Scroll To Top

The queer side of

The queer side of


In this first of three installments, The Advocate's arts and entertainment editor takes us along on his whirlwind trip to the Sundance Film Festival. It's all about the movies, yes--and who you meet at brunch, or in the men's room.

The Advocate's arts and entertainment editor, Alonso Duralde, headed to the Sundance Film Festival for a busy four-day stay that would get him and the magazine first glimpses at some of the LGBT movies heading to theaters in 2006, from the Robin Williams-Armistead Maupin film The Night Listener to microbudget documentaries like Small Town Gay Bar. With this online diary, Duralde takes us along on his whirlwind trip through the screening rooms, restaurants, parties, and, um, facilities of Park City, Utah. This is part one of three installments.


Given my proclivity for being devastated by the low temperatures and high altitude of Park City, Utah, my mantra for the past several weeks has been "I will not get sick at Sundance. I will not get sick at Sundance." I now realize I should have been more specific, as I have become sick the day before I leave for the mammoth film festival. Nothing contagious, but my sinuses are draining everywhere they shouldn't, and I'm going to have to down some major amounts of Tylenol Sinus before I can get onto an airplane without my head going all Scanners on me.


5 a.m.: Wake up and get dressed to go to the airport.

7:30 a.m.: Take off for Salt Lake City. On the flight, I have a stroke of incredible luck: The couple sitting next to me are showbiz people who are actually charming--he's a writer, she's with one of the bigger production houses--and the producer-lady lends me an incredible piece of in-flight reading, a script for a movie that my friends and I can't wait to see. That's right, it's Snakes on a Plane, starring Samuel L. Jackson and...well, a bunch of snakes. It's a title that's a pitch, and it's a brilliant concept. Tragically, the stewardess does not land the plane in the script I read, but it was a 2003 draft, so I can hope that this dreadful oversight has since been corrected.

11-ish: Land in SLC. The showbiz couple invites me to hop onto their shuttle van to Park City, a trip that takes about 45 minutes. As we arrive in Park City, I ask the van driver if Sundance is something that the locals look forward to every year. "Oh, God, no," he replies. "We hate it." And I can totally understand why--imagine every obnoxious me-me-my-needs-now person in film, television, music, and the Internet crammed into one tiny ski resort town, making hideous demands and wearing hideous ski outfits. That's Sundance.

To be fair, of course, Sundance is also a great place to see exciting new independent films from around the world. But now that it's become a destination for Paris Hilton and her ilk, it's harder and harder to get through all the hype and corporate sponsorship to actually get to the movies. I still remember coming to my first Sundance in 1995, where there was one party every night where you would see everyone from the movie stars to the makers of short films, mingling and dancing to some horrible local wedding band. Now there's a premiere party for practically every movie, and there are any number of parties each night hosted by car companies and magazines and vodkas. And since Paris might be there, they get crowded and pushy and obnoxious. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

1 p.m.: Settle into the condo I'm sharing with filmmaker-historian extraordinaire Jenni Olson. I note on my schedule that there's a press screening at 1:30 of The World According to Sesame Street, one of the more buzzed-about documentaries in the festival. I figure maybe I can walk down to headquarters at the Marriott, pick up my press credentials, and make it to the theater, albeit a little bit late.

2:15 p.m.: Who was I kidding? The Sundance press office is well-organized, but there's just so much to take in. By the time I get my badge photo taken, check my mailbox, and look at forms to get hard tickets to future screenings, it's, well, 2:15. There must have been a fairly lengthy short film beforehand, though, because I wind up catching most of Sesame Street, and it merits the good advance word-of-mouth. The film looks at how Sesame Workshop imports the beloved kids' show to the rest of the world, and the specificity they try to bring to each country where the show is aired. It touches upon the controversy around Kami, the HIV-positive Muppet character featured in the South African version, but the film manages to generate genuine tension and suspense in its final third: Will the show get on the air in Bangladesh? Moviewise, I'm off to a good start.

4 p.m.: Healthwise, not so much. My sinuses have been draining down the back of my throat, taking away most of my voice and making the remaining amount of it sound like Tallulah Bankhead. And not to take anything away from Miss Bankhead, but throaty doesn't really work for me. I nurse a hot tea with honey on Main Street and meet up with publicist Jim Dobson, one of those charmers who seems to know everything that's going on in all places at once. He introduces me to Malcolm Ingram, director of the documentary Small Town Gay Bar, and his boyfriend, Chris. I'll be seeing the film later in the festival, but I tell Ingram that I enjoyed his first film, Drawing Flies. It becomes immediately apparent that he doesn't hear this much, and we bond instantly.

