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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

From NYC to Sundance: Madeleine Olnek, 'Hold-Up'


[This article is part of an ongoing series profiling New York films and filmmakers at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for other features in the series.]
You might call it luck: A rookie filmmaker gets her seven-minute short accepted to Sundance on her first try. Or you could say she earned it, just through summoning the will to tackle the arduous application process alone.
“I’m not good with any device with buttons,” said Madeleine Olnek, a way-Off Broadway playwright, director and Columbia film student whose comedy Hold-Up nabbed a slot among this year’s festival shorts. “Sundance had an online application, and it actually took me a long time. I swear I typed an essay that disappeared. It retained all this other information, but when I went back to work on the essay, like Brigadoon, it was all gone.”
In the end, her facility with a camera–not to mention that harsh mistress comedy–was all Olnek really needed. Hold-Up won the Short Film Audience Award at New York’s New Festival for its tale of a woman who persuades her fiance to join her in convenience store robbery. Of course, as with all successful short films, nothing is ever that simple, and friends like indie producer George LaVoo (Real Women Have Curves) found the twists suitably hilarious enough to encourage Olnek to send it around.
“That was the first I thought of it,” she told The Reeler. “I mean, honestly, when you’re making anything–plays, movies–you should send them out. Even to the best places, however slight your chances are. You just have to put things in the mail.”
Besides shopping for warmer socks and checking the Sundance alumni tip sheet for other useful suggestions (EX: Allow for a period of altitude sickness by arriving a day early), Olnek said she was preparing for Sundance mostly by maintaining a sense of perspective. “It’s different for the feature filmmakers than it is for the shorts, even though the shorts people feel a lot of pressure because they think it’s their big chance,” she said. “But you know what’s hard? I think because so often when you’re involved in a creative field, you’re outside the normal 9-to-5 thing. There’s less of a sort of structure for a filmmaker’s career. So when these successful moments come along, you can really be destablized by them. And put a lot of pressure on them and think that this is it. ‘This is my chance.’ You know? You have to take advantage of the opoortuntity but at the same time, not decide it’s going to be the last thing that ever happens to you.”
As such, Olnek plans to take advantage of the standard mix of networking, panels and screenings without running herself too ragged, but instead savoring the opportunity. “All anyone wants is to get into Sundance,” she said. “Any filmmaker. It’s a kind of encouragement that you just really need to keep going–how inspiring it is to be chosen for an honor like this, you know? It really means a lot.”

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“Why put it in a box? This is the number one problem I have—by the way it’s a fair question, I’m not saying that—with this kind of festival situation is that there’s always this temptation to classify the movie immediately and if you look at it—and I’ve tried to warn my fellow jurors of this—directors and movie critics are the worst people to judge movies! Directors are always thinking, “I could do that.” Critics are always saying, “This part of the movie is like the 1947 version and this part…” And it’s like, “Fuck! Just watch the movie and try and absorb it and not compare it to some other fucking movie and put it in a box!” So I think the answer’s both and maybe neither, I don’t know. That’s for you to see and criticize me for or not.”
~ James Gray

“I have long defined filmmaking and directing in particular as just a sort of long-term act of letting go,” she said. “It’s honestly just gratifying that people are sort of reapproaching or reassessing the film. I like to just remind everyone that the movie is still the same — it’s the same movie, it’s the movie we always made, and it was the movie we always wanted to make. And maybe it just came several years too early.”
~ Karyn Kusama