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Sundance Part Deux Day 7

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First thing this morning I went to Sundance’s Salt Lake City Box Office to try exchanging tickets for a different show time for a movie called “Arlen Faber” because the tickets we had for the next day conflicted with another event we wanted to attend. Unfortunately the other screening was sold out, and after our previous experience not quite getting in with the wait-list, we decided we’d rather go for a sure thing.

Tickets were available to a movie called “Endgame” a political thriller about the end of Apartheid in South Africa. It was showing in a theater in Ogden, which is about 45 minutes away from Salt Lake City — making it a solid hour and a half away from Park City. The shows there often don’t sell out because of the distance. I’d never been to Ogden, so I thought it would also be interesting to see a different festival venue.

We had some time to kill before heading out, so we decided to go to the Sundance Cafe, which was within walking distance of the hotel. The Cafe is actually The Beehive Tea Room, a classy little coffee and tea shop, with several rooms of Victorian era furniture and décor. The festival catalog explains that it was decorated by a Hollywood set designer. We ordered a pot of tea and scones, and enjoyed the quiet atmosphere. After we walked back to the hotel it was time to grab some food and head out to Ogden.

On the way there, we speculated about Ogden. Why would they use a venue so far from the main part of the festival? Was Ogden perhaps another resort town like Park City? When we finally go there it became clear that was not the case. Where we arrived was actually a pretty run down part of the city, lots of empty buildings and boarded up windows. As the GPS reported that we were getting close, I got a little nervous, thinking, “Do I really want to park my car around here?” But in the last couple of blocks of the drive we hit the revitalized part of the downtown area. A huge, state-of-the-art cinema with LCD displays around the outside of the building along with an equally advanced-looking sports venue weren’t far off. The theater we were heading for wasn’t in the high-tech multiplex we saw, but just down the road. This was Ogden’s Egyptian Theater. The outside was impressive enough, but as we entered the lobby, I thought, “If nothing else, it was worth coming to see the building itself.”

As we approached the auditorium of the theater, I noticed organ music playing … we stepped into the auditorium and my breath was absolutely taken away. I have a special place in my heart for old theaters. The Augusta Theatre in my own hometown was a huge part of influencing me to get into filmmaking as a career. But the live organ music playing some classics of the silent film genre, including some of Charlie Chaplin’s own compositions, left me in complete awe. I would guess that the theater was built during the 1920s but has obviously been well taken care of and restored. One day I hope to have my own film play here. Then the movie started.

“Endgame” stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Johnny Lee Miller and William Hurt. None of the actors were in attendance, most of whom we had run across downtown over the last few days, but the director was on hand to introduce the movie. The movie felt a lot like “Syriana.” The musical underscore was extremely similar to that film and the shaky camera work and jump-cut filled editing seemed copied almost directly. This movie however really lacked the rhythm and I suppose what you might call “the poetry” of “Syriana.” They got the words right but not the music. What they ended up with is a movie that is basically a bunch of guys sitting around a table talking — interrupted by an occasional car chase or explosion. I think the film made a mistake in trying to portray Nelson Mandela. Because of his imprisonment, his interaction with the other characters is limited, and because of our familiarity with him, the actor playing the part has a real challenge in making us forget that he doesn’t much resemble the man. Another challenge is the South African accents. Most of the actors pull this off well enough — but William Hurt’s accent, which may be accurate, is at times almost impossible to understand. A good 30 percent of what he said was lost to me.

Part of the Sundance experience for a budding filmmaker is to encounter films that don’t meet your expectations. In an odd way, it is encouraging — because if you’re crazy enough to be in this business, you’re also crazy enough to believe you could do better. And surely if your film is better than this, you too could one day be up on that stage taking the Q&A after the movie.

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