@Sundance: Memories and Degrees of Separation
I am at the Sundance Film Festival, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Sloan Foundation’s science in film program with the Sundance Film Institute. I started the program, it’s exciting and successful, and all is thriving on the professional front.
Readers of Immmortal Bird will recall the scene where Damon flies in to Park City to join me and my best friend David Brumer for the last days of the festival. The year was 2004 and the Sloan winning film–also the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner that year–was Shane Carruth’s Primer.
Shane has not made a film since but is back this year with another original and compelling work, Upstream Color.
Damon only came once, but he left many memories. When John Cooper, now director of the festival but then the programmer, warmed up the Closing Night Awards audience by having them stand and do the “Sun Dance,” Damon leapt to his feet and shimmied like there was no tomorrow (he had a 14 months of tomorrows left). David, a film major and programmer for several Seattle film festivals, would often meet me at Sundance and he left his imprint everywhere. I cannot pass a theatre, a restaurant or a party rope line without thinking about him.
When I go to the Kill Your Darlings party in 2013– lead Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter, whose books Damon read aloud to his siblings, is there–I bump into Michael Almareyda, who is directing a Sloan-supported film about Stanely Milgram, best known for the Milgram obedience experiments but also the man who created the concept of Six Degrees of Separation through his “small world experiment.”
I first met Almareyda on the set of Deadood in 2004, where Damon made his national televsion debut. Almareyda knew Paula Malcomson, the actress who played Trixie and who took Damon under her wing and shared acting tips and much more with him.
Almaereyda’s Sloan-supported film Experimenter is being produced by Christine Vauchon, one of the producers of 2013’s Kill Your Darlings. The other producers of Kill Your Darlings, Michael Benaroya and Rose Ganguzza, first came to me at Sloan with a project about Hedy Lamarr in 2005. Rose Ganguzza, “the godmother,” also knows Nicole Kassells, director of The Woodsman, starring Kevin Bacon; Nicole, who I meet at this party for the first time, is the recipient of a new Sundance screenplay grant from Sloan that we will announce later this week. Nicole turns out to be close friends with Lisa Robinson, also at the party, who was the recipient of a 100k Sloan first feature prize for her film Synapse and also won the Sloan Feature Film Prize at the Hamptons International Film Festival for a film she co-directed, Small, Beautifully Moving Parts. And Lisa is married to a neurobiologist named Andre Fenton from NYU who is on our January 22 panel here at Sundance.
While mathematicians quibble whether it’s exactly six degrees of separation–the latest estimate is closer to four degrees of connectedness between any two people–the concept is alive and well.
But when you’re haunted by losses, six degrees of separation can be a constant reminder of what you no longer have.
At the AFI party, Nick Bruckman, producer of the beautiful Sloan-supported film Valley of Saints–winner of the Sundance audience award in 2012, a hit at international film festivals and just picked up for distribution by Marc Urman of Paladin Films–tells me he read Immortal Bird and it affectd him deeply. Nick is in his late 20s or early 30s and he says the book made him think differently about all his relationships. He has a new girlfriend. That is the best that Damon or I, or any father/writer, can ever hope for, and I am touched by his response.