Sundance kid

 

This week, Simon Fitzmauricebrought his short film to Sundance, the trend-setting indie festival that made hits of Little Miss Sunshineand Once. What was it like for a first-timer?

Eight hours transatlantic. Then five more to Salt Lake City. Which time zone? How many hours ahead, behind? Start pretending you're on local time. Descending into Atlanta I get excited for the first time about Sundance. Only another flight away. Out the oval window, light snow is falling, like the beginning of something. Snow in Atlanta?

We taxi out from the terminal and come to a stop. It's still snowing. The captain tells us each plane has to be de-iced and describes the procedure. It's complicated and involves the wings and wheels. We're not used to this here in Atlanta, he tells us, so it may take a little while. After seven hours on the tarmac, we start to move. Then the captain's voice comes over the intercom. "I'm afraid I've got some bad news folks," he says. "Our duty shift has run out and I'm afraid we have to go back to the terminal." The plane turns back. We don't leave Atlanta until the morning.

Robert Redford said he set up Sundance in the mountain town of Park City so it would be "a little bit difficult to get to and a bit weird". The snow in Atlanta ensured the former. As to the latter, as a summit retreat of weirdness, it's thankfully alive and well.

Main Street, Park City, Utah, is heaving. Cameras point across the street. Every angle is filled with fellow cameramen pointing back. Celebrities. Free merchandising. It's snowing - the fluffy stuff - and the altitude shortens your frosting breath. The streets are humpbacked with snow and in between the buildings - in the darkness beyond the main street - are mountains of impossible beauty.

The crowds are alive with anticipation, and a hunger to consume the fame they know is hiding in expensive restaurants all around them. In the middle of the throng, I meet Paris Hilton. She tells me she's Irish.

The opening film is In Bruges, a debut feature by Irish director Martin McDonagh. I love it. Brendan Gleeson gliding in melancholic canals of Belgium and Colin Farrell as an emotionally anguished hitman. Ralph Fiennes is unforgettable as a mobster: "I'm sorry for calling you an inanimate object." (You'll understand when you see it).

On Saturday, we are bussed out of Park City to The Sundance Resort, far up in the mountains, for a director's brunch. "This is Sundance," announces Redford, when he gives a few words after a serious spread. He talks about his vision for Sundance and how the focus is on the films and the filmmakers. "Park City is where the Sundance festival screens its films. But this is where the real work is done."

If art is at all about the response it generates in the audience, then the response of a live audience to a U2 performance, as anyone will tell you, has to be experienced to be believed.

The 3D concert film U23D, which premieres at Sundance, grants viewers a god's eye view of the group on stage and the heaving throng of the audience. The 3D technology is phenomenal and it's strange to feel so connected to this thunderous live concert while sitting quietly in the dark with 3D glasses on. It allows you study it rather than scream along with it.

And it's as affecting as a live show. U23D puts me in my place as well, showing a rock concert that is art as celebration at its best.

Then comes my film. The Sound of Peoplehas its first screening in the Egyptian theatre right in the middle of Main Street. Centre stage Sundance. So, eh, yes, I have a few butterflies. They introduce me, and I garble a few words of thanks to them for having me and my producer Noreen over, and it goes dark.

When the credits roll, I have a strange sensation. I realise that I have been holding my breath for two months, ever since they told me my film would be in the festival. I wasn't aware of it obviously (like a good Irish man) but there is a sudden and huge sense of relief that the film has played and hasn't blown up.

On the final night I go to a party in a mountain lodge. When it's late I go outside onto the balcony for a cigarette (don't tell my wife). There's a full moon and the mountains are cast in a blue light that makes the snow iridescent. It's something I have never seen.