I doubt that when Robert Redford was creating the idea for the Sundance Film Festival 30 years ago, he ever imagined it would become a place where an appearance by one of the biggest pop-stars of the Naughties would spark a mini-riot in the small town of Park City, Utah. But such was the scene that I stumbled upon while walking down Main Street, the hub of the fest, trying to get to a film screening last Saturday.
“There he is!” I heard from behind me, as a handful of girls rushed by, almost knocking me to my feet. They ran towards at a jet-black SUV, setting off another group of girls who came running behind them, towards the vehicle. They swarmed the car, knocking on the windows and crying out, “Harryyyyy! Harryyy!” – some even running along with it as the car took off down the street.
It was an unexpected sight to see at Sundance. Even though the fest attracts actors and musicians from all over the world, an event known for celebrating independent film still seemed like the last place for a Harry Styles sighting. Turns out, the One-Directioner came to town to walk the red carpet and pose for photos in support of his buddy Scrubs’ star Zach Braff’s new Kickstarter-funded film, Wish I Was Here with Kate Hudson.
Harry wasn’t the only unexpected guest to see at the festival this year. Would-be US President Mitt Romney pitched up too – to attend a documentary about his failed campaign to win the White House. And even though this is a film festival, I was surprised to hear whispers on Sunday morning that super-busy Steven Spielberg had been at a dinner in honour of his god-son, Jake Paltrow (Gwyneth’s brother – and yes, she was there too), for his film’s premiere, Young Ones.
But that’s Sundance. Even if you’ve been before, you never know quite what to expect. You never know who who’ll bump into or who will show up to the festival that takes place against the snow-covered mountains of Utah. Just like you never quite know which film is going to be a break-out hit. The ones with the biggest buzz may turn out to be the biggest duds, and small films-that-could may turn out to surprise everyone and even go on to gain Oscar acclaim, like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Searching for Sugar Man, which were the two break-out hits of my first Sundance experience in 2012.
You also don’t know which actors and filmmakers are going to come away from the fest with a word-of-mouth buzz that helps push them onto bigger things. Jennifer Lawrence was first spotted in Winter’s Bone here in 2010 and Beasts of the Southern Wild‘s Quvenzhane Wallis started her ride to becoming the youngest Oscar nominee here in 2012. This year, Miles Teller, who you may or may not know from 21 and Over and Project X, looks set to soar after his turn in Whiplash, the festival’s opening night film, which drew a whole lot of applause and lots of rave reviews.
Miles was spotted around Sundance, eating and hanging out, but I never got to bump into him. Or at least I don’t think I did. Celeb-spotting at Sundance is a covet affair, as it takes a sharp eye to spot stars beneath their beanies and scarves. I didn’t notice a black-beanie-wearing Bradley Cooper and his model girlfriend Suki Waterhouse strolling down Main Street, and I only realised I’d bumped Sam Rockwell, the underrated star of The Way Way Back, after I held onto him when I slipped on some black ice and he had to adjust his red and blue beanie.
Sundance is the place to come to if you love independent film, and you’re keen to see another side to some of your favourite actors. Kristen Stewart, who was a little nervous to show off her first film sinceTwilight ended, said she always feels comfortable at Sundance because people take movies seriously here.
When she was walking the fest’s informal red carpet, Kristen spoke about how the film, Camp X Ray, in which she plays a guard at Guantanamo Bay challenged her. “I didn’t think that people would believe me or that I could look tough in a uniform,” she said, “that I could do that job, that I could wrangle detainees that are massive and scary.”
At a Q-and-A for the film Hellion, Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul, who also shed a role he was long known for playing, said taking on acting roles makes him “truly feel like [I’m] living.” “In my day-to-day life, I’m really happy and blessed, so to play these characters who are not keeps me challenged.”
Another pair of actors stretching their abilities, comedians Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, had me balling my eyes out in the family drama, The Skeleton Twins, which became an instant hit at the fest. The pair, known for their Saturday Night Live antics, surprised many critics with their performances in the touching film which still has some really funny scenes, like Kristen and Bill lip-singing the 80s hit Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us by Starship.
And this year’s festival didn’t feel nearly has cold as it has been in the past. Perhaps that had something to do with True Blood’s Joe Manganiello, in town to promote his doccie, La Bare, about male strippers. I spotted the actor causing a small commotion among another group of girls, albeit older than the ones who were chasing Harry Styles, just as I was leaving this year’s fest. It was another sight I don’t think Redford ever saw coming.