A man should take dates to movies where he feels just as attractive as the actor on screen; it prevents unwarranted comparisons once the lights switch on, and your date realizes for the first time that your face is crooked. That’s why my favorite date movies star Tom Hanks, Ben Stiller or Don Rickles, a list I compiled after my first date in high school. It was my first time seeing Pierce Brosnan on screen, and I thought nothing of it until my date, leaning on my shoulder, sat up and whispered, “Ooh.” “Who cast this pretty boy?” I started to wonder.
Ten years later, I’m making casting decisions myself, finishing my two years in the University of Utah Film Studies program with an MFA thesis short film called Sex and Coffee. Made on a budget of $50, the short got me into Slamdance, where, after one of my screenings, I crossed paths with Pierce Brosnan. The moment our eyes met, he turned away, sizing me up as just another wide-eyed local unwittingly enjoying the company of big shots who grace Utah every January. “No, Pierce,” I wanted to say, “you’ve got me all wrong.” I looked down at my filmmaker’s name tag, but it was flipped around, hiding my reason for existence.
The name tag is everything in Park City; it separates you from the rich L.A. kids who come to party, or the locals who steal all the good parking spots. It says you’re legit, deserving your part of the Park City air. When you wear it, everyone takes a glance.
But behind the nametag is a frightened filmmaker, one who grips the wheel from Salt Lake City to Park City, already late for his film’s first screening. The programmers call me “the local.” “You’ll have no problem with transportation or housing,” they observe, but when I arrive, parking is impossible.
“Why are there so many locals here?” I yell.
My fiancÃ©e smiles, “Maybe they’re here to see your film.”
I resort to having a friend drive my car around while I rush in for the Q& . The screening room is packed, and I deliver my answers full of adrenaline.
The three screenings are the easy part; the rest of the festival is heavy work. I have to use the time wisely—attend all the parties, network, gain connections. It’s called “schmoozing.” I dislike it, but it’s the only way to find opportunities for the next gig.
At the reception for Asian filmmakers in Sundance or Slamdance, I work the crowd blindly. “You live in Utah?” they ask me. “How many Asians live here, anyway?” Everyone’s from New York or Los Angeles, and most of the filmmakers are just as clueless as I am.
My fiancÃ©e finds us a table where we sit across from Tim, the only white man at the party. He installs computer databases for festivals. “There goes my chance for connections,” I think to myself. Tim talks about his life, his years in Australia and his work for humanitarian organizations. It’s refreshing—the first time during Slamdance that I have had a real conversation about anything other than film. Still, I look around to see if there’s anyone else I should talk to.
“Have you submitted to the VC Festival in L.A.?” Tim asks. “No, I missed the deadline,” I say.
“I know the programmer,” Tim says. “I’ll introduce you to him.” Fifteen minutes later, the VC Festival director comes to our table, and I hand him a copy of my film and a business card; I look at Tim with thankful humility.
That night, I get interviewed for an Asian TV station and have my picture taken by several photographers. The filmmakers are introduced and given extravagant gifts, including a full-size snowboard. One producer introduces herself and tells me she loves my film: “If you ever want to work in Korea, please let me know.” Just like that, I forget who I am.
It’s easy to deny that you’re local. Industry figures treat you like royalty, lobbying you to use their equipment or shoot films in their cities; free gifts and business cards pour in. You convince yourself you’re an L.A. player or a New York artist, randomly here like everyone else, only because the planets aligned for the Wasatch Mountains to become the nation’s film-fest capital.
But with every night’s drive back to the foggy valley, you know the ride is about to end, that after the name tag expires, you’ll be just another wide-eyed local watching James Bond get in his Suburban.
By the time I flip my name tag around, Brosnan has shut his door. My fiancÃ©e stretches her neck to see what I’m looking at. “Ooh,” she says.
Slamdance ends on Jan. 28, and I return to Park City for final screenings of the Sundance award winners. I stand in an alley by the Egyptian without my name tag; I’m in the wait list line like everyone else, listening to conversations about the out-of-towners and the inversion that’s fogging up our sky. There, it hits me. The madness is over. All the stars and stargazers are on their way home, and it’s only we who remain, the proud locals, those who just want to see good films—those who understand that all along, this has been our air, our mountains and our festival.