As we come down to the dregs of Sundance, PopWatchers, a lot of EW reporters are still pounding the pavement, seeing our last assigned screenings, and picking up final interviews before this whole circus packs up and goes home. Of course, thanks to my visit from Uncle Pukey, I’m about a day behind schedule and very thankful for the lack of traffic on the streets as I careen around from screening to interview to video blog with mere moments to spare.
When last we spoke, I was heading out for Palestinian rap documentary Slingshot Hip-Hop – while all-too-cognizant of the fact that I still had to get home and watch my screener of Sundance’s closing-night film, CSNY Deja Vu in preparation for my interview with ROCK LEGEND NEIL YOUNG this morning. But did I go straight home after Slingshot Hip-Hop? No. No, I did not. Instead, I ended up following the Slingshot folks to the World Cinema party, where the members of DAM – the founding fathers of the growing Palestine rap scene – performed a (very) short set. I wish there’d been more people there to see it. I’m not a huge hip-hop scholar or anything (despite the efforts of many people to educate me), but even my inexperienced ears can tell there’s a flow to rap in Arabic that’s natural and hypnotic, even if you have no earthly idea what they’re saying.
I won’t say I regretted the decision to stay out too late, because I didn’t, but I will say it made Thursday that much more challenging. I’m going to just whip through my activities, most of which will be discussed in larger detail later on: Woke up in my clothes, having fallen asleep on my laptop while researching questions for ROCK LEGEND NEIL YOUNG; shot Sundance wrap-up video with Missy “Still Has No Adequate Nickname” Schwartz; interviewed ROCK LEGEND NEIL YOUNG AS WELL AS CROSBY, STILLS, AND NASH MY GOD I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE THAT HAPPENED on camera for EW.com; interviewed the directors of documentaries Nerakhoon (The Betrayal) and Bigger, Stronger, Faster back-to-back; headed over to the Zone/Fuse/Warner Bros./Whatever venue to interview up-and-coming singer-songwriter Jeremy Lister; ate sandwich; interviewed Josh Groban (I am completely serious); transcribed interviews at photo studio until about 7:30 pm, when Vanessa “Ciudad” Juarez distracted me with a dinner of donuts and beer.
Seems like enough… except there were two more screenings to hit tonight: Sunshine Cleaning, and that poor, darling Chronic Town, whose premiere I was forced to skip due to the unfortunate purging events of Sunday night, and whose star, JR Bourne (pictured), politely tolerated doing an interview with me despite my not having seen the film. We’d originally called him in to do a “My First Sundance (TM)” sort of deal, but instead I think it turned into “My First Experience With Unprepared Journalists at Sundance (TM).”
To make up for that, I am dedicating the entirety of after the jump to him. Please join me there, PopWatchers. The guy’s a handsome Canadian who grew up sailing instead of playing hockey. What’s not to love?
The good news is that I’m happy I found another time to catch Chronic Town, because Bourne is great in it as a deeply self-destructive cab driver living an off-kilter life in Fairbanks, Alaska. With a Grizzly Adams beard and a sardonic monotone, he’s the kind of dude who will walk with his friends to the ends of the earth but can’t take care of himself any more than he can put down a good double vodka. Parts of the movie are certifiably odd, and many are certifiably “indie,” but once the story gets rolling– with its themes of family, lies, and tragic events whose details I’ll not spoil– it’s often quite engrossing.
Now pretend we don’t know any of that, PopWatchers, and travel with me back to Monday, when JR and I sat in the furniture store across the hall from the crowded EW photo studio and had the following conversation. Imagine tinny pop music playing in the background.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, Chronic Town. What I know is that it’s a stoner movie, in Alaska.
JR BOURNE: Chronic Town! It’s just a little slice of someone’s life. I play Truman, a cab driver, and he’s got some issues.
