sundance

It’s A Director Showdown At Sundance’s Opening Night Party

The indie film world converges to kick off the 2013 festival.

Sonia Recchia / Getty Images

The buzz (mostly positive) was trickling in from Sundance 2013’s first big premiere, Sebastian Silva’s Crystal Fairy, as attendees gathered at the cavernous Legacy Lodge to officially kick off the event with the annual “Day One” party.

Sundance is not only for filmmakers whose works are in competition; it’s a family gathering for the entire independent film world, from the distributors looking for their next project and agents hunting for their next star to aspiring filmmakers spreading the word about their low-budget or no-budget projects. On the coat-check line, I met one of those aspirants, a documentarian named Cassidy Rast, who had just returned from Guatemala, where last month she visited the Mayan ruins to record the festivities for what turned out to not be the end of the world. Having spent some time before working in the Mayan culture, Rast explained that the whole end of the world thing was never the Mayans’ prophecy (lest we devalue their punditry a notch for the missed bet), but was instead a big media creation. At the ceremonies, she was appalled to find the ancient ruins lit up in “purple Milli Vanilli lights” in an event a Guatemalan government generally hostile to the Mayans rigged to wring some publicity out of the date.

These are things you talk about standing on line at the Sundance Festival.

Upstairs, guests snacked on duck confit sliders and blueberry popcorn while a DJ played “Twist and Shout” to a fairly packed dance floor.

To one side, a pair of documentarians squared off to amiably discuss their uncanny history of career intersections. Director R.J. Cutler — whose World According to Dick Cheney premieres tonight — chatted with Brett Morgen, director of past a Sundance opening night selection, Chicago Seven, now back as a member of the documentary jury. While seeming the best of friends (Morgen explains that Cutler is the most lowbrow highbrow person at the festival, while he himself is the most highbrow lowbrow), they have managed to step on each other’s toes almost as a rule throughout their careers. Both have made Oliver North documentaries (The Perfect Candidate for Cutler, Ollie’s Army for Morgen) and media icon bio-docs (Cutler’s The September Issue and Morgen’s The Kid Stays in the Picture). Each pursued high school–related projects around the same time, and, Cutler notes, he even as a teenager spent time among and writing about the yippies whom Morgen would later document in Chicago Seven.

The laughter over the coincidences went on until Morgen began waxing about city scenes photographer Gregory Crewdson, whose work he loves and who inspired Morgen’s thinking about how to shoot upcoming projects. Maintaining his poker face, Cutler reached for his iPhone and showed off the images that had recently been inspiring him. The photographer, of course, was Crewdson.

It’s bad enough to share the same subjects, but when two filmmakers at Sundance learn they share the same obscure influences, only appeals to the gods of art can explain such mischief.

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