Reporter Rick Brough (pronounced “bruff”) has covered the Sundance Film Festival every year since it started here in 1980, back when it was called the US Film Festival before Sundance took over. Reporting for both The Park Record and KPCW-FM, he has interviewed scores of filmmakers and actors, and has seen and written reviews on hundreds of films. Park City Magazine asked Brough to share his Sundance lore, legends, and lessons, so that we, too, might work the festival like pros.
For the Complainers If you’re a sports-oriented person, and you complain every January about how the “people in black” flood into town, and you say, “Why can’t we have the good old days when we hosted the Olympics?” you have to remember that every year we get to host the Olympics of film.
Choices, Choices The trouble is, in the early ’80s there were maybe 20 or 30 pictures at the festival, and you could tell yourself that you had pretty well seen all of Sundance. Now, there are about 150 films of all different genres. All I can hope for is some advances in cloning technology so that I can create four of me.
Concentration There are all sorts of strategies you can adopt to choose films. It depends on what your priorities are. If your thing is to see the hot movie stars at the Eccles Center, zero in on the premieres. If you want to say, “I saw the second showing of the movie that turned out to be the hit of the festival,” focus on the drama category.
Global View The programmers often say that the international films are the most unjustly overlooked. They don’t attract the paparazzi and the fan interest, but pound for pound they probably have as much good filmmaking as any of the other genres.
Documentaries “Docs” are also some of the best stuff at the festival. If there’s a historical doc or a biography that I’m intrigued by, but I know there’s a pretty good chance it will end up on PBS later, I’ll wait. If there’s a doc on how wonderful Joan Baez is, it will end up on HBO. You want to see the films that won’t be shown again—somebody’s personal story of how lesbian Siamese twins in therapy recall that they were abused by their father ... It might be a hit, you never know.
Inquiring Minds The best answer I ever got at a press conference was from the subject of the doc Man on Wire, Philippe Petit. The guy tightroped between the Twin Towers. I asked him, “What scares you?” He said, “Rooms full of people.”
Fave Celeb Encounters I’ve talked to Roger Ebert and to George Romero, who created Night of the Living Dead, the all-time zombie classic. I met Melvin Dummar, who claimed to be an heir to Howard Hughes’s fortune in the movie Melvin and Howard. At the time he was working as a frozen fish salesman, and he gave me his card. James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) was cute. I have interviewed Anthony Hopkins. I have interviewed, as the women at our radio station call him, “Dennis Oh My God Quaid.”
Rules on Celebrity Spotting One: If you see somebody during Sundance who looks like somebody, it probably is that somebody. Two: Generally, my rule is that looking for celebrities during Sundance is kind of like going out to the Nevada desert to find UFOs. If you look for them, you’re not going to see them. It has to happen accidentally. I saw Glenn Close on a shuttle bus. Russell Crowe was smoking inside the Yarrow Hotel. (You don’t tell Russell Crowe not to smoke inside, I guess.) I sat two rows behind Dennis Hopper at a film–now that’s a thrill. Three: One thing I discovered on vacation as I drove through Yellowstone was that the best way to spot wildlife was if you saw a bunch of cars pulled over to the side of the road, you knew there was a sighting—it’s the same thing. If you’re walking down Main Street, and there’s a crowd of people looking into a storefront, like when Oprah visited one of our galleries a few years back, you know you have a live one.
Great Finds I went to see this three-and-a-half-hour movie on basketball. I have no interest in sports. I thought it would be like watching paint dry. It turned out to be Hoop Dreams. I saw Reservoir Dogs the second time it ever showed to an audience. This hyper young kid named Tarantino was on stage saying, “I’m just f-ing excited people liked my movie.”
Nosh When you’re running around between films, there’s not a lot of time to sit at a restaurant. And I don’t have the press pass that gets me into the fancy parties at Deer Valley—that’s the Ebert-level pass. Usually every venue, especially the isolated ones, has some victuals. Temple Har Shalom and the Library have sandwiches. If you’re bouncing between Prospector and the Eccles Center, the Taco Maker is my choice.
Park It Forget the idea that you’re just going to drive around and find a place to park—just cast that fantasy aside real quick. Rely on the shuttle buses. Even if they look like they’re crowded, they’re still the best way to get around.
Attire Dress for winter, people. It’s January in Utah.
Theater Etiquette Just sit in the most interior seat of the row. Go ahead and sit next to the guy in the big fuzzy hat. Once the theater fills up, they’re going to make you move down and sit next to him anyway.
If ... You’re a shop clerk or work in a restaurant or lodge, and you’re abused by some Sundance visitor who thinks his film is the greatest thing at the festival, and he’s only here for 10 days and has limited time to be discovered, so why isn’t his latte ready—just remember that in a year or two he’s going to be working as an assistant director on some infomercial for exercise equipment: “Quiet on the set!” You just keep that image in mind, and don’t let him bother you.
Reading Between the Lines of the Festival Guide Phrases that are warning signs are stuff like, “Despite its grim subject matter, this is ultimately a life-affirming film.” “Experiments with narrative structure” means the plot makes no sense. If it says, “This film redefines what cinema means to us,” just run the other way. “Taboo-breaking” means you’re going to see an actor’s private parts—full frontal nudity, most likely. And if they write, “Will Ferrell in a daring new role,” it means that Will Ferrell is in a picture that will never be seen again.