Well, you know, the man can’t stop at one drink. It usually leads to many more and to a couple hits off the bong, and maybe some acid, and it all sort of deals with his inner demons. The guy can’t be alone. But at the same time, he’s well-read, and he’s a bit of an eccentric. And the movie just kind of looks at his life and all of his friends.
And this is based on a real guy?
It was written by the director’s brother. They don’t say that it’s a loose autobiographical look, so don’t say that, but you know… He lived there, and the things that are true are the locations and the bar, and some of the people in it are very true. And [the Alaskan town of] Fairbanks itself plays another character in the movie, which is phenomenal… Truman, over the span of the movie, he loses his girlfriend and trips out over that – being alone – and he has a bad acid trip, slits his wrists, and gets put into a home.
So it’s a comedy.
Yeah. It’s happy [laughs]. Dealing with a dark topic, the challenge always is hoping that the audience won’t want to slit their own wrists, but instead go, “These are real people and real issues, and everyone can relate to it.” They found the humor [at the premiere]. And they laughed, and it was a beautiful sort of experience. I’d seen an older copy, not with an audience. This was the first time with a group. Someone described it perfectly as, “The audience surfed the movie.” They really kind of catch a wave, ride it, laugh, gasp — I heard people gasp at certain points. It was really great.
Does watching the movie bring back memories of shooting?
Yeah, it sure does. And I try to drop the ego as much as possible and not sit there and stare at myself and think, “That was a wrong choice, and that was a weird choice…” I made those choices because I was there and I was in that character, and I gotta trust that instead of sitting here as JR and freaking out. I have to trust that it was in the moment.
This is your first Sundance. When you first came down to Main Street, what was your initial impression?
“I’m at Sundance!” And everybody’s walking around, and sort of like a movie, the weather plays such a role here. I’ve done Toronto a number of times, and I love that festival, but the weather here is such a component to what Sundance is. You’re bundled up, coming out from L.A. and putting on our sweaters and caps…
And falling into snowbanks.
Yeah yeah yeah! I pushed a couple people. [Laughs] No.
Did you hit any of the hot spots?
No. That’s not really the focus. I come here with the great expectation of selling the film and that being the main goal. Because I’m proud of this film. So let’s get it sold, and let’s get it out there so everyone else can see it.
What’s been the biggest difference between this and Toronto for you?
I love the Toronto Film Festival, I really do. I’m from Toronto, so going there I’ve got family, and I’m going back home. And “civilized” is the wrong word, but [during Toronto] it’s September, we’re a little dressed up, the press takes place a day after the movie, and you do all your interviews in that day. Sundance is like, get out there into the snow and stumble around and go in here and go in there and meet with this person and sit in a furniture store with Whitney… But I love that! It’s just a little more laid back, a little more relaxed. I wish I was seeing a more movies, though.
That’s what everybody says. I think if you’re promoting something, you just don’t get to see anything else.
That’s something: In Toronto you get to see documentaries and things that aren’t going to get a huge release, and here I haven’t found that yet, unfortunately.
This is also your first American indie. Is there a marked difference between this and Canadian independent filmmaking?
I think there is. Canada has a different film industry, obviously, and I’m so proud to do films up there. I couldn’t be more proud of those films. But I don’t know if the bigger picture is different, or — I mean, I’m now in the American industry, I’m living in Los Angeles, and the goal is to move it to another level and do different stuff. And I think when the film gets sold here and goes out, it’s a different market than in Canada, definitely. But I’m all about what’s the next challenge, what’s the next obstacle to overcome? It’s really just, keep doing projects that scare the heck out of me. I’m proud to be Canadian, but this is the choice I made, and it wasn’t a half-heartedly made choice.
So what advice would you give newbies to prepare for Sundance next year?
I’d say come prepared to absolutely be yourself and have fun. Drop your expectations. Drop the whole idea of “What’s the destination?” Just enjoy the journey. Absolutely enjoy the journey.
That’s very zen.
Isn’t it, though?