by Coco Quinn
The short film Starfuckers starts rather ominously. Plastic on the carpeted floor . . . was someone going to be murdered? An unsettling dynamic between a younger and older man. One of them is a bad guy, right? But which one? And then She appears. A drag Goddess who performs a lip-synch truly for the Gods. Even my brother was like, “Damn.” I had to call my sister into the room so she could see this clip of the film with me, watching her take it all in as I replayed it. At the end she said, “From now on my life is divided between before I saw that performance and afterwards.”
All three of us . . . Blown away by a true “Star is Born” moment.
Antonio Marziale is the face behind this captivating character. He’s also the writer and director of Starfuckers and says of the film, “At its heart a revenge story that explores power dynamics in Hollywood, but it also celebrates the art of drag and how it can be used to create an alter ego or explore alternate realities for oneself. We wanted to tackle serious subject matter with an element of buoyancy and surprise.” Tackled head on with both strength and vulnerability. I watched it twice already and still want more. These are the magical moments that make Sundance so special.
It was hard to get excited about the festival this year. I really wanted to go back to Park City. I have attended every Sundance from 2011 until Covid hit. I wrote my letter requesting press accreditation back in October, the night after I saw my first live performance in a theater since 2019. It was The Lion King. Broadway was back, baby! I was moved to tears in the opening number, masked and vaxed and so excited to be able to be a part of an audience again. I wrote about wanting to cover Sundance because, “Theaters are opening. I’d like to see how the filmmakers feel about reentering that communal space. There’s something magical there.” I shouldn’t have worried when it went away again. Sundance always works out exactly the way it is supposed to.
So, instead of Utah, I’m in my hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Instead of in the Egyptian Theater on Main Street, I’m huddled into my bed as Sundance weather comes to Virginia and snow starts to fall outside my window. I obligingly put on headphones and enter a virtual Egyptian space as an avatar of myself, a little cartoon body and flat, circular head displaying a photo of my face. (Pro tip: If you want to jump as an avatar, press the space bar.) We find seats, figure out how to sit our little bodies down, and click a box on the stage to make the screening fill our screens.
The opening night film is 32 Sounds. There is a love story we learn about in the film. We hear moments of a phone call shared between these two women who will go on to have a ’til death do they part 47-year-long relationship, in the early days of their falling in love on the phone, long-distance. The giggles they share are charming and animated sound waves cross the screen, representing their voices reaching out to each other. It’s a tender moment. At the virtual hang after the screening, I meet some filmmakers and we wonder what we would sound like recorded in these virtual hangout groups. As with the nervous, new lovers, there are lots of giggles as we chart new territory in making friends.
Sophia de Baun, Executive Producer of ChiQui, and I met and chatted in a bubble. She was in her bedroom in New York as the rest of her team were in another part of her apartment. They’d all tried to talk together as one avatar, but it was a bit much. “I’m wearing the turtleneck I bought for Sundance, even though I’m just in my apartment,” she told me. I loved that. We’re all committed to getting the closest-to-normal Sundance experience we can. And even though my camera works, so people can see me snuggled up from my fluffy white chair in the corner of my room with a scrunchie holding my hair in a pile on my head and no makeup on, there is a glitch and I can’t see the videos of anyone else. It doesn’t matter. The conversation in the bubble is lively and we’ve all been moved by the film we’d just seen, together, though far apart.
I watched 20 other films on Day 1. Most of them were shorts. Like Starfuckers, CLOSE TIES TO HOME COUNTRY was Written and Directed by its young star, Akanksha Cruczynski. Based on her real life. Oh my god. Akanksha hasn’t seen her sister in nine years. In trying to fill out a form to Homeland Security on her sister’s Moral Character she writes, “My sister is a badass.” I’d fill one out for my sister verbatim. I loved her face, her sense of humor, her deep vulnerability. This film about people trying to go to and from India really took me on a journey. #RIPBisou
You never know who you’re going to meet when you pop into a bubble in the virtual Film Party of Sundance. I was testing out my video capabilities on a different computer, and entered a bubble with three guys who turned out to be directors of short films at the festival. Joey Izzo is premiering YOU’VE NEVER BEEN COMPLETELY HONEST. William David Caballero’s CHILLY AND MILLY is an animated autobiographical documentary. One of them said the third guy, Harris Doran, had the movie with the best name of the Fest. “What’s it called?” I asked.
F^¢K ’€M R!GHT B@¢K. It is a great name! And a great film! I’d seen it and got to gush over how much I loved his lead character, a queer Black aspiring Baltimore rapper played by DDm (Dapper Dan midas) who must outwit his vengeful day-job boss in order to avoid getting fired after accidentally eating an edible. DDm wins for best nails and dimples at Sundance, manicured hands down. He’s a real rapper who had never before acted, but Harris says he wants to do more now and I’m in favor of that decision. He gave a fantastically fun performance, and Kara Young as his coworker sidekick is who I’d want by my side.
