Penske's 'Killers' Eraser, Sundance Postcard Part 2
Today's Jamboree: THR's Lily Gladstone revise, the gun talk Hollywood won't have, and Slamdance keeps the spirit alive
JAY PENSKE’S MAGIC ERASER
There was much to be heralded about Lily Gladstone’s best actress nomination for Killers of the Flower Moon on Tuesday.
However, one reporter took it as a moment to run with. I’m told that after Hollywood Reporter writer Rebecca Sun included a line in her reaction piece that morning that read “Gladstone is the first acting nominee who hails from people indigenous to the land now occupied by the United States,” internal scuttlebutt has that Jay Penske weighed in, reaching out to an editor and saying something along the lines of (and I paraphrase with embellishment), “What the fuck is this?” Soon after the editor called the web editors to remove the line from the story.
But thanks to Wayback Machine on the internet, the before and after lives on.
BEFORE (red underline added)
AFTER! (red underline added)
If Penske was indeed the sentence hit man, this is not Jay’s first run-in with provenance issues of the land-and-real-estate variety. If you recall, his attempts to renovate an historic Black church into a private family compound complete with four-car garage in Venice at the height of Black Lives Matter went horribly array, drawing protests from the likes of Ben Affleck.
Sun is not the only one these days to use her original expression to identify Gladstone. NPR’s Stephen Thompson of Pop Culture Happy Hour described Gladstone that same day as “the first actor in this category to hail from land now occupied by the United States.”
Sun has written before about indigenous subjects, and internally, after the sentence was removed, explained to her colleagues she had been making a distinction that Gladstone was the first nominee to come from the United States as the term “Native American” includes Mexican and Canadian North American indigenous people, and the first indigenous North American nominee was actually Mexico’s Yalitza Aparicio for Roma. (Also note, opinions vary on how “first” this nomination is, with the awards for Wes Studi and Buffy St. Marie offered as other possibles.)
A spokesperson for PMC (whose headquarters, for the record, sit on original Chumash land) did not immediately return a request for comment.
THE PANEL ON GUNS
The Sundance Film Festival is not just a place for films to bubble up, but for critical issues that we just don’t have time for back home to let percolate and seep into the Hollywood bloodstream.
This past Sunday, I was delighted to moderate a panel at the august Filmmakers Lodge of an all-star panel on Gun Safety and Hollywood, sponsored by the Brady Center Against Gun Violence and its Show Gun Safety group.
The panelists — actor Clark Gregg, producers Jelani Johnson and Laura Lewis, and Rep. Maxwell Frost (at 27 the first Zoomer in Congress), spoke incredibly movingly on the devastation wrought by guns, a subject they have all been deeply immersed in, and the need for Hollywood to help create a healthier culture around gun safety.
It’s not a conversation that gets a lot of air time in Hollywood, where the default reaction to the latest gun travesty remains to point fingers at the now-shambolic NRA and change the subject.
Representative Frost horrified us all with an array of statistics about how deep the devastation goes. Most horrifying: the fact that guns are the leading cause of death of children in America.
Kris Brown speaking for Brady emphasized that most of those deaths occur after a child finds a gun that has been left unlocked and unstirred around the house. Shoot-em-ups aside, Hollywood typically depicts the most casual handling of guns around the home — the cop coming home from work and tossing his gun on the kitchen counter. Modeling some basic safety when showing guns around the home could help save many lives, Brown made clear.
But beyond that, the panelists showed a sense of frustration during this crisis with this industry’s indiscriminate use of guns to solve every onscreen problem, and turning to shooting as the easy answer to every narrative challenge.
Gregg, who has spent time with the families of school shooting victims and is clearly shaken from what he’s seen, talked about how on Agents of Shield, they have begun making an effort to find alternatives to reaching for the sidearm. Jelani Johnson, whose Freaky Tales, starring Pedro Pascal, premiered here this year and featured extensive scenes of balletic violence, pointed out that while the movie was laden with thrilling fight scenes, not a single gun is used in them.
Representative Frost made the case however, that guns are the final bad step in lives that have gone off track for a lot of reasons. He noted that if we’re going to turn the tide on gun violence, drawing attention to that bigger picture of despair that turns people to guns is very necessary.
For myself, I’ve written about this issue a lot, and have felt frustration that even as children die in horrifying numbers, with very few exceptions, Hollywood remains unwilling to engage with this issue, even a little. This panel was the first public event I’ve been to on the subject and I hope there will be many many more.
