Just when I thought I was done with Sundance, I get a comment from a reader posing several questions that seem not only thoughtful but relevant. So allow me to take up one more column here to answer them.
The reader's name is Dennis Hermanson, from Hillsborough, N.C., and he refers to himself as "a guy who loves film, and has never been" to Sundance. Responding to my description of my Sundance experience - in which I seemed to spend all my time either watching movies or in line to watch movies - he asks: "Why can't you see the films in a way that allows you to study them? Or is the audience an integral part of the commercial aspects of the event itself?" And then he adds: "It just seems that serious film critics/writers such as yourself are really put through a wringer, almost on purpose."
The idea of studying a film while watching it for review seems a little foreign, if by studying, he means taking the time to watch it over and over or to examine and reexamine key scenes. I've always felt that the critic should write a film review from a viewing experience comparable to what the audience will see. In other words, most people who buy a movie ticket don't see the movie twice - or stop, rewind and restart on a DVD - when they see it.
Ideally, the critic is watching with the same intensity of purpose as the filmmaker had when he was making the film. I didn't agree with the late Pauline Kael about much, but I did concur when I heard her say one time that she never sees a movie twice before reviewing it because the audience doesn't have that opportunity. Hopefully, my review is describing my experience in a way that's helpful for the viewer.
As for watching with an audience, well, I'm not reviewing the audience. I can only write about my reaction - not the audience's. Film companies seem to believe that forcing critics to see their films at "all-media" screenings - in which critics watch the film with ordinary film-goers who got free tickets to see an advance showing - will somehow change the way a critic experiences a film. It doesn't.
At Sundance (or Toronto, for that matter), I'm either seeing a film in a theater full of press and industry people or with a festival audience. And those audiences can be as sophisticated - and as harsh - as any group of critics.
And "put through the wringer"? Well, that's the nature of a festival, in a sense, whether it's a music festival - with one act after another - or a theater festival, with one play after another. The idea is to immerse yourself in the work; hopefully, the good ones stick with you and the bad ones don't.
Dennis also asks: "Would you get on a ... list and get or download copies of all the films without going to Sundance if you could?"
To be honest, yes.
This commentary continues on my website.