Friday, January 19, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 19, 2001

Commentary: Looking ahead at Sundance film festival

By Roger Ebert

PARK CITY, Utah — Sundance has become the nation’s most important film festival through an unbeatable combination: inconvenient location, lousy weather, overcrowded screening facilities, municipal hostility, and a 10-day lineup of films that in some cases will never be heard of again.

There are dark days when I plow through blizzards late to a screening, find what looks like a legal parking space, and my car gets towed.

But there are other times that are magical. Seeing Ethan Hawke’s "Hamlet" in the little Egyptian theater on Main Street. Watching incredible documentaries like "On the Ropes." Hearing Bernard Rose extol the low-budget digital filmmaking of "ivansxtc." Running into Johnny Rotten after the Sex Pistols documentary "The Filth and the Fury." Meeting the Buddhist monk who directed "The Cup," the first feature film from Bhutan. Or discovering a sleeper like "Panic," with William H. Macy as a hit man steered through a midlife crisis by the younger but wiser Neve Campbell. Witnessing passionate debates on the future of digital filmmaking. And running into Val Kilmer, Kevin Spacey, Jodie Foster, Danny DeVito and, yes, Tammy Faye Bakker.

All in all, I’d hate to miss Sundance. It would be the perfect festival, if only it were held in Santa Barbara.

This year’s festival began last night with the premiere in Salt Lake City of Christine Lahti’s "My First Mister," about a love affair between a disturbed 17-year-old (Leelee Sobieski) and her boss at a clothing store (Albert Brooks). The festival moves up the hill to Park City for opening night tonight, featuring "Caveman’s Valentine," the much-discussed film starring Samuel L. Jackson as a Manhattan street person, directed by Kasi Lemmons (whose "Eve’s Bayou" was the best film of 1997).

This year’s festival includes movies by leading indie directors like Michael Apted, whose "Enigma" stars Kate Winslet in a Tom Stoppard screenplay about breaking the Nazi code; and veteran indie Bobby Roth’s "Jack the Dog," about a compulsive womanizer.

The single screening I’m most looking forward to? Richard Linklater’s "Waking Life," an animated film he made with Texas computer animation wizards Bob Sabiston and Tommy Pallotta, who use their RotoShop software to convert live-action digital footage into stylized animation. The breakthrough is that they did it at home, on relatively inexpensive Macintosh G4s.

By showing how high-quality, good-looking, full-motion animation can be put into the hands of the garage studios, it will be for Sundance 2001 what the breakthrough of digital video was a few years ago.

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