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Hoping “˜Oedipus’ sees success

By Sommer Mathis

January 28, 2004 9:00 pm

Before every screening at this year’s Sundance Film
Festival, which concluded last Sunday, a series of “Sundance
Myths,” performed by Muppet-style versions of artsy
independent filmmakers, introduced each film.

For example, “Sundance Myth #9,” was
“You’ll Be Fine Up There,” and showed a
“director” puppet standing onstage after the credits of
his movie had rolled, desperately hoping to be asked some questions
during his obligatory Q-and-A session, and finding nary a single
hand raised.

“Sundance Myth #4,” “You Can Never Be Too
Early,” had the same director and his “producer”
shivering in the cold, early morning Utah air, waiting hours before
a film was to begin in the hopes of attaining tickets.

While these short skits were intended mostly to amuse festival
audiences, they were generally received with hearty laughter
because myths about Sundance really do abound. The moment you tell
anyone who has been there that you’ll be heading to Park
City, be prepared to get an earfull of popular legends, many of
which may be far from the truth.

Besides cautionary tales about how hard it is to get into
screenings, or even how hard it can be to get an alcoholic beverage
that isn’t completely watered down, the biggest myth was at
least partially debunked for me during my time at the legendary
independent film festival. For filmmakers, getting accepted into
Sundance does not necessarily mean your career is about to take a
giant leap forward.

My friend Jason Wishnow directed a short film that was in
competition in this year’s festival. It’s an
eight-minute, stop-motion animated version of Sophocles’
“Oedipus,” performed by vegetables.

It took him a year to shoot it, frame by frame, with a still
camera. And it is quite possibly the most impressive thing I have
ever had the pleasure of witnessing a close friend bring into
being. The guy got folks at Industrial Light and Magic to do the
post-production for basically nothing, based solely on having seen
a few of his dailies.

It is a hilarious, gorgeous-looking film. And when he told me
back in November that he got into Sundance, I felt sure that the
moment he arrived he would be inking a deal to direct a major
motion picture, coming soon to a theater near you.

So maybe I was being more than a little naive. Yes, getting into
Sundance is a big deal (Wishnow often compared it to the college
application process: hoping for the fat envelope in the mail,
instead of the thin one; going to orientation and realizing there
are an awful lot of other people who are smarter and more talented
than you, etc.), but with 70-some-odd short films in competition,
and only one or two awards that will go to any of them, it can be
pretty tough to stand out in the crowd.

The truth was, “Oedipus” did stand out. I had more
than a few experiences overhearing people who had just seen it
talking about how amazing they thought it was. Two guys from
Miramax even gave me their cards to give to Wishnow when they found
out I knew him. But by the festival’s end, Wishnow still had
to head home and figure out what to do next. No big studio deal. No
epiphany. Just a decent festival experience and some good
feedback.

Maybe that’s all anyone should expect from Sundance.
Wishnow didn’t seem to have many illusions about what his
participation in the festival would amount to, so why did I? Why,
when we were chatting with Brian Dannelly, the director of
“Saved!” a comedy that will be in theaters this April,
was I so discouraged to hear him say flat-out that “no one
really cares about short films”?

I think it has something to do with hope, as cheesy as that
sounds. As a soon-to-be college graduate, I need to believe that
people I know can make it in their chosen careers, because that
means that I can too.

I realized that although Wishnow may not have found the pot of
gold at the end of the rainbow on his first try, he did officially
start his journey, and that will have to be hope enough for me.

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Sommer Mathis
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