This is one in a series of posts for HuffPost Culture's "The Sundance Diaries," a month-long multimedia diary kept by the international filmmakers whose 64 short films were selected for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
At 70 miles an hour the single-digit air allows me about six squirts before the numbness sets in and I fear I'll drop the spray bottle. I roll the window back up as the wiper smears the half-cleaned glass dirtier than it was before. Friggin frozen fluid lines. I think about pulling over, but there's a schedule to keep and dammit, I'm heading to Sundance!
At many times I've counseled friends about the virtues of finding balance, even a dynamic balance. I often think of myself as one of those people who can remain sensible through most of the thick and thin that the world chooses to throw at me. Balance. Sensibility. These from a guy who, on three hours sleep and a half gallon of coffee is hurtling half-blind down an icy highway toward Utah. It would seem the whole balance thing, at least for the time being, has gone out the window. I blame the film festival. Before the festival I blamed our film.
"Dynamic balance." Ha. Fancy wordsmithing for what our co-narrator Warren Miller calls "lurching from one near-disaster to the next." They say getting your film in Sundance is arrival, a pinnacle achievement, unadulterated success. Tell that to the Denver-bound tour bus driver coming at me, wide-eyed at this swerving dervish hurtling down the highway with one tire in his lane.
Our other narrator Robert Redford told us in the recording studio that his attraction to the mountains--and to skiing in particular for "Downhill Racer" (click for photos Bob [Redford] shared with us)--was a combination of "the speed and the thrill and the danger of it." Bob went on to tell us that skiing "takes a certain kind of foolish courage." Our producer and co-director Kurt Miller was there with me in the studio and I bet he was thinking of the sacrifices he'd made so far for the film: significant financial outlays, sleepless nights, and even physical danger as we each lugged 80-pound packs of camera gear to the top of another mountain for filming.
The threat of physical danger resonated for me. I flashed back to just a couple months earlier. It was May, on the side of Aspen's Ajax Mountain. I'd clicked my ill-fitting boots into the very same skis that had last been worn by our movie's main character, Rick, the day he broke his back. There was a fresh coat of snow, a freak summer snowstorm, that had covered the prior day's rocks and stumps to give us an unexpected opportunity to film a recreation of the run that led to Rick's accident.
Unexpected opportunity: that sultry temptress who encourages us to throw caution to the wind. That siren luring us further than we would ordinarily go in our balanced, sensible lives. That day in May I lurched down that ski run, not unlike this drive down Highway 40, on the belief that you just can't pass up an opportunity like this.
As I cross into Utah, the windshield spray lines have unfrozen, providing a better view of the plains and mountains of the American West sliding past me. It was a very conscious decision to locate the Sundance film festival in the mountains. There is something urgent and invigorating about them. For me they are a reminder that underneath this thin crust of hard frozen earth is a raging ball of fire trying to push its way up.
There's also a comical absurdity to dancing down a mountain that parallels the idea of filmmakers and glitterati hobnobbing in an old mining town in the canyons of Utah. I picture Hollywood suede boots, covered in jackrabbit crap, tracking up white polarbear rugs in the resort's 5-star ski lodges. I picture belching, farting, soot-faced miners and cowboys bellied up to the bar next to producers and film agents. Of course I live in Steamboat, a similar western mountain town where just this week working rodeo cowboys raced down the ski mountain wearing their chaps and ten-gallon hats. The gritty humor of these mountains is familiar to me, but the pomp of a film festival? I feel like a marauder.
Racing westward, bleary-eyed and hyper on the knife-edge rush of thermos coffee, I feel like me and my little film are a shipload of vandals too long at sea. Unshaven, unshowered, in a car packed in panic, I imagine I will land in Park City for ten days of pillage and plunder. Of course this could all be my imagination. Films are about imagination, right? Tonight, when we premiere, all that takes a backseat to whatever reality Sundance holds.
In that recording studio, taking a break from reading my script, Bob went on to tell us it wasn't just the danger that lured him to skiing and to the mountains. He said, "there's also something entirely poetic about it."
P.S. People keep asking us how Bob got involved in our movie. He explains in this short slideshow: "Robert Redford talks about THE MOVEMENT."
WATCH a trailer for Hamilton's "The Movement":