4:45 p.m.: OK, I have a few hours to kill before seeing the Tony Kushner documentary at 8 p.m. I could either take a much-needed nap or try to fight the crowds at the ASCAP Music Cafe when Rufus Wainwright performs at 6 p.m. And I do love me some Rufus.

5:15 p.m.: Zzzzzzzzzzz.

7:45 p.m.: As I walk into the Yarrow, a ski lodge that has several ballrooms converted into movie theaters for the duration of Sundance, I walk past indie starlet Robin Tunney. She and Alexis Bledel are totally turning into the same person.

8 p.m.: Oscar-winner Frieda Lee Mock's Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner. Like Kushner's work, the film is provocative, witty, and angry. The film's timeline cleverly works in two directions, showing us his life before Angels in America (growing up in Lake Charles, La., before moving to New York as a Columbia undergrad) and after (writing Homebody/Kabul, Only We Who Guard the Mystery..., and Caroline, or Change, among others). One odd thing--Mock shows us Kushner's wedding with his partner, Mark Harris, but we never hear anything else about Harris for the entire film. He occasionally appears in the background, reading or tending house, but he is never interviewed, and Kushner never talks about him, how they met, his importance to his life, anything. If Harris didn't want to participate in the documentary, fine. But including the wedding and then otherwise not acknowledging his existence is rather jarring.

9:45 p.m.: In the Yarrow men's room, of all places, I run into my old friend John Polly, who's now an editor at Genre. We head over to the Queer Lounge party.

10:05 p.m.: A recent addition to Sundance, the Queer Lounge has immediately established itself as the place to be. During the day, it hosts panels (I'll be doing one Sunday) and offers space for queer (and queer-friendly) Sundance participants to mingle, schmooze, and relax. And at night, the Lounge parties. This particular party is happening in two rooms, and both are rather full. John introduces me to some of the CBS News on Logo folks. I finally run into my roomie Jenni, and she introduces me to some happening lesbian producers. I see my friend Bob King, who directed Psycho Beach Party, and scads of other gay and lesbian filmmakers and publicists. And then I realize that, nap aside, I've been up since 5 a.m. and am fighting off a sinus infection. So Jenni and I decide to bail at 11 and go crash at our pad. Which we do.


8 a.m.: Wake up and get myself together to attend the PlanetOut brunch, which Jenni tells me is at 10 a.m. There has been an official-ish Queer Brunch hosted by Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, on the first Sunday of Sundance for the last decade or so, but this year we're getting two. Being as how I've only ever previously attended Sundance during the festival's second half--when it's less crowded and less social and more about going to movies--this will be my first time to attend either.

9:30 a.m.: Pop by Queer Lounge to see what's happening. They aren't open yet, but I run into John Polly and Logo's vice president of programming and scheduling, Marc Leonard, whom I met last night. They're looking for some wireless Internet service, and they insist that the brunch isn't until 11 a.m. Joining us is filmmaker Lesli Klainberg, whom I just ran into on the bus--she's the director of Fabulous: The Story of Queer Cinema, which will be premiering at the Berlin and Sarasota festivals before airing on IFC in July. She and queer mover-and-shaker Howard Bragman, who seems to be a much busier publicist after his "retirement" a while back, both think the brunch is at 10:30 a.m. Oy.

10:15 a.m.: Arrive at brunch after a taxing climb up Main Street. If you've never been to Park City, you may not appreciate the onerousness of this task. Main Street is, basically, a mountain. And you're expected to climb it constantly without the assistance of sherpas. Since almost everything associated with the festival has some sort of corporate sponsor--there's even an Airborne lounge, where flu-prone industry insiders can avail themselves of fizzy vitamin goodness--I hereby suggest that the makers of Breathe Right nasal strips sponsor oxygen stations, placed 50 yards apart on Main Street, so that weary Sundancers can stop and take a much-needed hit of O2. But I digress.

The brunch is in full swing, and Jim Dobson is, of course, working the front door. I meet some PlanetOut folks whom I've only heretofore known as voices on the telephone, and then I see...well, everyone it seems. This one restaurant is currently holding a ludicrous number of queer journalists, filmmakers, festival directors, publicists, you name it. If the proverbial bomb went off in this place, it would be a major setback to the gay agenda, believe me.