A special section of shorts from years past were brought back in celebration of Sundance’s 40th Anniversary. One I was dying to see was the short film, Short Term 12. I was at the Premier of the feature length version in 2013 at South by Southwest, starring a young cast that would go on to win multiple Oscars among them. The only actor to be in both the short and the feature… and go on to an Oscar nomination of his own… was LaKeith Stanfield. In the short he’s only about 16-years-old and already a powerhouse talent.
Now, some shorts could really stand to be shorter, and my brother had watched a couple slower-paced ones in a row with me, so I was stoked to see SPIDER (2008) by Nash Edgerton was on the Anniversary Shorts list. I first saw it at Sundance, but not the year it premiered. One of my fellow critics couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it and showed it to me on their laptop between writing reviews from the kitchen of their shared lodge. Hadn’t seen it in a decade, but it held up. Nash plays Jack, a guy who causes all kinds of trouble when he tries to scare his girlfriend with a rubber spider. A sequel, BEAR, premiered at Cannes in 2011. Now, 11 years later, he’s rounded out the trilogy of short films with SHARK, where his new girlfriend is played by Rose Byrne. They’re silly, but make me laugh out loud.
I was walking back from yoga one day with a cup of tea, checking something on my phone when some kid threw a plastic snake on me, and then was like, “Oh, shit, look out!” and my brain just processed SNAKE and my hot tea spilled all over me as I dropped it and my phone, fell back onto the curb, bruising my tailbone. There was a group of young guys filming their antics on a cell phone. Not cool.
So when the first Indie Episodic I watched, CULTURE BEAT, took place a couple blocks away from where I went down across the street from my yoga studio, I just thought, “Dude. that’s my neighborhood.” This guy is acting deranged and volatile with a camera recording from across the street. This prankster is riding a recumbent bike into sidewalk diners and messing with traffic on a Segway, going in circles while dropping a laptop into the road. Fuck this guy. I lived in England when Ali G was a correspondent on The 11 O’Clock Show. I loved Ali G. It’s about punching up, right? Not fucking with people’s drives and dinners. It’s Hollywood. There are constantly folks doing way more crazy shit there. No need. Not. Cool. Go home.
On a lighthearted and upbeat note of people from my neighborhood, TRAINING WHEELS features a socially inept woman who rents a man to prepare to date another. Written, Directed by, and staring Alison Rich, a regular performer at the UCB Theater in Hollywood. When I first saw Alison perform, I was pulled on stage from the audience to participate in this hodgepodge comedy show, and she was in character as an old man with short gray wig on. The bit she improvised was that in everything he said, he found a way to hit on me. It was funny as fuck and even though it was fake, I was flattered. She’s a tiny, pretty girl who will get ugly for a laugh, and who you can’t help but be charmed by. Cameos by other hilarious UCB cuties, like Zeke Nicholson and Drew Tarver.
Rounding out the rest of my 21 films in one day of Sundancing we have:
RECKLESS, from Sweden, sucked me right into this world, visually, with special effects and a woman singing an eerie cover of a Strokes song. Haven’t seen a liquid this menacing since blood pouring forth from the elevators in The Shining.
PRECIOUS HAIR & BEAUTY A warm and inviting atmosphere of a beauty shop in the UK. Rich, delicious accents with sadly no subtitles to catch all the dialogue, which sucks, cause I liked these ladies. Divine little comedy.
LONG LINE OF LADIES Celebrates a young girl’s journey into womanhood by her whole community. The tradition was gone for decades because of sexual assault that accompanied the Gold Rush. It’s back. Amazing to watch the women lift each other up and the fathers support their daughters.
PRIMAVERA (an anniversary short) and THE RIGHT WORDS are foreign language films that deal with the complicated sibling dynamics of young teens. Made me think about how growing up is never easy, but I’m so glad there was no social media when I rode the bus.
CHIQUI Short for the lead character Chiquita, is an indie episodic pilot episode set in the late 80’s with all the MTV influenced hair, makeup, music and clothing you could ask for. It’s 1987. Pregnant Chiqui and her husband emigrate from Colombia to the U.S. to find a better life.
STRANGER THAN ROTTERDAM WITH SARA DRIVER The Rolling Stones were the second band I ever saw in concert, but I didn’t know anything about Cocksucker Blues. Then again, I was only 11. Fun little caper of a true story.
RENDANG OF DEATH Gross-out comedy with some real WTF moments.
YOU GO GIRL! In stand-up comedy as in life, it’s a real uphill battle.
BUMP. Stupid. Like in the way my Improv coach would say, “Stupid,” when we made him laugh. And just 3 mins long. Tops.
DADDY’S GIRL Girl. You are a mess.