Don’t Call It Slumming: Slamdance at 30
For 30 years now, Slamdance and Sundance have co-existed, side by side, blue whale and pilot fish, in a symbiotic relationship. You could call it a parasite and host symbiosis (“a festival that has attached itself to us in a parasitical way” was how Robert Redford put it), but on closer viewing, it’s not entirely clear who plays which role in the buddy act.
Slamdance, persisting in a corner of the Park City area during the festival week, was ignited literally to take advantage of overflow crowds from Sundance screenings. But since then, it has evolved into something of an institution in its own right, and has become perhaps the leading farm team feeding into the festival and in and of itself now occupies a fairly exalted height in the indie world.
It’s the indie’s indie, the blood flow of new talent into an institution that is continually at risk of being co-opted by the Hollywood system it exists to challenge.
While the two keep at wary near-distance from one another, this year put an interesting twist on the relationship. For years the Doubletree Hotel — formerly the Yarrow — has served as one of the major hubs of Sundance activity. Sitting on the crossroads of bus routes and hosting a good number of screenings and events in its conference rooms, the Yarrow lobby and bar is where generally a hub of festival related schmoozing takes place.
This year, however Sundance, organizers surrendered their presence at the Yarrow, which was then taken over by the scrappy punks of Slamdance, who moved their festival from their somewhat ramshackle, vaguely haunted-feeling home at the Treasure Mountain hotel, perched at the top of Main. Is it the coming of age for Slamdance (after 30 years)? Will the festival retain its un-housebroken ways in more staid surroundings?
Stopping by Slamdance HQ, I checked in with Dan Mirvish, a filmmaker and one of the festival’s founders. Thirty years ago, Dan and a quartet of friends trying to get some attention for their films (which had not been accepted to Sundance), rented a projector and conference room in a hotel not far from the Eccles Theater, and held a screening 15 minutes after the festival’s big premiere started to catch the overflow crowd. As people drifted away from the big theater, a good handful saw the card table set up advertising a screening and came inside. Slamdance was born.
In the years since, the list of Slamdance alums reads like a Who’s Who of Sundance luminaires. Among the proud and scrappy filmmakers who launched their careers at Slamdance: Christopher Nolan, Minrari director Lee Isaac Chung, documentarian Marina Zenovich, Lynne Shelton, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Ari Aster, Jon Chu, Ana Lily Amirpour and the Russo Brothers. To name a few.
The stories of indie film history have become mainstream film history. Mirvish remembers advising Nolan to run down to Kinko’s and make some flyers when almost no one turned out to his first film, Following. Steven Soderbergh was electrocuted so many times by the projectors when he brought a film (after his falling out with Sundance), he pledged to buy the festival new equipment. Then after his screening, he stuck around to see a film by these two wacky brothers from Cleveland, the freres Russo, which he liked so much he told them they needed to come out to L.A. where they could work out of his office.
Most consequentially are the deep ties with the low key buddy team of Reed and Ted, who haunted the festival from its earliest days as they looked for movies to feature on their DVD by mail service. Ted was in the habit of dropping in and watching from the projection booth, Mirvish says, and has kept up his ties with the scrappy festival up to the present. Back at the beginning, Netflix rewarded its warehouse workers every year with an annual trip to Sundance, where they would borrow a Slamdance screening room to show films to their team.
This year, Mirvish wasn’t just presiding over festival events (the founders long ago passed the torch but he still presides as an emeritus presence) but also was talking up his latest filmed project — a biopic of Marjorie Taylor Greene, staged as an “absurdist political satire” entitled Dr. Andy in Wonderland. Like all Mirvish’s films, it will shoot for a budget in the neighborhood of $300,000 over a couple frantic weeks. The spirit lives on.
The fact of the matter is as much as Sundance may struggle to walk the line of indiedom, the genie is out of the bottle. Even if Sundance dips into corporate sponsorship hell, Slamdance lives on to keep them honest and revitalize the bloodstream. Slamdance is a vital part of the ecosystem.
Every year at the opening conference, Mirvish greets this year’s crop of filmmakers with a poem about the year past. Here is this year’s convocation.
On this, our year of our 30th reunion
‘Twas marked in large part as the year of the union
Solidarity for our comrades
Writing and acting
On picket lines and I’m not redacting
I’m not shy to say
A card-carrying member of the DGA
That I’m proud of my Guild
Who didn’t me desert
When I showed up on the lines
In my tie-dyed Guild shirt
The writers suspicious and not very candid
Noticed I didn’t come empty handed
I always brought scones
As many as I could bake
As much as I could carry
They were quite yummy,
secret ingredient Cardamom,
my friends, yes just a hint
All of them writers for streaming TV
Showrunners, staffers, but what about me?
