It’s pretty simple, really.
I have been covering Sundance aggressively for all but 2 years of the last 17. (The exceptions were running another festival that launched shortly after Sundance and the birth of my son.) I took people up to work with me and write and more recently, produce video interviews, for most of those years, even when I really wasn’t budgeted for this. Back in 2000 and 2001, we produced daily print editions (for Slamdance too) and in that second year, we had a staff of 15 in Utah to cover. In the last 5 years, I have averaged 27 half-hour interviews, mostly shot in 4 days, each year. (The schedule is mostly because Sundance is so front-loaded. I wish it were otherwise. We’d shoot more and more effectively.)
I have spent a ton of time, money, and effort covering this festival.
There have been Express Passes for years, traditionally handed out to the largest media outlets and media friends of the festival. There have been moments where I fronted the biggest internet outlets of those times, but not anymore. But I do retain a certain sway.
In the last few years, Sundance has gotten a bit looser with the Express Passes. Others have mentioned to me that this person or that new-ish outlet or whomever was bequeathed with one or more and that I should be upset about this. But I never complained. After all, even though I needed access to the first screenings of many of the films I was covering—because the timing of access depended on it—publicists made sure that I got where I wanted and needed to go. And in spite of the perception that some have of me, I am not a big demander (unless I feel I am being disrespected… that makes me cranky).
So after a few years of this, standing side-by-side with colleagues who got to walk into the theater long before I did, free to hang out and chat because, really, their schedules aren’t so demanding and they don’t have to do the ticket dance… a few years of publicists seeming astonished that I didn’t have an Express Pass… a few years of standing in parking lots for midnight shows trying to retrieve a publicist to come down and get me into a theater at the last second so I could do an interview with their talent at 9am… and honestly, a few years of spending too much of my time giving the issue a second thought during my 18-hour days of work (without dinners, parties, or swag), I asked for an Express Pass.
And I was given the boilerplate answers… all of which indicated to me that I would not be getting one. No personal explanation or excuses. Same old stuff, albeit directly from someone who I thought I was a little friendly with.
And indeed, there was none forthcoming.
So… I could have just soldiered through, dropping another $20k+ on another year of covering a festival that doesn’t really much care whether I am there or not. Or I could skip it.
I know that many people—who go to Sundance and who do not—would love to be in my advantaged position as it stands. I am very fortunate. And I work my ass off and my business spends quite a lot of money every year to live that advantage. I have asked virtually nothing of Sundance in all of these years, except for a press badge worn by me and thousands of other journalists. And perhaps that’s the problem. I haven’t buddied up to the right people, hung out at parties with the programmers, or sponsored something. But that is not my way. I have no disrespect for those who cover festivals this way… but all-in-all, I would rather see another movie than spend a couple of hours having dinner (at least before Day 6 or 7).
My other reality is that having shot over 220 half-hours this year (2013), I am quite aware that I could have shot everything I shot at Sundance last year after Sundance. As it is, for instance, I shot 5 of the Oscar doc shortlist films that premiered at Sundance at Sundance last year… and the 6 others since… and 1 of them 2 additional times after Sundance (Blackfish). My responsibility as a journalist will not be diminished by not shooting at Sundance this year.
But it won’t be as fun. It won’t capture the moment of excitement that many filmmakers have at Sundance. It won’t be as breathless.
I have spent a lot of years seeing new talent develop right before my eyes at Sundance. That’s thrilling… and a privilege.
I am profoundly sad about this choice. But I don’t feel like I have a choice. I don’t think I deserve to be taken for granted. Certainly not at these prices. I know what the boundaries are meant to be. I don’t expect a white pass or a lot of interview time in Cannes. I don’t chase movie stars very much in Toronto. I never put on my tuxedo in Marrakech. And if I go to Berlin for the first time in February, I will be subject to the whims of that festival. But being a cuckold in Park City? No thanks.
Anyway… this too shall pass.
(If you are looking for a great 4-bedroom house, right next to The Library during the festival, my long-time landlord is still looking for a tenant. Drop me a line and I’ll give you his e-mail address.)
I just wanted to get this on the record. I am not asking anyone to care or discuss it or speak to the authorities on my behalf. I am aware that there will be jeers. But I have answered the question a number of times already and am saddened by explaining.
And as it turns out, there may be a couple of writers from MCN at Sundance 2013 anyway. Funny world.