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Sundance #1: Cell phones, snow & swag

Robert Redford acknowledges the audience as he opens the Sundance Film Festival with the film "Happy Endings" starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lisa Kudrow, and Tom Arnold Thursday in Park City, Utah.

PARK CITY, Utah -- For 10 days, Robert Redford was observing, the population here swells from 7,500 to 45,000. That's a gain -- I'm guesstimating here -- of 37,499 cell phones, 15,000 SUVs, 400,000 cups of designer coffee, 100,000 postcards advertising a movie that 47 people will see, and 170 restaurant hosts and hostesses fed up with people asking them, "Don't you know who I am?"

This last complaint has grown so common that a T-shirt has emerged with the message: "No, I don't know who you are, and I don't f---ing care."

Oh, the rudeness, it is epidemic. Last year one of the biggest pains in the butt, according to a Canadian journalist, was me. This is not likely because (a) I am the gentlest and most grateful of individuals, and (b) I did not attend last year's festival, and can prove it with a note from my doctor.

But enough about me. What about my festival? Some kind of a record was set on board the American Airlines flight to Salt Lake City, when I was given a DVD of one of the films by its director while the plane was still at the gate. At the SLC airport, I met a charming woman who had the name of her son's film emblazoned on the back of her jacket and was handing out postcards for its screening.

Postcards. There are thousands of them. I turn instead to the official program, which lists, I dunno, 180 films, and I look for (a) directors I like, (b) actors I like, and (c) subjects that sound interesting. Then I feed all the screenings into my computer, and find I can see everything if I am only willing to view four films at once.

So I race off to the Eccles Center for opening night, a film by Don Roos named "Happy Endings." It stars a roll call of Indie Gods, including Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Laura Dern, Bobby Cannavale and Tom Arnold (some are born Indie, others have it thrust upon them).

I am told my press pass, which is good for everything up to and including, I hear, free cappuccinos, will not get me into the screening: I need an actual ticket for opening night. I am not rude and indignant because this seems reasonable enough -- and besides, the Canadian may be lurking about. I say I will attend a later screening, and then an angelic woman I have never seen before in my life simply says "here," and hands me a ticket.

Inside, I find that Howie Movshowitz of the Denver Starz Cinema Center and Rob Denerstein of the Rocky Mountain News have saved me a seat in the back row on the left. This is where we always sit every year, and they figured I'd turn up.

"But where is Ken Turan?" I ask, because the Los Angeles Times critic invariably lurks back there in the shadows with us. He has not been sighted, but Debbie, the babe who always sits right in front of us, is here again this year. We like her because she's not tall and we can see over her. Also for other reasons, but at Sundance that's the most important one.

The screening is delayed for half an hour by a locustlike horde of photographers, who are jammed into the lower right-hand corner of the vast room, which is why we always choose the upper left. They are all trying to repair the tragic shortage of photos of Robert Redford. Eventually Bob climbs onstage and observes that he is here because he did not get invited to another event on Thursday night. That would be the Inaugural Gala, ho, ho.

The movie is ... but that can wait until I file a roundup of several of the first movies I have seen. I am too agog just to be here. My wife, Chaz, has sent me an item from the New York Post's Page Six. Just think how many reporter-hours went into compiling the following information:

"At the Motorola Lodge, celebs get free phones, Escada dresses, Kiehl's products and Mercedes loaners. On Main Street, Hewlett-Packard is giving out iPods, cameras, computers and printers. Nearby is the Levi's ranch, where jeans, Xboxes and Ray-Bans are doled out. Seven jeans, Swarovski crystal and Cake makeup have a celebrity dressing suite at the Goldener Hirsh Inn.

"The Park City satellite of Marquee will be pouring Crown Royale for celebs, while Fred Segal has set up a spa at the Village at the Lift right next to the Yahoo! Cafe and the Timberland suite. One lucky winner at the Hewlett-Packard & Entertainment Weekly party tomorrow night will go home with a $25,000 gift bag, including an all-expenses-paid trip to South Beach, Adam + Eve intimate apparel, AG Jeans, a spa weekend in Arizona and goodies from MAC Cosmetics."

Me again. News items like this make my heart glow. I remember when Sundance was so scrawny, it wasn't even called Sundance. It was called the United States Film and Video Festival, and so few people attended that the awards banquet was held in a meeting room of the Holiday Inn. Now there are 37,500 people here, and one of us is going home with a $25,000 gift bag.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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