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We're hours away from the start of the Sundance Film Featival, and theoretically I should be feeling pretty good. I've checked into my condo, stocked it with the kind of groceries you rely on during a festival (peanut butter, granola bars, bananas-- anything you can grab and run away with), and I've put in requests for at least a few of the films I plan to see. But instead of feeling excited, I'm mostly struck by panic, and I'm sure I'm not alone. I'm completely convinced I've managed to overlook the one film anybody will be talking about 10 days from now.
This is how it feels at the start of every Sundance, which remains such a unique festival because of its continued commitment to choosing movies that nobody sees coming. They're the people who didn't just premiere last year's runaway hit Beasts of the Southern Wild, but helped the filmmakers workshop their screenplay. They didn't just turn Jennifer Lawrence into a movie star, but they did it by promoting her unflinching work in the dark and gorgeous Winter's Bone three years ago. The Sundance programmers tend to know when they've picked a winner, scheduling films in prime venues and in earlier slots at the festival, when they're likely to get the most media attention. But they manage to keep all that tantalizing knowledge to themselves-- which means people like me arrive in Park City chasing the faintest hints of what might turn out to be great.
Most of the films I have the highest hopes for are the most likely to be slam dunks. Before Midnight, which premieres late Sunday night, is the third film from Richard Linklater about Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), once again connecting in a European city. I'll be getting up at the crack of dawn, literally, for my chance to request a ticket for that tomorrow. I'll do the same on Saturday morning, when I can request a ticket for Upstream Color, the first film from Shane Carruth since the remarkable, Sundance-winning time travel story Primer. If there's any single film that's already getting blockbuster treatment sight-unseen by my colleagues, it's definitely that one. If I do manage to get a ticket of it, I'll probably lock it away in a safe lest someone try and steal it from my hands.
As for predicting the smaller surprises-- which is essentially like peering into a crystal ball-- I've got my eye on God Loves Uganda, a documentary about the horrifying efforts to pass anti-gay legislation in Uganda. It's premiering in what call the "Catfish slot," in the exact same venue and the exact same time as the premiere of that lightning-rod film, which remains one of the best Sundance surprises I've ever witnessed. I'm seeing that tomorrow, along with similarly under-the-radar May in the Summer and Jeff Nichols' Mud, which premiered at Cannes last spring and ought to continue the year of Matthew McConaughey well into 2013. I'm hoping to see a few more things, but it's Sundance-- God only knows what might change at the last minute.
For the next 10 days I'll be bringing you guys as many updates as possible, in as many different formats as you can handle-- we've already got one preview video blog right here, and for the most instant updates and photos (including two excellent Montana cowboys who were waiting with us at the bus stop today), follow me on Twitter. If there's anything specific you want to hear about from Sundance-- from reviews of films to gossip overheard on the bus-- now's the time to tell me! In a few hours the festival begins, and the whole thing goes from "endless potential" to "complete, exhausting chaos." With that old familiar panic still tossed in there too, of course.