A week ago, Sharon Waxman wrote the following item in her Report From Sundance in The Wrap.
Steven Soderbergh, a filmmaker who may well be synonymous with the Sundance brand (“sex, lies, and videotape” put the festival on the map in 1989), gave his latest film to Slamdance. “And Everything is Going Fine” is screening at the rival festival. I asked Sundance executive director John Cooper about this slight, and Cooper told me that the director never brought the film to his attention. When he did, Cooper said, the director responded that he was trying to “share the love, babe.”
I wrote a comment suggesting what the reason might have been. In 1995, Soderbergh submitted a film he co-produced, "The Daytrippers," to Sundance and was turned down. After the rejection, “The Daytrippers” went to the 1996 Slamdance, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, followed by awards at Toronto, Athens, and the National Board of Review, among other prizes. When it finally came out in 1997, it became one of the most commercially successful independent films of the year. He returned to Slamdance the following year with “Schizopolis.”
Personally, I think that Soderbergh isn’t spanking Sundance, he’s thanking Slamdance for giving “The Daytrippers” such a successful launch, not to mention the advantages of World Premiering his Spaulding Gray doc, “And Everything is Going Fine” at Slamdance, where it would be the Big Fish. That’s how I take his “share the love” comment.
Also, I was the publicist on “The Daytrippers,” and I don’t remember Steven cracking a sweat about the film not getting into Sundance. He was busy with two other films of his own (“Schizopolis” and his Spaulding Gray performance film, “Gray’s Anatomy”), he wasn’t petty, he believed in the film and moved on.
The one who got worked up into a self-righteous fury was me.
As it happened, in 1995, I wasn’t just the publicist for “The Daytrippers,” I was also the publicity consultant for the Sundance Institute. Not just the festival, but the whole kit-and-kaboodle Sundance, with all its programs. Maybe someday I’ll write about my ill-fated year with the Institute, but I will say that when Redford offered me this resume-embossing gig, I suspected it wasn’t something I’d be a wizard at. I’m not saying I don’t have confidence in my abilities as a publicist, just that institutions aren’t my strong suit as I don’t have an instinct for politics. But how could I say no? My vanity shook up like a snow globe when Redford expressed his faith in me.
One of the ways I proved I wasn’t worthy of the consultant job was to harangue Geoff Gilmore about how he was making a huge mistake by turning down “The Daytrippers.” It never occurred to me that it wasn’t right for me to use my access to Gilmore to lobby aggressively for another client.
Geoff and I often got into, shall we say, spirited discussions. He wasn’t afraid to have an argument. We’d have it out, but there’d be a resolution and the next day it was forgotten.
I tore into Geoff about Steven and what the festival owed him. I said that Greg Mottola, the future director of “Superbad” and “Adventureland,” was a big talent and that Geoff would regret not having launched him. I said that this was Parker Posey’s best role to date, and that people would see her in a new way after they saw it. I said that two of the other lead actors, Hope Davis and Liev Schreiber, were going to be big someday. I said that the movie was in the spirit of what Sundance was supposed to be all about. Greg had written a script and couldn’t get the money to make it, so Steven and co-producer Nancy Tenenbaum had said something like here’s 500 bucks, make it for that. The number was somewhat bigger than that, but Greg wrote a movie that could be made for very little. Among the people who signed on to play cameos in this labor of love were Campbell Scott, Marcia Gay Harden, and Stanley Tucci. And I kept on going, hoping to knock down his resistance with the sheer quantity of my arguments.
“You through?” Geoff asked. “Reid, nobody liked it. We all watched it and nobody liked it.”
That shut me up.
The Sundance programmers pick the films they like. It’s something so simple that it’s easy to forget. If Geoff responded to a heavy-duty lobbying effort like I was trying to make, he wouldn’t be doing his job. Because his job was… being Geoff.
Once I accepted that, all my arguments shrunk faster than George Costanza’s shmekel in the swimming pool. There was nothing left to say except:
“You are totally right.”
Gilmore, John Cooper, Trevor Groth, or any festival programmer at any festival, can’t presume to know how their tastes will stand up to history. That’s a weight others put on them and one that they don’t ask for. They have their tastes and they exercise them. Ultimately, the success of any festival rests on the foundation of the programmers’ tastes. Sundance is a very successful festival. Nothing more to be said.
“The Daytrippers” did just fine without getting into Sundance. It got a lot of great reviews, but they weren’t all great. It’s always that way. You can’t expect everybody to love you all the time if you want to make movies.
Getting into Sundance is an honor. Not being accepted is just a difference of opinion, and should be taken as such. People make a big mistake when they inflate a Sundance turndown into some kind of ultimate judgment. Real talent, if it persists, will out.
I think it’s good for the Sundance programmers that Soderbergh supports Slamdance. It takes some heat off them if Slamdance continues to exist. At a moment when some filmmakers might be standing in front of the Egyptian Theatre, brooding in the cold, it’s a blessing there’s a place where they can find shelter from their stormy thoughts:
The Treasure Mountain Inn.