1 p.m.: Leave brunch, and face dilemma: Screenings are staggered throughout the day, but it's hard to work out a schedule where you can get to and from places in time. Right now, for example, there's a 4 p.m. reception that I've RSVP'd to, and there aren't any screenings that will start early enough to get me out in time to make this party. In years past, I've spent entire days in the dark, seeing four, five, even six movies in one day. But this year, attending the first half of the festival, I decide I'm going to network. I'm going to be schmoozy. I'm going to pass out cards and find out the good dirt and generally work the room like a madman. But to do so, I have to kill the next few hours. Thankfully, I run into Malcolm and Chris again, and we proceed to cruise up and down Main Street (panting all the way) in search of snacks and free stuff. Our big jackpot is the Aquafina Lounge, because it's next to impossible to stay properly hydrated at this altitude. We try the FlavorSplash varieties, fill our pockets with bottles of water, and even get some lip-hydrating gel for good measure.

4:05 p.m.: Arrive at party. Holy crap--who are these people? The only person I recognize is a Famous Lesbian Hotshot Producer, who always gives me the "go away" vibes and never remembers who I am, even though I first met her some 15 years ago. And she's three-deep in ass-kissers, so I don't even try to get over to her. Forget networking and schmoozing; I'm just not cut out for this.

4:30 p.m.: Meet up with Malcolm and Chris and Gay Bar producer Matt Gissing at a Mexican restaurant at the bottom of Main. I figure I've got enough time to grab a quick bite before heading to the screening of The Night Listener at the massive Eccles Theater. When I open the door to the restaurant I see many of the faces in the place turn to me with excited expectancy, only to look downcast and disappointed when they realize that I am not, as it turns out, a Celebrity. The fact that the exact same thing happened at the party I just left--on top of watching a group of people excitedly surround an SUV on Main Street because Tommy Lee was in it--makes me officially fed up with the star culture at Sundance. But at least I've got some delicious tacos coming.

5:15 p.m.: No, I don't. The waitress apologizes, since apparently our order never actually went through, so I tell her to go ahead and take my tacos off, since I've got to go. I dash over to catch a bus to the Eccles, but traffic in downtown Park City is hideous and we're crawling. Come on..., I think, I can't miss this screening. I have to do a panel with the writers and director tomorrow at Queer Lounge.

5:58 p.m.: Finally, finally, I make it to the Eccles. Only they're not sure I can get in. TLA Video publicist Lewis Tice, Jenni Olson, and I are all standing in the lobby, tensely waiting to see if they can find tickets for us. "This is the moment they should make a movie about," says Jenni. "Waiting to hear. It's like a disaster movie."

"Who will survive? And what will become of them?" I intone, quoting an old movie poster. She laughs, and I continue, "And this is Hell, Upside Down."

We get in, literally at the last second. The house lights are dimming as we make our way to the last remaining seats in the balcony.

7:35 p.m.: As the credits being to roll, I run outside to the shuttle back to Main Street. Yet one more arduous hike later, I make it to the dinner that the Here TV cable network is hosting for John Waters's series, "Movies That Will Corrupt You." Waters is an icon, but he's also someone I've gotten to know a bit over the years, so it's nice to have time to chat. We talk about his past and upcoming art shows, his upcoming evening with Marguerite Duras in New York, and his interview with Dutch gay magazine Butt, in which he noted, "I love bears, but their leaders need to develop a sense of humor." I tell him about rubbing certain bears' fur the wrong way with a satirical piece we ran in The Advocate called "Bear or Straight?" and Waters noted, "Oh, but that's perfect. Because most straight men in their 40s are bears without even knowing it." Paul Colichman and the other Here bigwigs give me good off-the-record dish about queer TV, and I silently vow only to network at events where I'm guaranteed to know people.

9:30 p.m.: Despite the dinner, I'm still feeling pretty crappy. I call several friends with whom I'd made tentative plans and get their voice mails. So then I make a decision: If I hear from someone before I reach the bottom of Main Street, I'll go hit the Night Listener and Queer Lounge parties with whoever calls me. If no one calls me by then, I'm calling it a night.

9:38 p.m.: I get a call, but too late, I'm already on the shuttle bus. Only we hit a car. Or a car hits us. It's not clear. In any event, we all have to get off the bus and walk back to the shuttle stop and catch the next one. I take it to Albertsons, where I cross paths with Lili Taylor, talking animatedly. At Sundance, this counts as a major star sighting. I buy Gatorade and bubble bath--because tonight is about relaxing, and my tub at home is a disaster--and hop onto another shuttle back to where I'm staying. And here's where I know that I've definitely taken myself out of the Sundance loop for the evening: The next bus I get is empty. Perhaps you have to come to Sundance to appreciate the oddness of this fact. I mean, the buses here are generally packed to Calcutta levels. To be on a bus by yourself here is unheard of. It's impossible. It's the freakin' Omega Man. I will tell fellow Sundance folks about this later and be stared at, agog. But for now, I'm soaking in a hot tub--and I know at the moment my first foot goes under the water that I've made the right choice--and getting some sleep. Good night.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Alonso Duralde