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IN THE BEGINNING (OF SUNDANCE)

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the 2020 Sundance Film Festival winds down this weekend, here’s a personal look back at one of its earliest incarnations, nearly 40 years ago when I had only been writing about movies for a couple of years. Take note of the festival’s name way back then (the ‘Sundance’ title was still more than a decade away), and movie admission prices. And, by the way, ‘Heartland’ and ‘The Return of the Secaucus Seven’ are still fine films and very accessible online and on disc. This column was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 11, 1980.

Reviewing movies is, at best, a subjective occupation. I can’t begin to relate the number of times I’ve been approached by friends and strangers who disagree with me.

And when they agree with what I’ve written about a particular movie, it’s usually with a “Well, you finally got one right” sneer.

I also don’t mind admitting that more than once I’ve changed my opinion about a movie after seeing it a second or third time. But more often I’ll stick to my guns, though the whole world holds an opposite view.

 

The only real justification I hold for having the job at all is that I simply love movies. Someone once told me that it seemed I would rather sit through a bad movie than no movie at all — and there may be some truth to that.

It was definitely put to the test when Lory Smith, program coordinator for the United States Film Festival in Park City, which kicks off next month, asked me to participate on the preliminary jury that would weed his 31 independent film entries to a final competition selection of 10 or 12.

The company was certainly stalwart: Paul Swenson, editor-film critic of Utah Holiday magazine; Terry Orme, music and film critic, and feature writer for the Salt Lake Tribune; Nancy Funk, drama critic at the Tribune; Bill Siska, professor of theater, University of Utah; Sterling Van Wagenen, executive director, Sundance Institute; Barbara Bannon, film instructor, U. of U. English department.

I participated the second week (the group of judges was split into two halves), and we watched two films each night. Of those I viewed, four are in the final 12 (“Imposters,” “Off the Wall,” “On the Nickel,” “Stoney Island”) — and the others were either truly dreadful or disappointing in some major way.

 

But I can honestly say they weren’t any worse than the majority of new films that have received major wide theatrical release so far this year — and I’ve seen more than 150 of them.

I understand from those who saw them that the film festival’s frontrunners appear to be “Heartland” and “Return of the Secaucus Seven,” but once a jury of film professionals is assembled in battle over the merits of each member’s favorites, anything can happen.

One thing is sure. Independent filmmaking is an art all its own and judging from what Hollywood has subjected us to for our $4 admission so far this year — your best bet for moviegoing is to start off 1981 with the film festival’s independent competitors.

You won’t be disappointed.