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Sundance: The Midpoint--Today, Tamara; Tomorrow, Tom

By Tom White

Tamara Krinsky, associate editor of Documentary and has been blazing the trail at Sundance 2008, blogging her thoughts, observations and reflections for the first five days of this Beehive State Bash.

Now comes the changeover, after the bulk of the deals have sealed, the parties have reached a crescendo, and the cineastes can settle down for from serious movie-going. And Tamara has passed the blog baton to me, and I'll do my best not to drop it.

This is my tenth Sundance-small potatoes for some, no small feat for others. I was assistant editor of Documentary back in January 1999, splitting reporting responsibilities with an up-and-coming filmmaker by the name of Cara Mertes. It was last century--pre-9/11, pre-Bush era, pre-You Tube and all its progeny. Sundance virgin that I was, I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Kimball Junction--some 12 miles and several light years removed from the epicenter of fun in Park City. But Sundance 99 was a carnival anyway--two porn stars--Annabel Chong and Stacy Valentine--vied for attention with Beat Generation icon Ken Kesey, a Tuvan throat singer and violinist Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg. Sundance was, and is, a place to discover and be discovered.

It was also at Sundance where my partner delivered what I would henceforth call The Sundance Ultimatum: Focus on one career path, not several...or I'll leave you. Six months later, we were married. Nine years later, I have stayed the course as editor and writer--and as a husband and a father. Sundance has blown up beyond recognition--so much so that my press credentials are actually lower in status than they were when I was assistant editor. I have truly arrived!

And Cara Mertes? She heads the Documentary Program there.

So, rather than a countdown of my favorite Sundance premieres over the years, I offer my dominant memories, year by year.

1999--The concert featuring the aforementioned Tuvan throat singer from Adrian and Roko Belic's Genghis Blues. This took place not in a movie theater, but at the oldest church in Park City--maybe in Utah--all the way at the top of Main Street. Incongruity is a beautiful thing.

2000--A guy walked up to me in the lobby of the Yarrow and asked me what was worth seeing. He added, somewhat sheepishly, almost in shame, "I'm a skier. I'm not filmmaker." It was as if, during this fortnight in January, skiers were The Untouchables. I assured him that it was OK to be a skier, that there was nothing to be ashamed of, that skiing was an ennobling endeavor. Then I gave him a Sundance catalog and walked away.

2001--George Butler, who was there with The Endurance, sat on a panel that seemed to be entirely devoted to war stories. So, Butler regaled us with his tale of making Pumping Iron in the early '70s--and sharing an editing suite with Emile de Antonio, who was cutting his film about the Weather Underground. Of course, the FBI was very interested in this film--and not for theatrical distribution. So one day they raided the building, confiscated the footage and delivered it to the offices of J. Edgar Hoover. One minor detail, though: They got the Pumping Iron footage, which, actually, may have been a godsend for J. Edgar and Clyde.

2002--With 9/11 casting a grim pall over everything that followed and the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics virtually shutting down the state of Utah, Sundance was subdued and sedated. Nonetheless, memorable docs included Two Towns of Jasper, Amandla! and Daughter from Danang.

2003--Although Capturing the Friedmans was the toast of Sundance and the highlight of the year, I really enjoyed Rob Moss' The Same River Twice. And so did two audience members who, upon recognizing three of the characters from the film in the theater, reacted as if God himself had stepped down from the screen. I'm talking gasps, hyperventilation, tears, paroxysms of joy...Maybe I'm just jaded.

2004--The after-party, which was a cluster of parties off Main Street--a wine and cheese party, with flutist and violinist, in an art gallery; next to a clothes boutique that was showcasing a jazz trio; next to a crowded, smoky dive bar that featured a punk band; next to club that blasted hip-hop. And so on. It was like a giant, living, breathing, iPod-with snow swirling all around!

2005-I'm blanking on 2005. I was there, and I marveled at Grizzly Man and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, but other than staying at an anarchic condo, with a constantly revolving cast of condo-mates, I can't remember anything else. Sorry.

2006--Three days before Sundance, I threw my back out putting my newborn daughter into her car seat. I went to Park City and got progressively worse. By Day 4, I could barely walk, and at intermission of the magnificent, four-hour A Lion in the House, I couldn't get out of my seat. That's when IDA Executive Director Sandra Ruch told me to go home--not to the condo, but back home to LA.

2007--Many of my favorite docs of '07 played here, including The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun. It was a favorite of my condo-mates, too--so much so that we couldn't resist playing that time-honored parlor game, "Let's Cast the Doc." So, as Mr. Vig--Max Von Sydow, Paul Newman or Haskell Wexler. As the nun, Juliette Binoche or the lead in Kieslowski's Red.

2008--Which brings me to the present. Until tomorrow.

Thomas White is editor of Documentary and content editor of