At the Salt Lake City airport Thursday, before the Sundance Film Festival officially begins, cordial, uninformed airport attendants misdirect film tourists. An apple-cheeked aspiring producer offers to share a car to Park City. “I’m here to network!” How do you network? “Oh, I was here last year, and I just met these girls, on the street, and they took me to some parties. That’s how this place works. You know there are a lot of important people here. It’s just a matter of talking to them at a bar, or a nightclub—the private parties are the best—and then you’re in. I’m really focused.”
The driver confesses that he is a novice and cannot find Main Street, the gaudy-twee stretch along which much of the film festival’s hullabaloo takes place. The cherubic producer type offers to direct the driver. Every few yards, framed by fancy light structures, there are swag stations and party venues, sponsored by car companies or telephone manufacturers.
At the local supermarket, small-time producers are shouting figures of money into camera phones. Every few minutes, shrill embraces take place over shopping carts as more and more non-locals realize they are in the wild together.
Nightflies Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss have brought their club Marquee and club-restaurant Tao to Park City. It sits squarely at the center of Main Street. The W hotel chain has a papery construction atop the primary swag station, “The Lift,” filled with monochromatic, minimalist furniture and bowls of apples. In “The Lift” (at the bottom of a ski lift!), hordes of unrecognizables and their hangers-on wander among the stations doling out free electronics, shoes, clothing, alcohol, etc. Tommy Lee, of “Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee,” stands outside in a T-shirt, stretching. Brand-new camel-colored Ugg boots of similar height cover most legs. Shiny camel-colored highlights cover most heads.
Inside, New York nightflies are swinging expensive-looking shopping bags filled with free products. “We’re doing a party tomorrow,” Richie Akiva, who may or may not have chaperoned one half of the Olsen twins to a Knicks game, whispers. “It’s going to be really good. We’re doing it with Amanda Demme.” He means the raven-tressed L.A. party promoter, who wins style awards in her spare time. Upstairs in the W lounge, Ms. Demme and her phalanx of former model boys are doing a “walk-through.” This involves lots of pointing, head shaking and whispering. The drywall quivers as her cowboy boots make the rounds. An amply hipped, jeans-in-boots starlet is being interviewed by a television channel. She gesticulates discordantly. There is a table of mini-muffins and coffee in the corner. Pravda vodka sponsors are rearranging their displays. “This is the spot,” one publicist confirms for another.
A bit later, a fake JT Leroy sits in the window of a Japanese restaurant, ostentatiously conducting an interview with two shabby-chic young men. Lily Bright, the producer of The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (2004), walks in and introduces herself. The fake fake waves her away, saying he will “contact” her later. Outside, Diego Luna strolls past, sporting conceptual facial hair, yelling heated Spanish somethings into a phone.
On Friday evening, Dennis Hopper, wife and small child endure a 30-minute wait for their table at Grappa. The nondescript and overpriced “Italian” at the top of Main Street is playing host to the heads of the most important independent studios at the festival. They discuss Little Miss Sunshine across the tables. (The following day, it is announced that Fox Searchlight has outbid the competition.) Someone announces that he is a “jet whore” and then waves at a jet-owning acquaintance. “Biggest waste of money,” he chuckles.
“So we’ll see you at Harvey’s party later?” They are referring to the premiere party for the Weinstein Company’s Lucky Number Slevin, starring Josh Hartnett, at the W lounge. The party is scheduled to begin at 11:30 p.m. By 11:05, a five-row-deep blob has collected at the bottom of the W’s staircase. The headset girls look on helplessly as a fight breaks out and a heating device teeters ominously. “They’re nobodies,” says what can only be an L.A. native, making her way to the front of the group, sailing past the plastic rope. Upstairs, the space is already teeming with puffer jackets, messy hair and the same number of Ugged legs. The film’s stars have not yet arrived. The bar is serving pineapple juice. Harvey Weinstein, svelte and of chipper mood, walks through the room, smiling graciously. Through a back entrance, the “talent” finally emerges: Mr. Hartnett and Lucy Liu, followed by Scarlett Johansson. They sit together in their own celebrity island. Ms. Johansson orders a beer and pours it into a glass. Various revelers wander past and linger unnecessarily. Ms. Demme leans in to embrace the buxom star and her boyfriend. “I hate this place,” one producer is overheard confessing to a friend. “It’s so tacky.”
Elsewhere, at Tao, newly crowned “celebutard” Paris Hilton is hosting a party. “The crowd is slightly less cheesy than in New York,” a partygoer offers.
Saturday evening, at the premiere party for the film adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s The Night Listener at the VW lounge, miniature Zen gardens and bonsai trees line the tables. The same crowd of puffer jackets and Michael Kors wedge boots hovers. The talent, restricted to Toni Collette, arrives after midnight. Photographers select members of the crowd, strategically placing them near bottles of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne and product.
Sunday night, a Park City taxi, which is owned by a dapper young man who goes by the name Ashley, arrives 45 minutes late. “I just poured a $350 bottle of wine on my BlackBerry. So I couldn’t listen to any of my messages. The ride is free. And I’m drunk, so I’m totally unaccountable,” he confesses as I buckle my seatbelt. “You know, I’m writing a book called Regional Discipline.” Regional Discipline? “It’s about how bad all the kids are I’ve picked up. You know what? Southern kids are the best. They always help. New York kids are the worst.”