The opening of the Sundance Film Festival played like a scene out of Robert Redford’s classic outlaw flick “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid": We was robbed.
Having ballooned from a free-thinking alterna-fest into an overrun commercial boondoggle, Sundance proved with its kick-off event -- the premiere of Jennifer Aniston’s film “Friends with Money” -- that it’s crossed another unfortunate milestone. It’s self-absorbed, inconsiderate and lazy.
Having been a place where independent filmmakers sought distributors for their work, Sundance now showcases some films that have already found homes at studios.
“Friends with Money,” financed by Sony Classics, is one such film. This is fine, given that higher profile films pull people in to the festival, lending a hand to lesser-known movies.
But in terms of hype, excitement and good ol’ fashioned PR (that’s public relations -- as in, relating to the public), the premiere of “Friends with Money” was a disaster.
Onlookers and media outlets wanted to see stars, and not inside the event -- where precious few could see the film and hear remarks by Redford -- but on the red carpet. That plush, time-honored trail of popping flashbulbs, screaming fans and pithy sound bites.
With arrivals set to begin by about 6 p.m., reporters and photographers staked out spots on the carpet as early as 3, and certainly no later than 5.
The temperature in Park City, Utah, where the festival takes place, has been in the mid- to high 20s around that time of day, so lingering for that amount of time isn’t ideal (few heat lamps were placed, but they did little to help).
Also, the carpet was unusually short, which is odd given that media coverage has proliferated as the festival has attracted international buzz and major corporate sponsorship.
Rumors swirled that perhaps Aniston would arrive with new love Vince Vaughn, and certainly everyone was excited for a sighting of Redford, the Sundance Kid himself.
Sometime after 6, a limo arrived. And onto the red carpet -- now a tight and almost dangerous scrum of big men wielding heavy cameras alongside squished reporters -- stepped Aniston, the film’s writer/director Nicole Holofcener and Joan Cusack and Catherine Keener, two of the film’s other stars.
They walked the few steps of the carpet as a group, interlocking arms, joking with each other and answering precious few questions from the media.
Aniston was buttressed by Keener and Holofcener, protected from having to field questions about Brangelina or her romance with Vaughn.
“What are you looking forward to doing here at Sundance, Jennifer?”
“Skiing,” she answered.
“Catherine, what do you think is the significance of Sundance for up-and-coming filmmakers?”
“Um … we have to go inside now.”
There were a few other short comments tossed out, but that was the gist of it. Their appearance on the carpet lasted about 5 minutes. And then they were gone.
Burly cameramen grumbled, wondering if they had even gotten a shot of the women after standing out in the cold for hours.
Would they be coming back?
Would there be more? What about Redford? And the fourth lead of “Friends with Money,” the always-great Frances McDomand? She was in Park City, having arrived from New York that morning on the same flight I had taken -- and she even flew in coach.
The media pack eyed the PR person.
“That’s it,” she said. “No one else is coming.”
“That’s it?” the crowd grumbled, almost collectively.
And with that, everyone departed -- but not after having to wait to be shuffled out from a fenced-off pen, which organizers chose not to disassemble.
An angry fan screamed. “We couldn’t even see Aniston!”
Later, folks would learn that Redford was inside, christening the festival with a few remarks. Also inside, Frances McDormand. And pop star Sting with wife Trudie Styler. Friends with money, watching “Friends with Money.”