It’s day 1 at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and the EW Photo studio started its day off with a bang, with comedian/director Robert Townsend mugging heartily for the camera.
Townsend is visiting snowy Park City, Utah, for his documentary Why We Laugh: Black Comedians on Black Comedy. This historic look at black comedy, from the minstrels in black face to Dave Chappelle — the comedian Townsend admires most right now — is a sort of culmination of Townsend’s decades of work, from Hollywood Shuffle to Eddie Murphy’s concert video Raw. “It’s a celebration and a love letter to all the comedians I love: Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Bill Cosby, and Eddie Murphy,” Townsend says.
Townsend is looking for a buyer like so many other filmmakers at Sundance this year, but that didn’t mean he didn’t take the time to kick back, have a sandwich and share some laughs with fellow festival-goer Matthew Lillard (Scooby-Doo), who is here promoting his Slamdance film Spooner. Townsend is super jealous Lillard is leaving Park City for D.C. for Tuesday’s presidential inauguration. Lillard spent time in Michigan campaigning for Obama and co-hosted an event at the Universal Amphitheater, and will now be attending D.C.’s Midwestern Ball, where the Obama is guaranteed to appear. But before turning to politics, Lillard is focused on his day job. Lillard’s film Spooner, from young director Drake Doremus (Lillard refers to him as an idiot savant), received an early shout-out from Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan, who predicted it would be the sleeper hit of the festival. That praise alone is vindication for a film about a 30-year-old car salesman who gets kicked out of his parents’ house the same day he falls in love with a girl. It hasn’t been able to find a sales agent. “Turan’s comments have changed the trajectory of the film,” says Lillard. “We now have all kinds of people who are coming to us who want to see the movie. That validation is great.”
Validation was in the air on day 1 of Sundance, when festival newcomer Lynn Shelton received massive applause after the first screening of her film Humpday, in which Mark Duplass (Baghead) and Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project) play old friends who dare each other into making a porn together. “It’s been freakin’ awesome,” says Shelton. “Today we had a screening where people were screaming, laughing, and I think I smelled some pee. Yes, I think people were peeing their pants from the sheer joy.”