Oh I make indie films!
Yes it can be done!
No studios, no streamers
Greenlit by none!
Shocked and befuddled my new writer friends wonder
Then who do YOU picket
When your deals go under?
Oh, for us, that’s quite normal and not at all weird
We’d have to picket ourselves I happily jeered
For indie filmmakers more often than nup
Rely on each other to pick ourselves up
Why take for example
That thirty years before
You’ve heard the legend and you’ve heard the lore
A group of film rejects
We drove up to Park City
Despite the bad weather
Yes, we had our signs and we had our banners
And Sundance insists that we had bad manners
But as unions today rely on cohorts
We had 12 features and we had 12 shorts
We came from New York!
We came from Redondo!
24 teams of filmmakers all in one condo
We stood up for each other just like Clarence Darrow
We even had screenings right here at the Yarrow!
And now thousands strong, Slamdancers unite
Just like a union, together we fight!
Sundance Itinerary of Rhyane Eisner-Semel (not related), junior networker
Rhyane is a prominent aspiring young networker attending the festival for the second time, was kind enough to share with us his schedule for the week, allowing us a glimpse into the life of Young Hollywood away in the mountains. He is also an imaginary creation of The Ankler.
4:15 PM – Flight lands at Salt Lake. Notice flurries outside and questions decision not to take boots because of roommate’s advice that “you don’t need them anymore in global warming.”
5 PM - Shuttle ride up with gang from the Firestone activation team. They tell me about a mansion party tomorrow night, but say you have to be attached to “something major” to get in. I ask them what movies they are seeing. “We’ll probably hit up Beekeeper” they tell me.
7 PM – Gets to condo-share. Greeted with boos from the crowd in the living room. The organizers thought Rhyane was a woman. My spot was in a bed with four females, which “isn’t happening.” Ask if there’s any room in the guys’ bed. Apparently, that’s got a wait list. They say I can sleep in the garage, but theres no blankets. I make a little bed in a wheelbarrow.
1:30 AM – Condo-share. Awoken by the sounds of a raging party going on in the house. Try to join but the door into the kitchen is locked. Open the garage but exit is blocked by snow drift.
10 AM - Main Street, Jersey Mike’s House. Because of traffic, I arrive an hour late. The subs are all gone. First official networking event of the day. Jersey Mike’s house is sort of the secret hideaway for the junior networking elite. Meet some of the up and coming players in the short doc scene. Plan to connect again for mansion party tonight.
11:30 AM - Marriot Festival Headquarters. Spend the next hours studying the schedule, trying to figure out if I can make it in time to get on the standby line for Love Me at the Holiday Cinemas and whether afterwards I can make it meet Kyle from home and then get to the Library early enough to get in there. When I figure out I can make it, I realize it’s 2:30 and Love Me has already started.
4 PM - Shuttle bus. On bus to get in stand by line for Sasquatch Summer at Eccles. Woman my age on the bus who interned at Gersh last summer tells me she heard I Saw the TV Glow at the Egyptian is the film of the festival and that the afterparty is open to the public.
I stay on bus at Eccles and try to take it to town, but get stuck in a traffic snarl coming up Park. Someone suggests it’s better to walk. Get out and walk the last hour up to Main Street.
8 PM - Main Street. Feel too sick from altitude and not having eaten since yesterday to immediately hike up to the Egyptian. Wait on line for hour at Atticus. All baked goods are sold out so I buy a bottle of water. It helps.
9:45 - Egyptian. Make it to the top of Main. The movie is over.
10:30 PM - Swede Alley Step on black ice in Swede Alley. Slide head first three blocks before crashing into the line at the UTA party which fortunately is dense enough to break my fall. Get accused of trying to break into the party. Bystanders pack snow on the wound to stop the bleeding and tell me I should go to the urgent care around the corner from where the racquetball screening room used to be. I ask which bus goes there. Nobody knows.
12:30 PM - Shuttle bus. Wake up in Heber City. Apparently was the last bus of the night. Try to call an Uber but there’s no internet. Old man at the bus station tells me I can sleep on his couch. For $600. Call parents from his landline to Venmo him money. But he only uses Zelle.
9 AM - Bus terminal. Waiting to get back to festival, see a bus tagged “SLC Airport.” Climb aboard. Will try Sundance in 2025.