Matt’s Sundance Scorecard and Impressions from the Festival

by     Posted 3 years, 214 days ago


This was my first year attending the Sundance Film Festival and I had an absolute blast.  I have never watched so many movies and written so many reviews over such a short time span.  I not only got to see some great movies (and some not-so-great ones), but I also got to hang out with plenty of awesome people who made my Sundance experience even better.

After the jump, you’ll find my “Sundance Scorecard” which has all of the films I saw ranked from best to worst along with their letter grade. While I’m not a huge fan of stamping a grade on a movie, I figure it’s enough of a hook that the grade will make you want to read the review and figure out why I gave it a particular grade.  I’ve also included my thoughts on the festival including where it was outstanding and where it could use some improvement.

sundance_film_festival_egyptian_theater_02The only comparable event to Sundance I’ve attended during my time working at Collider is Comic-Con.  However, if faced with the choice of only attending one, I would take Sundance every day of the week and twice on Sunday.  Sundance is crowded, but the venues are so spread out that it doesn’t feel like you’re packed inside a can of sardines, which is the sensation you get when moving around the San Diego Convention Center.  I also found the majority of volunteers at Sundance to be incredibly helpful and friendly.  The shuttle system (which was impressive) can be a little confusing, but the volunteers who are willing to stand outside in the cold so they can tell morons like me “Yes, this bus goes to the Yarrow Theater,” 800 times over the course of a day deserve some kind of special medal.

The festival also knew how to treat press incredibly well.  Not only was the press office well-organized and staffed with helpful folks, but they even had a press lounge with seats and the seats had power outlets! (I’m easily impressed)  This is in contrast to Comic-Con, where I don’t want to say that they hate press as much as they’re aware how much they don’t need us since they’re “about the fans”.  Also, Comic-Con is largely about marketing whereas Sundance is about movies, and my love of film is why I do this job in the first place.

If there is one thing that the festival desperately needs to fix, it’s the power of pass-holders.  The festival sells expensive passes that allow a person to skip the line and come in any time they want.  While I understand the financial burden of running a festival as massive as Sundance and think that all-access passes aren’t necessarily a bad thing, they can also serve as a giant middle-finger to the average ticket holder.

For example, I was in line for a public screening of The Guard.  I wanted to get a good seat and since I didn’t have anything better to do, I decided to get in line 90 minutes early and just write a review while I was waiting.  I was the fifth ticket-holder in line for the film. However, because so many pass-holders were able to cut the line, only about ten other ticket-holders and me were able to get in.  Everyone else was given a little notation on their ticket saying that they could exchange it for another movie.  As a ticket holder, that has to be maddening.  You get to a movie super-early, but people with more disposable income show up much later and take your seat, and then you’re left holding a worthless ticket that you can exchange for another ticket that won’t guarantee you entrance to a movie you want to see.

I think Sundance needs to institute a policy of capping the number of pass-holders who are admitted into a screening.  These people would still get to cut the line and get their choice of seats, but would have to show up early if they wanted in.  The willingness to waste an hour (or more) in a line shows that you want to see a movie more than a person who gets there later and your patience should be rewarded with a movie, not a worthless I.O.U. ticket.

But other than this problem, I thought Sundance was a well-oiled machine.  I had such a wonderful time hanging out with other movie bloggers and chatting up strangers about which movies they’d seen and which movies they were looking forward to.  I absolutely can’t wait to go again next year.

Finally, here’s the list of the 32 films I reviewed at the festival, ranked from best to worst:

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  • Craig

    Matt, I agree with all that you said. You were very diplomatic in your description of the pass holder situation vs. ticket holders, maybe because you were able to get into the film for which you waited 90 minutes.

    On Saturday, the two films I wanted to see-the guard was one of them-were filled mostly by pass holders. I must have been behind you in the line for the Guard. I didn’t get in. I heard later that they only let in 12 ticket holders (you were one). In the 18 years I’ve attended Sundance, as a ticket holder, I have never had to wait in a “ticket holder” line until this year. Having a ticket, in my experience, put me ahead of anyone who wanted to wait in line not only to get a waiting line number but to come back to wait until an empty seat might open up at the last minute. So now, ticket HOLDERS have been relegated to the position waiting line number holders used to be in. The difference is that one must get to a film like the guard 90 minutes early. In the past, a waiting line number holder received his number 2 hours before film time and only needed to show up around 30 minutes early to wait to see if he or she could get in. Now, as a ticket holder, it seems I have even less status than a waiting line number holder (although, of course, if all waiting ticket holders don’t get in, certainly no waiting line number holders will get in)

    If I may continue my rant, when I didn’t get into these films, they offered a voucher that I could exchange for any film for the rest of the festival. This made a lot of sense since it was already the 29th and there were no tickets available for exchange. What they didn’t say was that if I held on to my ticket I could get a refund (only in these situations for these films that had to turn away ticket holders) OR I could exchange the ticket for another film if available. So keeping my ticket gave me the benefit of the voucher PLUS the ability to get my money back. Did those giving the vouchers tell us this? Of course not. I asked but was probably the only one in the line of about 100 who did and was probably the only who didn’t take a voucher.

    The voucher is barely a consolation when trying to redeem it or even getting one’s money back (if one were to hold on to his ticket) means taking even more time out of my day, beyond the wasted hour and 15 in the ticket holders line, to try to deal with the ticket office.

    A friend who did try to get his money back was turned away by an uninformed ticket office clerk who said that there were absolutely no refunds.

    All in all, this concept of Sundance’s greed backfired, in my opinion, beyond any acceptable level.

  • Craig

    One more thing. Matt, you say that a festival is expensive to run. Since when does a business-for profit or not for profit-decide that the only way to make ends meet it to screw paying customers? Ok, so it does happen a lot but I really would have though with all of Robert Redford’s preaching about what Sundance is, that this move would have been well below them.

  • Craig

    I’m sorry you missed Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Another Earth. IMHO, all excellent films. I definitely would have given Tyrannosaur a C+ or better. I also saw On the Ice which I did not enjoy at all.

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