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The Daily Wildcat


REVIEW: Attending Sundance as a senior studying film

Arts & Life Reporter AJ “Stash” Castillo in front of The Egyptian on Main Street. Castillo attended the Sundance Film Festival during their last year as a film major at the University of Arizona.
AJ “Stash” Castillo
Arts & Life Reporter AJ “Stash” Castillo in front of The Egyptian on Main Street. Castillo attended the Sundance Film Festival during their last year as a film major at the University of Arizona.

Each year, the Hanson FilmTV Institute takes 10 students from the University of Arizona’s School of Theatre, Film and Television to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The festival helps enrich what students have learned and advance their careers before graduation. The students have to work a certain number of hours as well as volunteer for the festival. They also get 10 tickets for in-person screenings and five tickets for online screenings.  

In the beginning, I had trouble with tickets and scheduling my volunteer hours. I had scheduled my films, first believing I had one shift, when in reality I had three more that sat on top of the three films I wanted to see. In the end, I didn’t want to trouble the volunteer coordinators anymore, so I transferred my tickets. I’m glad I did because volunteering, while it was long hours, was a valuable learning experience and I got to meet amazing people.

Day One

Once the day, well early morning, rolled around, I was taken away by taxi to the airport. I was on an early flight with seven of my cohorts and one of the heads, Mia Farrell. We touched down around 10 a.m. in Salt Lake City, before renting a Suburban to drive to Park City, Utah, where we’d be staying, volunteering, viewing films and attending panels. A little-known fact is that Sundance is hosted in two different cities. 

That first day, we picked up our volunteer badges as well as our volunteer tickets and grub stubs. We also got our reversible Kenneth Cole jackets: one side was gray while the other was hot pink. We would wear these while we were on our volunteer shifts and could wear them outside shifts. We just had to act as representatives of the Sundance Institute. We were let free onto Main Street once we parked in the public garage. I stayed with a couple of my cohorts who were going to get food while others headed out to attend panels.

We ended up at Main Street Pizza & Noodle and ate quick meals before walking down Main Street, hoping to attend panels nearby. Most are invite only or, in the case of festival sponsor Chase Bank, you need a specific credit card to attend. We ended up at the Audible Studio, where we were let on a rooftop to relax. We stayed for a bit before going to attend a panel regarding AI in film. We stayed for about 20 minutes before the jet lag hit us hard, and we decided to head back to the condo. 

Before leaving I wanted to try and attend a night showing of “Freaky Tales” with one of my volunteer tickets. It didn’t work out, so I ended up heading back to the condo and falling asleep.

Day Two

I attempted to go to an early morning showing of “Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story” with a volunteer ticket, but I ended up getting very confused with the shuttle stops and mistaking what volunteers were trying to tell me. I ended up missing it and trying to get to another showing of the film “Porcelain War” that was shown at a theater further away. The shuttle confused me even more as there were outbound and inbound shuttles, and I missed that showing as well.

But as I was heading back, I ended up being able to catch a showing of the film “Good One.” I got to listen to India Donaldson, the director, introduce it and give a little speech before watching it. After all the shuttle trouble it was nice to watch a film focused on the relationship of a father and daughter told with the backdrop of nature. Once the film ended, I headed to the condo to take a nap before my volunteer night shift, picking up baked potato soup from the Clockwork Cafe on the way.

The night shift wasn’t bad. All I did was talk with people waiting in line and made sure to answer any questions they had or point them to someone who had more answers than I did. Once everyone was let into the screening, I talked with other volunteers who had been volunteering at Sundance for a couple of years to over 20 years. We helped clean the tent and were released early once the showing was over. 

At this point, my opinion so far was the shuttles weren’t the best and there were too many invite-only panels or events. But it was amazing to talk to peers with similar interests while you waited in line for the shuttles. 

Day Three

I wish I had woken up later if I had known we’d still get good seats at the screening of “A Different Man.” But alas, we woke up early since a group of us had tickets to the same showing. We headed out, watched the film and stayed behind to listen to the Q&A with the director Aaron Schimberg as well as the actor Adam Pearson. Afterward, we headed our separate ways. I ended up back at the condo for a quick nap before our Sundance Ignite events. 

