This year, we’re dedicated to bringing Sundance straight to you, dear reader, and that includes getting to know some of the faces that make up a stellar Sundance – critics (new and returning), publicists (ever-ready clipboard in hand), producers and distributors (looking for the next big hit to bring to a theater near you), and basically whoever else we stumble upon on the slick (and charming) hill that comprises Main Street. There may be hobos and inanimate objects included as interview subjects, but you’ll just have to wait and see on that one.
First up, Sundance stalwart, James Rocchi. A dear personal friend and an impeccable professional mentor, the twelve-year (maybe?) veteran of the fest has covered Sundance for a variety of outlets, including MSN Movies, Cinematical (R.I.P.), Netflix, IFC, and Indiewire. This year, he’s back to cover the festival for MSN Movies and their magical The Hitlist blog (I say magical, because, hey, I write there too!) and Indiewire’s The Playlist.
After the break, check out ten questions (and answers) about Sundance expectations and experiences with James Rocchi, the dapper, hat-wearing gentleman critic most likely to open a door for you while you discuss George Orwell, even in the middle of a blizzard.
How many times have you been to Sundance?
I *think* this is my 12th year.
What is your favorite Sundance memory?
One would have to be stumbling into a last-day, last-hour, entirely random screening of a film that sounded cool based on the one-sentence synopsis I’d heard…and seeing Rian Johnson’s Brick, as sterling and stunning a debut film — or, for that matter, film — as one could ask for. Another would be a closing-night party memory — as you know, Sundance badges identify filmmakers by their movie — and one year at the Raquet Club, before things got too loud, I saw a woman whose badge identified her as part of Thin, Lauren Greenfield’s amazing documentary on an in-patient eating disorder clinic for women. I praised the film, and she was warm and glad, and we parted — and it was only later that I realized that woman wasn’t part of the filmmaking team, but, rather, one of the subjects, and that I had witnessed her struggle and spirit on-screen, and now she was part of sharing that with others, and Sundance was a a huge part of that, and here she was, seemingly doing much better from a place of strength in her life. It was a moment that snuck up on me, but I think about it to this day.
What is your favorite film that you’ve seen at Sundance?
Good heavens, too many to name. Everything from Brick (as mentioned above) to Thin to Pariah to Better Luck Tomorrow to 28 Days Later to Narc to the Duplass Brothers’ first-ever short Scrapple to Sound of My Voice…
What other festivals do you enjoy going to?
For freelance work purposes, I go to Sundance, SXSW, Toronto, Cannes, Fantastic Fest and both AFI and LAFF.
What film are you most looking forward to at Sundance 2012?
Too many films to name, but something about the premise and cast of Safety Not Guaranteed makes me smile and hope…
What are your tips for those going to Sundance for the first time?
Drink water, preferably with Emergen-C in it; you’re in near- or sub-zero temperatures at 10,000 feet, and it’ll pull all the water out of your body fast. Also, pace yourself.
What is your favorite venue at Sundance and why?
It’s odd, as I don’t go there a lot, but the Egyptian — small, nicely-kept, and tucked away at the top of Main — has a lot of appeal.
Is there something you must always do (or see) while at Sundance (besides movies)?
For me, it’s just nice to see old friends and new, whether journos or filmmakers; Sundance is like a high school reunion, but for the AV club, and it’s great to see far-flung friends. Also, it may not be the Albertson’s any more, but you’re going to wind up there. Guaranteed.
What is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you at Sundance?
I’m not sure, yet, but the best contender is last year, when I — after a few adult beverages at the closing party — found Brit Marling and implored her to not, as was suggested in the post-film Q & A, continue the ideas and plot of Sound of My Voice in other films. I realized, as she stared at me intently, that I was making an ass of myself but plowed on: “Leave it an enigma, a puzzle, a haiku! Don’t over-explain things!” I fully expected her to punch me or storm away angrily after my being so massively presumptuous; instead, she grabbed me by the arm and said “We have to go find (director) Zal Batmangli, so you can tell him EXACTLY THAT.”
Why do you think Sundance is important?
I jokingly say to friends that Sundance is two weeks of nutrition that makes up for the 50 weeks of dessert the mainstream distraction-industrial complex gives us — and yet, it’s true. Sundance isn’t just an incubator for talent — as if it’s supposed to solely provide Hollywood’s hungry maw with wave after wave of new actors, writers and directors — it’s a place in and of itself, where the stories are more personal, more tough, and don’t necessarily come with the happy ending guaranteed. More importantly, Sundance has come to realize this — and it’s recent focus on real independents, like Bellflower or Kid-Thing, as well as the low-budget, high-intensity films of the new Next selection, are helping reverse the ugly years of Sundance being seen, however erroneously, as just Hollywood in parkas.