• By: Keith Whittier

Ottawa Life goes to Sundance

A person's bucket list is a working document, when you cross a bunch of things off it is only natural that you are going to want to add new things. In the last few years, I have done many things on my list: I tried my hand at stand-up comedy, I went to England to see my favourite team, Manchester City, play, I even met one of my celebrity crushes, Jessica Chastain. Last December, I added a new item — to attend every major film festival in the world. So far, the only one I have gone to is the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). We have covered my TIFF excursions in detail in this magazine.

This week, I am adding the Sundance Film Festival to my list. The festival was founded in the late 70’s by Sterling Van Wagenen, who headed Robert Redford’s company Wildwood, and by John Earle. The festival has several goals including; showcasing strictly American-made films, highlighting the potential of independent film, and increasing visibility for filmmaking in Utah.

Today, it is regarded as the largest independent film festival in the US. So many amazing movies have debuted at Sundance. The Blair Witch Project, The Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs, 500 Days of Summer and Get Out, just to name a few.

The festival runs from January 23 through February 2, 2020 over three locations: Salt Lake City, the Sundance Mountain Resort and Park City, Utah. Robert Redford purchased the Sundance Resort and it has one theatre — It is in a ski resort. There is only one screen, but I am told you ‘have to go there’ as it’s Redford’s theatre.

Several screenings are scattered across Salt Lake City. This is great for those who don’t want to make the 45-minute or so trek to Park City.

Park City is the hub of the festival as most of the screenings take place there. Park City has a population of about 9,000 people and is a skiing community. (I will report back on how good the hot chocolate is!)

One of the first things I noticed was how pricey it is to stay in Park City. The average room is about $800 a night US, while staying in Salt Lake City is more reasonable at bout $100 a night. Many people I have come across stay in Salt Lake City and commute.

One thing that I do find amusing is how everyone keeps saying how cold it is. I suppose it’s all about perspective as many people are coming from warmer climates like California, so the 3o degrees in Salt Lake City and -2o in Park City may seem cold. Coming from Ottawa, I am looking forward to the heat wave.

As a member of press I am getting invites to parties and press lines but for me it is all about the movies.

With that in mind here are the movies I am most looking forward to at this years festival.

The Assistant
This film, directed by Kitty Green, comes in the shadow of #MeToo, as we focus on Jane, an assistant who deals with many degradations from her prominent entertainment executive boss. The film takes place over the course of a day and the trailer looks intense.

The Dissident
In October 2018, Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashogi entered the consulate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabian in Istanbul and never came out. He was brutally murdered, and this documentary explores his death.

The Glorias
This film starring Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore, and Janelle Monae focuses on the life of Gloria Steinem. I’m a fan of all three actresses and am looking forward to the film.

Regardless of whether you like her or not, Hillary Clinton is a fascinating woman. This is a docuseries that focuses on her life with unprecedented access to the former first lady. In addition to seeing this, I am looking forward to the Q&A with her after the screening.

Miss Americana
Another documentary, this one is of, arguably one of the top entertainment acts today, Taylor Swift. (Like seriously, why hasn’t she done a Super Bowl halftime show yet?) While I don’t consider myself a fan I do respect her accomplishments and I am looking forward to some of the 'behind the scenes' footage.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always
This could be the surprise hit of the festival. It’s the story of two teenage girls from rural Pennsylvania who travel to New York City to seek medial help after one gets pregnant. The trailer looks solid, I can’t wait.

Promising Young Woman
This movie looks good. Carey Mulligan plays a young woman who has been wronged in her past and who seeks revenge against men who cross her path. The trailer had me hooked and this immediately made my ‘must see’ list.

Run Sweetheart Run
Can. . .Not. . .Wait for this one. As part of the festival’s Midnight program this focuses on a bad blind date gone very, very wrong. A single mom is on a blind date and then realizes her date is a lot more sinister than she could ever imagine. Looks like a great thriller. We will see if it delivers.

Set in the chaotic aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq. We meet UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mallo during one of the most intense missions of his career. One draw for this film, for me, was Ana de Armas. Her career is really taking off with great performances in Knock Knock, Knives Out and the anticipation for the new James Bond move, No Time To Die, is off the charts.

Sylvie’s Love
It’s the 50’s and Sylvie works in her father’s record store as she awaits her fiancé to return from the war until a sweet saxophonist named Robert walks in and turns her head. Don’t do it Sylvie! This film starring Tessa Thompson, Eva Longoria and Tone Bell looks very intriguing.

I’ll be seeing 20 movies in five days . . .  and can’t wait to bring you coverage from the Sundance Film Festival.