The Ignite events were designed by Adobe to help young filmmakers learn and make connections with fellow filmmakers. The first event was a connection event with catered hot drinks, pastries and food. Each event was hosted at different festival locations and our first one was at the Adobe House on Main Street

It was cool to talk with people who were either locals or from different universities. I did eat a lot of beef tartar (delicious, in my opinion) and found out the deviled eggs in Utah contain sweet relish and capers (not good at all, in my opinion). I spoke with fellow students as well as full-time volunteers. There was going to be a panel regarding making connections with others, but I had a screening scheduled, so I headed out.

My next screening was titled “And So It Begins” which followed the 2022 presidential election in the Philippines, as well as protecting journalism. The director Ramona Díaz as well as the subject of the documentary Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo and Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa appeared for the Q&A. I got to speak briefly with Ressa, who was very kind and seemed excited over the fact I was an aspiring journalist. I headed out for my next screening of the Midnight Short Films.

A couple of those short films were very shocking and should’ve come with a warning, while others were very well made with amazing concepts. One of them, titled “The Looming,” actually won the Short Film Special Jury Prize for Directing. Once that was finished, those of us who attended were picked up and driven back to the condo.

Day Four

The morning opened with another Ignite event with brunch as well as a panel with the director of “Seeking Mavis Beacon,” Jazmin Jones, and “Ponyboi” actor and screenwriter River Gallo. They talked about their films, creative thoughts and answered a few questions. 

“The film industry is where the circus meets the military,” Gallo said.

Once that was finished, I had to head out quickly for my screening of “Thelma.” It was a very heartwarming film, especially when the director, Josh Margolin, explained he was inspired by his own grandmother. Right after that, I watched the film “Winner,” which was inspired by the story of Reality Winner, who leaked the intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

Then, it was time for the Ignite short film screening. These were created in the Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellowship by 10 different filmmakers. I managed to get through eight of them before leaving because I was starting to not feel so good. I boarded a shuttle and headed back to the condo to sleep as I had an early morning screening.

Day Five

Back-to-back documentaries were a good decision. I viewed “Gaucho Gaucho” early in the morning, which follows Argentine cowboys and cowgirls’ lives isolated from the modern world. It was a great early morning watch before I headed out to my next screening of “Never Look Away” which was Lucy Lawless’s directorial debut. It was a well-made documentary following CNN war camerawoman Margaret Moth

The Q&A was fun, and I even asked Lawless about some of the animations used in the documentary. She expressed that she doesn’t like CGI and prefers to use animation to show incidents that had happened when there wasn’t footage of them.

After that, I headed back to the condo to take a nap before my next night shift. It was the same as the last shift, very calm and we got out early. Once I headed back to the condo, I immediately fell asleep as I had a morning volunteer shift the next day.

Day Six

Morning shifts aren’t for me sometimes. They can never be too calm or busy, or I will fall asleep quickly or become overstimulated. The lack of sleep was catching up to me, sadly. But the shift basically consisted of watching doors during a private screening of “As We Speak” and then another screening of “Agent of Happiness.” Once we had finished, I immediately headed back to the condo for a quick nap.

Once I woke up, I headed to my screening of “The American Society of Magical Negroes.” It was a very fun watch to end the day. Once that was over, I ended up taking a shuttle to Main Street. I wanted to explore Dolly’s Bookstore and ended up buying the book “Death in Yellowstone” and meeting two bookstore cats, Pippy and Marshall. I took the shuttle back and got a full night’s sleep for once for my final volunteer shift.

Day Seven

The final day of working and attending the festival was here. The morning wasn’t that bad this time, and I was allowed to re-watch “Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story.” It was a beautiful documentary, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the theater. At the next screening, I asked to explore the library as I wasn’t particularly interested in the film “Handling the Undead.” I did that for a couple of hours before heading back up to help clean the theater.

I then went to my final screening of “Power.” I ended up getting some popcorn and an ICEE this time to watch it. Once I finished, I headed back to the condo to fall asleep and get some rest before my flight left for Tucson the next day, as well as to help clean the condo and pack before we left.

So, overall, the experience was pretty good. I’m not mad at the fact I didn’t attend more panels because I’m very much a person who can’t sit and listen for a long time. I’d rather meet people in line or at screenings, which is essentially what happened. I’d honestly go back for fun to volunteer or hopefully enter a film. This experience also solidified the fact that I want to be a documentarian. Most of the films from the festival are already being signed to streaming platforms and possible theatrical releases as well. 

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