinking about the Infinity Pool star’s pup-play moment on the red carpet and feeling so proud my native Canada gave government money to this pervy, sexy, gross, funny movie.

This morning, I’m going to a filmmakers’ brunch held by a Jewish organization called Shabbat Tent. And let me say this: If you ever want to disabuse someone of the stereotype that Jews control Hollywood, take them to Shabbat Tent. The place has all the glitz and glamor of your local campus Hillel chapter, and it is the most low-key event I’ve been to at Sundance. There are no famous or corporate names, just (very, very) indie filmmakers and enthusiasts introducing themselves to one another over bagels. Sundance is full of houses and lodges for other groups, too, including spaces and programming for Black, AAPI, South Asian, Latinx, and Indigenous filmmakers, and they’re an important counterbalance to the Acura-Chase-Sapphire-Stacy’s-Chippery of it all.

All Amazing Maurices Taste of Salt

Walking down Main Street, I duck my head into the Filmmakers Lounge, where the coffee is not free, so I immediately duck back out. I’m walking to what I think is a screening of an animated movie about a talking cat called The Amazing Maurice. I make my way into the theater to find director Raven Jackson midway through her opening speech, thanking producer Barry Jenkins for supporting this movie about a Black woman in Mississippi. Unless that woman transforms into a cat named Maurice, I’m in the wrong movie.

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt looks great, and I do want to see it, but I am so jarred by the tonal shift between what I was anticipating (the cat talks!) and what the movie was (requiring my brain to engage!) that I leave before it begins. I get on the bus and run into my rental mate Chris Lee, who asks if I heard the rumor about the woman who went into labor in the Egyptian Theatre last night during a screening. I haven’t. “It was the Bella Thorne movie,” he says, “but it wasn’t true. Someone in the audience had a seizure.” I go to the White Claw Shore Club and sit with this information.

Dakota Johnson Bails

Later, at the Egyptian, Orna Guralnik from Showtime’s Couples Therapy moderates a panel on intimacy. The queue snakes way down the block and doesn’t move for close to 45 minutes after the panel was scheduled to start. This is a blessing in disguise because my place in line is outside the WME Lounge, where I get to see Lisa Barlow walking out. But the temperature is dropping, and snow is building up on people in line as if they were parked cars. We’re told the reason for the delay is technical difficulties — something to do with sound. But I suspect another culprit. Once we’re finally seated an hour late, a staff member tells the audience that Dakota Johnson, who was supposed to beam into the panel on Zoom, couldn’t make it because of a family emergency. I am 90 percent convinced Johnson just decided not to show, and they spent an hour trying to get in contact with her. Tell me you don’t see it.

On the panel, Jenkins talks about trying to direct teenage Chiron’s first kiss with Kevin in Moonlight without an intimacy coordinator, and then an intimacy coordinator basically schools him on what she would have done differently. I’m nodding off at this point, so I sneak out and head to something called the #NextGen Young Hollywood Celebration, hosted by a nonprofit called the Creative Coalition as well as a gin company. On my walk over, all along Main Street, young filmmakers promote their shorts. Two women in their early 20s hand out little rubber duckies with QR codes on the bottom. “These are our business cards,” the one in glasses tells someone mom-aged. Their movie is “an absurd comedy about being neurodivergent.”

“About being a virgin?” says the woman.

“Neurodivergent! But maybe that too.”

Squeak squeak. Photo: Rebecca Alter

Mingling With Young Filmmakers

I make it to Young Hollywood, where they’re not letting people in yet. Ana Scotney, who got huge laughs for her role in Bad Behaviour, is one of the party’s honorees and asks the male model security guard if she could invite her good friend Alice Englert: “She directed the movie.” And the security guard turns her down!

“We have to stick to the list.”

Inside, I line up behind Gus from Industry to drop my backpack at coat check and proceed to mill around this strange mix of mostly silver-haired arts patrons balanced out by a smattering of young filmmakers. The vibes here are simply not conducive to mingling. But I know some other young filmmakers who are hanging out at the White Claw Shore Club, of all places, which has proved harder to get into than some cast parties.

Standing around drinking White Claws out of koozies are the assistant director (Tasha Petty) and production designers (Courtney and Hillary Andujar — twins!) of Birth/Rebirth, a Sundance “Midnight” selection I’ve been hearing raves about. It’s a Shudder original, but they’re hoping the success of other horror indies’ theatrical runs means it might get a limited run too.

I’m meeting them through another filmmaker, Alli Coates, whom I bonded with while standing in line for the intimacy panel (we recognized each other from Brooklyn. Sundance is a festival devoted to the art of film second, the art of recognizing people’s faces first). She’s here fundraising for her first feature, a queer horror film that takes place in a West Virginia cult. What this means is a lot of chatting up people with money and convincing them her project is exciting and cool and a good investment and will definitely generate the sort of buzz they’re chasing all over Park City. Also learning how to write grants. She sends me a text in the afternoon saying she thinks she may have just secured funding on the street through a streaming service looking for indie queer horror.

A Liquid-Gold Good-bye

I’m supposed to go to a 9:30 screening of Rotting in the Sun, but I end up tagging along with the group to a party at Transparent creator and Sundance juror Joey Soloway’s giant beautiful chalet rental, where the Birth/Rebirth crew is hailed as heroes for bringing a bottle of tequila. You can’t buy liquor in Utah on Sundays, so it’s “liquid gold,” Tasha says. Even at a house party full of queer creatives, Latter Day letter of the law looms large. Alli is excited to be at this party after the other night, when she went to TAO East and had to contend with straight dudes and Diplo. She tells me that when she tries to describe her project to them, she can “see them go cross-eyed.”

I’m also excited to be here. It’s my last night at Sundance, and this feels like what all the important and interesting people actually do while the rest of us plebes stalk Main Street in search of canapés: all of these filmmakers in great outfits and stockinged feet (shoes off in the house, please), happy to talk to you about what they’re working on, what they’re noticing in the scene, which films’ directors were totally loathed by their casts (off the record, sadly).

I spend a lot of time talking with Louise Weard, a producer and filmmaker with a focus on trans films “by us, for us, and about us.” She got her start when she directed the microbudget trans horror film Computer Hearts at the age of 19. Now it’s a horror-festival cult fave, and she delights in programming opportunities such as her installment of Fantastic Fest’s “100 Best Kills” series, a castration-clip bonanza titled “Texas Birth Control, Dick Destruction.” “My name comes up when you search ‘dick mutilation,’” says Weard. I can’t think of a better way to end the festival than that. If Movie Daddy Robert Redford allows this to be the future of indie film, I’m overjoyed. I hope to return to Sundance next year for a midnight screening of Dick Chop Clip Show, presented by Stacy’s Pita Chips.

Farewell, Park City. Photo: Rebecca Alter

This is the final edition of Park City Confidential, our special Sundance newsletter just for New York subscribers. Thanks for reading!

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