Even the skiers are complaining about the cold. This morning it feels like -20 (adding the wind chill is automatic with me) and there are hard banks of icy snow crowding you on the sidewalk. There's a core of theatre staff here who come down from Toronto to work Sundance, outside, all day long. These people are my heroes.
Location matters when it comes to film festivals. The cold and thin mountain air pushes people together into condos, Mexican restaurants and the makeshift cinemas where a lot of the screenings happen. We're excited just to be warm.
On opening night it was all jeans, sweaters and pocket warmers as first Robert Redford then festival honcho Geoff Gilmore got up to point the way towards something new: new filmmakers, a new sense of humour in the films, and a new turn towards globalism in the overall selection, and even among the American directors in Competition here, several of whom are foreign born. Place matters.
And so Sundance opened with a film by a London-born director set in Belgium starring Irish actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. In Bruges, which opens in theatres next month, is a dark comedy about two gangsters sent to a postcard medieval town to hide out after a job went wrong. Writer-director Martin McDonagh got his start in the theatre, and gives this film sharp, sometimes hilarious dialogue and surprising emotion between Farrell and Gleeson's characters. But the real success here is the tone, which leans heavily on nighttime settings, a funhouse score and Farrell's looming eyebrows to concoct the feel of a dreamy farce. In Bruges is the first film I've seen in a long time that marries violence and comedy so blithely; it's as if the mid-90s are back already.
This same story wouldn't work in America in the current climate, but it works in Bruges, because it's an obscure Euro outpost that seems in the film to be set apart from the modern world. Place matters.
In fact Sundance's "Film Takes Place" theme this year seems especially apt. Before each film a mesmerizing loop plays on screen. A road stretches out in a continuous, slow travelling shot, with Park City's famous snow covered mountains rising up on either side and a mirror-image time-lapse froth of clouds and blue sky above. It's clearly a composite of images shot in different places and seasons, but it gives an overall impression of conjuring up a single fantasy space, some kind of space of reflection and endless promise. It creates some kind of new place to watch these movies, and this year, it works.