This was my mantra while embedded for five days with a batch of locals—many of them actors—who all arrived in Park City, Utah, in January during the Sundance Film Festival.
Their mission: introduce the world’s most avid cinephiles to the existence of the Louisiana International Film Festival and network with powerhouse directors and executives to, ultimately, attract them to attend or otherwise support this year’s event, held May 8-11 in Baton Rouge (read about LIFF).
This eclectic mix of creatives dubbed themselves the “Louisiana Krewe” and carried out a string of street promotions—most of which involved horror masks made by Baton Rouge company CFX that would scare the claws off Freddie Krueger—media opportunities, and the grand finale, a raucous Louisiana-themed party.
Following each energetic strand of their endeavors was like trying to lasso an entire heard with a single rope. Forget meeting New Orleans native-turned-Hollywood player Mark Duplass or Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul. Never mind walking right past Mad Men vixen Christina Hendricks or exchanging glances with Rooney Mara. Stars were everywhere, but other kinds of surreal experiences were abundant, too.
One morning, I awoke to find a fireman making breakfast for what could have been a small army, and a shaman in a leotard, his tangled mane as black as his eyeliner.
“What’s up,” he asked plainly.
Everything, I supposed.
Of course, as actor, director and new Livingston Parish resident John Schneider would later observe at Sundance, “People in Louisiana know how to work hard, and then they know how to stop.”
This joie de vivre was a major factor in The Dukes of Hazzard and Smallville star’s decision to buy land near Baton Rouge and set about building his own movie studio.
Louisiana’s spirit was alive, too, inside the LIFF house on Bobsled Lane in Park City. There was a lot of everything in that house, except maybe sleep. There were snowball fights, dance parties and champagne. There was a hot tub.
Members of the “Louisiana Krewe,” musician Alexander “The Conquistador” Antebi and actress Shanna Forrestall, pause on Main Street in Park City during an adventurous day of promotions for the Louisiana International Film Festival.
Standing on the other side of a barricade and waiting for a 30-second conversation with an actor walking the red carpet is a different game for a feature writer—a scrum for sound bites and a contest of angles and elbows and a little bit of iron will.
Minutes earlier I was hanging with Duplass, star of The League and The Mindy Project and an acclaimed writer/director in his own right.
“This is just about my only downtime [at the festival],” Duplass told me as we discussed the Sundance film he produced called Skeleton Twins. “But, you know, it’s all so fun.”
Once the lights were on, dozens of cameras were aimed like barrels at the cast of Skeleton Twins, which includes Luke Wilson and Bill Hader.
The Saturday Night Live alum stars in what amounts to his breakout dramatic role as a man who attempts suicide and ends up reconnecting with his estranged sister—played by Kristen Wiig.
The film has dark moments, of course, but with Wiig, Wilson and Hader in the cast, they made sure to have fun on set and endow the film with plenty of humor, too. Hader told 225 his favorite day on set was a partially improvised karaoke moment that saw the former SNL castmates belt out a classic tune. “The movie is about relationships you have with your siblings that you can’t have with anyone else,” he said. “They remind [you] of who you were. They call you on your [expletive]. They know you better than anybody.That’s what drew me to [the film].”
Beasts of the Southern Wild star and New Orleans bakery owner Dwight Henry enjoys a return trip to Sundance with actress Sharice Williams.
Based on the popular spy novel by John Le Carre, director Anton Corbijn’s thriller A Most Wanted Man premiered at Sundance the next day.
“Philip [Seymour Hoffman] may move quickly through the line,” one of the festival’s publicists warned me long before the actors arrived on the red carpet. “He doesn’t like all this [expletive].”
An hour later, after being checked in not once but three times, another flack who had it in for us bumped 225 videographer Elizabeth Shaw and I from our prime interviewing position so that a few major television outlets—Fox News, AMC, E! TV, whatever—could have a little extra elbowroom down the line. She asked us to leave, actually. “We won’t be able to accommodate you,” she smirked.
I’ve never been a rebel for rebellion’s sake, but it didn’t feel right to leave that premiere when we were one of the first press outlets to arrive. Honestly, with movie stars passing us on the street left and right, Hoffman was the one we had been talking about meeting all morning. Every bone in my body told me not to go unless physically escorted off site by a credentialed officer of the law. I informed Elizabeth that we weren’t leaving, and she said, “Okay.” Let’s do this.
