Sundance is a great thing. Its 2013 event is no exception. Independent films deserve to be seen, on screen, in movie theaters, with audiences, not pawned off onto obscure television stations or forgotten. Some of the films are difficult, mainly because viewers have been spoiled by Hollywood opulence. But virtually all of the indie offerings are worth seeing. It takes an extra effort, it has to be said, to go to movies in the dead of winter in the mountains of Utah. But the effort does not go unrewarded.
Despite its setting beyond the continental divide, few westerns are represented. An exception is Sweetwater (2012), which I did not see. It looks promising. Nonetheless, it does not pay to lament the passing of the western since it has not yet altogether disappeared. Only its popularity has diminished, and not a little. Fifty or sixty years ago, westerns stood for something. People identified with its protagonists and related somehow or other to its various plot twists and turns. There was plenty of gunplay, too, taking place, it need hardly be pointed out, on the screen and its accompanying audio component, not in the streets or schools, the unfortunate circumstance that helps serve to define our unpleasant condition today.
Park City is where the festival is headquartered. But the films spill over into Salt Lake City, too, twenty minutes away on I-80, if weather is not a factor. Park City is a small town and very picturesque. It is certainly a tourist destination in addition to a showcase for the more creative filmmakers. Salt Lake is a big city. Hence most of it offends the eye and ear, the same as any city anywhere, in the U.S. or Europe. At five o'clock, traffic is frustrating. At night, it is cold. Ice makes walking treacherous. Rudeness is the coin of the realm. Otherwise, Salt Lake makes for a good host to a conference involving numerous concerns expressed in unpredictable forms from a large cross section of people active in and committed to the arts.
In the background, hardly inconspicuous, is a well-established conservative presence. The conservative slant of many Utah citizens is a reminder of how much this country is based not on agreement but disagreement. This is not insignificant either. The liberal, American spirit co-exists with the conservative. In fact, American culture as a whole consists of much more than two opposite strands of thought and life style. Films may not lead the way, but they are always a factor.
Festivals themselves are probably more important than ever, since they afford an opportunity to see films the old-fashioned way, en masse, rather than in small groups or alone in a room. Again, westerns should not be lamented. Commerce -- partly visible, partly invisible -- dictates what will fetch attention in the marketplace. But the scarcity of films shown in the major movie theaters relative to how many are made and, as stated above, are eminently viewable, is a true source of wonder.