By Brady Betzel
I’ve always wanted to attend the Sundance Film Festival, and my trip last month did not disappoint. Not only is it an iconic industry (and pop-culture) event, but the energy surrounding it is palpable.
Once I got to Park City and walked Main Street — with the sponsored stores (Canon and Lyft among others) and movie theaters, like the Egyptian — I started to feel an excitement and energy that I haven’t felt since I was making videos in high school and college… when there were no thoughts of limits and what I should or shouldn’t do.
A certain indescribable nervousness and love started to bubble up. Sitting in the luxurious Park City Burger King with Steve Hullfish (Art of the Cut) and Joe Herman (Cinemontage) before my second screening of Sundance 2020: Dinner in America, I was thinking how I was so lucky to be in a place that is packed with creatives. It sounds cliché and trite, but it really is reinvigorating to surround yourself with positive energy — especially if you can get caught up in cynicism like me.
It brought me back to my college classes, taught by Daniel Restuccio (another postPerspective writer), at California Lutheran University, where we would cut out pictures from magazines, draw pictures, blow up balloons, eat doughnuts and do whatever we could to get our ideas out in the open.
While Sundance occasionally felt like an amalgamation of the thirsty-hipster Coachella crowd mixed with a high school video production class (but with million-dollar budgets), it still had me excited to create. Sundance 2020 in Park City was a beautiful resurgence of ideas and discussions about how we as an artistic community can offer accessibility to everyone and anyone who wants to tell their own story on screen.
After arriving in Park City, my first stop was a panel hosted by Adobe called “Empowering Every Voice in Film and the World.” Maybe it was a combination of the excitement of Sundance and the discussion about accessibility, but it really got me thinking. The panel was expertly hosted by Adobe’s Meagan Keane and included producer, director Yance Ford (Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, Oscar-nominated for Strong Island); editor Eileen Meyer (Crip Camp); editor Stacy Goldate (Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen); and director Crystal Kayiza (See You Next Time).
I walked away feeling inspired and driven to increase my efforts in accessibility. Eileen said one of her biggest opportunities came from the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship, a year-long fellowship for emerging documentary editors.
Yance drove home the idea of inclusivity and re-emphasized the idea of access to equipment. But it’s not simply about access — you also have to make a great story and figure out things like distribution. I was really struck by all the speakers on-stage, but Yance really spoke to me. He feels like the voice we need when representing marginalized groups and to see more content from these creatives. The more content we see the better.
Crystal spoke about the community needing to tell stories that don’t necessarily have standard plot points and stakes. The idea to encourage people to create their stories and for those that are in power to help and support these stories and trust the filmmakers, regardless of whether you identify with the ideas and themes.
One screening I attended was Rebuilding Paradise, directed by Ron Howard. He was at the premiere, along with some of the people who lost everything in the Paradise, California fires. In the first half of November 2018, there were several fires that raged out of control in California. One surrounded the city of Simi Valley and worked its way toward the Pacific Coast. (It was way too close for my comfort in Simi Valley. We eventually evacuated but were fine.)
Another fire was in the town of Paradise, which burnt almost the entire city to the ground. Watching Rebuilding Paradise filled me with great sadness for those who lost family members and their homes. Some of the “found footage” was absolutely breathtaking. One in particular was of a father racing out of what appears to be hell, surrounded by flames, in his car with his child asking if they were going to die. Absolutely incredible and heart wrenching.
Dinner in America
Another film I saw was Dinner in America, as referenced earlier in this piece. I love a good dark comedy/drama, so when I got a ticket to Adam Carter Rehmeier’s Dinner in America I was all geared up. Little did I know it would start off with a disgruntled 20-something throwing a chair through a window and lighting the front sidewalk on fire. Kudos to composer John Swihart, who took a pretty awesome opening credit montage and dropped the heat with his soundtrack.
Dinner in America is a mid-‘90s Napoleon Dynamite cross-pollinated with the song “F*** Authority” by Pennywise. Coincidentally, Swihart composed the soundtrack for Napoleon Dynamite. Seriously, the soundtrack to Dinner in America is worth the ticket price alone, in my opinion. It adds so much to one of the main character’s attitude. The parallel editing mixed with the fierce anti-authoritarianism love story, lived by Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs, make for a movie you probably won’t forget.
During the Q&A at the end, writer, director and editor Rehmeier described how he essentially combined two ideas that led to Dinner in America. As I watched the first 20 minutes, it felt like two separate movies, but once it came together it really paid off. Much like the cult phenomenon Napoleon Dynamite, Dinner in America will resonate with a wide audience. It’s worth watching when it comes to a theater (or streaming platform) near you. In the meantime, check out my video interview with him.
During Sundance, Adobe announced an upcoming feature for Premiere called “Productions.” While in Park City, I got a small demo of the new Productions at Adobe’s Sundance Production House. It took about 15 minutes before I realized that Adobe has added the one feature that has set Avid Media Composer apart for over 20 years — bin locking. Head’s up Avid, Adobe is about to release multi-user workflow that is much easier to understand and use than on previous iterations of Premiere.
The only thing that caught me off guard was the nomenclature — Productions and Projects. Productions is the title, but really a “Production” is a project, and what they call a “project” is a bin. If you’re familiar with Media Composer, you can create a project and inside have folders and bins. Bins are what house media links, sequences, graphics and everything else. In the new Productions update, a “Production” will house all of your “Projects” (i.e. a Project with bins).
Additionally, you will be able to lock “Projects.” This means that in a multi-user environment (which can be something like a SAN or even an Avid Nexis), a project and media can live on the shared server and be accessed by multiple users. These users can be named and identified inside of the Premiere Preferences. And much like Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, you can update the “projects” when you want to — individually or all projects at once. On its face, Productions looks like the answer to what every editor has said is one of the only reasons Avid is still such a powerhouse in “Hollywood” — the ability to work relatively flawlessly among tons of editors simultaneously. If what I saw works the way it should, Adobe is looking to take a piece of the multi-user environment pie Avid has controlled for so long.
In the end, the Sundance Film Festival 2020 in Park City was likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. From seeing celebrities, meeting other journalists, getting some free beanies and hand warmers (it was definitely not 70 degrees like California), to attending parties hosted by Canon and Light Iron — Sundance can really reinvigorate your filmmaking energy.
It’s hard to keep going when you get burnt out by just how hard it is to succeed and break through the barriers in film and multimedia creation. But seeing indie films and meeting like-minded creatives, you can get excited to create your own story. And you realize that there are good people out there, and sometimes you just have to fly to Utah to find them.
Walking down Main Street, I found a coffee shop named Atticus Coffee and Tea House. My oldest son’s name is Atticus, so I naturally had to stop in and get him something, I ended up getting him a hat and me a coffee. It was good. But what I really did was sit out front pretending to shoot b-roll and eavesdropping on some conversations. It really is true that being around thoughtful energy is contagious. And while some parts of Sundance feel like a hipster-popularity contest, there are others who are there to improve and absorb culture from all around.
The 2020 Sundance Film Festival’s theme in my eyes was to uplift other people’s stories. As Harper Lee wrote in “To Kill a Mockingbird” when Atticus Finch is talking with Scout: “First of all, if you learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on shows like Life Below Zero and The Shop. He is also a member of the Producer’s Guild of America. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.