Being super tall, I was a little anxious about this flack spying me still hanging around, so for much of the press line, I hung in the back, chatting it up with the Sundance Channel crew and watching from their nifty monitor as Willem Dafoe and Rachel McAdams made their way down the carpet, but Elizabeth on the other hand—You’re little, I told her, go get back in there. And she did.
Working the angles and wedging her way forward, she was able to get some great footage and images of Hoffman discussing his final (completed) film, and I’m so proud of her for that. Sadly, I never did get to ask Hoffman any exclusive questions—huge regret, for sure—though I did sneak close enough to say hello to him and to catch the salty actor really hammering a TV reporter with sarcasm for her ridiculous questions.
“Oh my gawd!” he exclaimed, an outburst worthy of any P.T. Anderson film, when asked if he thought his Hunger Games co-star Jennifer Lawrence would win an Oscar this year. He then darted away and was gone.
Rachel McAdams, the film’s female lead, walked in looking like she had just woken up and yet still gorgeous in a natural way. Wide eyed, it was obvious she was taking everything in.
“Premieres never get easier,” McAdams said. “It’s exciting, and it is surreal. I’ve never been [to Sundance] before, and I’m loving it.”
Not one to suffer poor questions lightly, Hoffman preferred waxing poetic on the power of the film’s source material and the importance of the audience bringing their own experience and perspectives to a piece of cinema.
“[I just want to] do right by the story and try to illuminate it in a way that is surprising,” Hoffman said. “It would be hard for anyone to not connect with the loneliness in this [story]. [Author John] Le Carre is very lonely, driven and obsessive. These are a lot of traits that I think people carry in one grade or another.”
This would be actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final public appearance before his death in New York City two weeks later.
Back at the Bobsled Lane house, after a long day of glad-handing and promoting of LIFF, Schneider leaned back into the hot tub and puts his intentions into perspective.
“I was a kid who was shooting movies on my super 8,” he says. “Dukes turned me into something else, an actor, and I don’t say that with any disdain, but it took me about 35 years after Dukes to get back to making movies. And it was moving to Louisiana that did it. I taste the passion for filmmaking in Louisiana. It’s different in Los Angeles. In Louisiana, it is more about the art.”
Award-winning chef and Hot Tails co-owner Cody Carroll gave partygoers from across the country and world a savory taste of Louisiana cooking at LIFF’s Voodoo Love party at Epic nightclub in Park City.
That passion blossomed on the Louisiana Krewe’s final night together in Park City. Like invading forces armed with grit and Spanish moss, the krewe took over Epic, a nightclub on Main Street in the heart of Sundance.
Hundreds streamed into the Voodoo Love party, jolted by the sounds of Lafayette rocker C.C. Adcock, and nourished by the cuisine of Cody and Sam Carroll, the award-winning chefs behind Hot Tails in New Roads.
The Carrolls’ nine-person team had their setbacks. “No kitchen, so we hunt down some water,” Cody Carroll said in the heat of the moment. “We started cooking in the alleyway, but it’s under control now. The key is trying to figure out the best way to adapt and keep the show going. You use every back-up plan you’ve ever had.”
Soon the place was crawling with people, executives, actors, movers and shakers whose interest is piqued by the Louisiana International Film Festival. Though I never saw them, I was told that Keira Knightly and Sarah Jessica Parker attended the party. Apparently, Knightly bounced in a matter of minutes, but made sure to try the king cake bread pudding first. But one of the stars of the evening was Louisiana’s own Dwight Henry, who received a proclamation as a film ambassador for the state.
Over lunch earlier in the day, the Beasts of the Southern Wild star exuded appreciation for what this festival and his return to it meant to him. “My life changed at Sundance,” Henry said. And he’s right. Since the film premiered in 2012, he has traveled the world. He met the president. Still, every morning at 6 a.m. he rolls up to his bakery off St. Bernard Avenue, the Buttermilk Drop, and rolls up his sleeves to make donuts for the working class people of New Orleans.
“I believe in my neighborhood,” he said at the LIFF event.
The crowds that danced, ate and buzzed about the Bayou State might not have seen Beasts of the Southern Wild, but what they did see in front of them was a humble Louisiana man seizing life to the fullest, a thankful man proud of his home and his city, a man who ended the night by calling them with all of his might to, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!”
CC Adcock brought the sounds of Cajun country to revelers at Voodoo Love Party.