Back from Utah (where Ballast cleaned up—it was the only movie to win TWO Sundance awards in the Dramatic Competition —Excellence in Cinematography and narrative Directing), I'm trying to heal (my sad knee and sore throat) and re-acclimate to waking at 8 a.m. and other mundane tasks, such as laundry, dishes and deadlines. And, as happens this time of year, I am turning my thoughts towards Crossroads.
I have spent the past two weeks immersed in the lounges, concerts, movies and waitlists of the biggest film festival in North America, and on a more do-it-yourself scale, Slamdance's "by filmmakers, for filmmakers" offerings. All the while, I have been monitoring my experiences, creating secret checklists, inadvertently chalking everything up against Crossroads. Here's what I think:
1) Quality of films: A film festival is all about showcasing film, right? And Crossroads may be small, but our screening committee is pick-Eeee. This is illustrated by the fact that I watched a very familiar short at Sundance. The reason for the familiarity? The short was screened and REJECTED by the Crossroads committee last year.
That's because, though we like high production value and fun post-production tricks, Crossroads values story above all else…hence our motto, "Everybody has a story. What's yours?" As far as I am concerned (in agreement with the Crossroads screening committee, obviously), this particular Sundance short was more like, "Everybody has a story. Where's yours?"
Slamdance is a large festival and last year Crossroads solicited films from Slamdance, but we don't solicit every film we see. We bring back the films we like, and even so, they still have to go before our screening committee (and did I mention? Our committee is pick-Eeeee…)
But all of this should come as no surprise to Mississippians. We are a state that inherently fosters artistic ambition and as such, we have high standards for art. Just because they loved you in Utah…
2) Quality of events: Sundance offered great music. It offered great movies. But in the midst of all of this greatness, there is one not-so-great component—it is next to IMPOSSIBLE to get into the headlining concerts, and I spent as much time procuring tickets to movies as I did watching them.
Meanwhile, Slamdance has accessible, friendly parties, but they only offer music twice—DJ's at the opening reception and live music at the awards party. Whereas Crossroads offers live music every night, open to all passholders and anyone willing to pay cover—and usually, you don't even have to wait in line.
And we may not have Patti Smith, but I really wanted to see Sea Wolf at Sundance, and of course, I fruitlessly stood in line three times. However, last year I DID get to see Snowden (just putting it in equivalent indie-rock terms, for the hipsters out there) at Crossroads, without standing in line, AND I got to schmooze with the band, post-show.
So yeah. Sorry Sun-and-Slamdance, you lose.
3) Filmmaker treatment: I'm making concessions here, since the sheer number of Sundance filmmakers is staggering, marking personal attention expensive and difficult. And while Sundance does have nice sponsor lounges (pomegranate martinis and bacon-wrapped asparagus, if you're able to trudge up a snowy hill with a bum knee, in the two hour time-slot they're offering), certain things seem a bit more difficult than they should be—namely basics such as procuring tickets, even with a coveted pass. (At Crossroads, a pass really does get you into everything and you really are special. A Sundance pass is a mere illusion of importance.)
Taking a film to Sundance is expensive, and the economic burden often falls on the director and/or cast and crew. And being a filmmaker doesn't grant special concessions. Lest I harp—you still wait in ridiculous lines for concerts and movies. There are still no guarantees that you'll get in.
One of the nice things about Slamdance—there is no such thing as a waitlist. But, as far as I can tell, neither Sundance nor Slamdance offer filmmakers overnight accommodations or airport transportation.
Because Crossroads is a smaller festival, we are able to house filmmakers for two out of three nights. Sometimes this is the sole reason filmmakers are able to attend. We provide transport to and from the airport and throughout the festival. But more importantly, we (festival committee members and volunteers) go out of our way to make the filmmakers comfortable, find out if they need something, and give them the opportunity to talk about their projects. The festival is intimate, so networking is easy. And because our filmmakers usually stay in the same hotel, there's opportunity to extend new friendships into impromptu after-hours gatherings in the hotel lobby or around the pool.
So, yeah, Utah was fun, and when certain movies hit theaters this summer, I'll be way cooler than you, because I saw them in January. But as far as quality and accessibility go, I'd say we're doing pretty well for ourselves, here in Jackson, Mississippi. With Crossroads, we've got something bigger than most people realize. Spread the word.
Glad you enjoyed your trip to Utah. However, there's no place like home, huh? :-)