Gawker contributor Ray Lemoine, occasional Hilton adversary and resident Defamer party crasher, was in Utah last week to see the sights at the Sundance Film Festival. Here is his dispatch from the front lines of Hollywood's most famous excuse to get drunk in the snow.
Holding a bacchanal like Sundance in Utah is strange. They take this tiny resort town, Park City, and turn it into occupied territory: hundreds of police, blocked roads, dozens of private security companies manning pointless checkpoints. On Main Street, where nearly all the action takes place, every third storefront has been commandeered by some hip pop-up business with a guest list and a rent-a-cop—because what's cooler than a Chase Bank VIP ATM, complete with a doorman? During Sundance, Park City starts to feel a bit like a corporate, Mormon Pyongyang.
This year Sundance's overbearing security seemed a little ironic considering that the festival's most interesting films were about human rights, freedom and justice—the very things I saw violated when I was thrown in jail the night I arrived.
Let's start at the beginning: Early Saturday night was spent party-hopping, first at the Snow Lodge, a pop-up bar from the Surf Lodge in Montauk, and then off to celebrate The Art of Black and White Stripes, a documentary about Italian soccer club Juventus. I bumped into Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn at the former and Fiat heir Lapo Elkann at the latter. I reminded Elkann about the time he told the ObserverObserver that "women are like flowers in a vase—they need to be changed every few days." He grinned: "That is me, yes."
At around midnight I went to TAO's pop-up nightclub, which had been situated beneath an ugly ski lodge topped with a chairlift. The room had all the charm of a velvet-wrapped parking garage, which it was. I was in the DJ booth when, without much warning, the DJ decided to kick us all out. That was fine, but I wanted to collect my $400 parka before I left. This, apparently, was not allowed, because after asking to do so I was handcuffed by a security guard and slammed into a wall. I was then marched to the entrance of the retrofitted parking lot and tossed out.
After getting the heave-ho, I saw several police SUVs parked by the entrance. As I approached some officers, wearing just a sweatshirt and a t-shirt, a bald cop said, "Oh you're the one who lost the jacket?"
"Yes, thanks, can I get it back?" I asked.
Without saying a word, the officer smiled and handcuffed me. The friend I was with, a lawyer and law professor, yelled "What are you doing? What did he do? How is this legal?" at which point she was promptly grabbed, thrown to the ground, and arrested, all the while yelling and asking the police to stop.
En route to a cruiser, the cop who handcuffed me admitted he felt bad arresting me. He couldn't give a straight answer as to why I was now in custody, and he admitted I was probably not running around in only a thin sweatshirt in 20-degree weather, and that the jacket likely did exist. He even said he'd look for the parka later, after processing me, and that I should be out in a few hours. "But your friend, well, she isn't cooperating," he added. "Don't expect her tonight."
At the station they tossed me into a cell with a 22-year-old junkie who weighed about 87 pounds. The cells were so cold that people were shivering, and the junkie threatened me when I said he was dumb for riding in a car with heroin. "I'll see you on the outside, man," he promised.
"And then what?" I asked
"You'll see," he said.
By 4 in the morning they pulled me out to be processed. I was charged with disorderly conduct and put into my own cell. On my way in, an officer handed me a blanket. "That's only because you've behaved," he said.
It being Utah and all, I suppose I can thank Joseph Smith Jr. for John Flanagan, a film producer and tech entrepreneur from New York, who came to bail me out. Flanagan didn't even know me, but when he heard about my case from a mutual friend, he Uber-ed over and helped me out.
My attorney friend, who was also charged with disorderly conduct, wasn't processed until 10 AM. She was finally bonded out an hour later. She had bruises on her arms, scrapes on her legs, and no feeling in her right thumb.
After a night in jail, strangely, much of the rest of my time at Sundance was spent around filmmakers advocating for civil rights and freedom. The Human Rights Campaign had a party at the Silver Restaurant for two docs, Case Against 8 and Kidnapped for Christ. Case Against 8 directors Ryan White and Ben Cotner spent five years following the Proposition 8 gay marriage case all the way to the Supreme Court, and Sundance senior programmer David Courier said the film represented a monumental moment in Sundance history. Courier, who recently married his longtime boyfriend, gave me a kiss on the cheek and yelled "I love Gawker."
Another doc getting attention was about Syria's civil war. Return to Homs follows a Free Syrian Army squadron over two years in the fight against dictator Bashar al-Assad. 62 Homsies died making the film, a publicist told me.
"The daily shelling and the huge lack of medicine and living necessities make it impossible to normalize," the film's producer, Orwa Nyrabia, said. Nyrabia said he was angry that the world has largely ignored his country's strife. "It feels terrible. And it will need years and years before the Syrian people will restore their faith in humanity and in the so-called international community. The Obama Administration's claims that American people don't care—justifying the United States' rather passive position towards the ongoing massacre—is not true."
Eventually I went back to TAO to see if my jacket was in the lost and found. It was gone, but a burly dickhead with a Bluetooth in his ear laughed at me. "I'm the guy who handcuffed you last night," he bragged. "Then I had you arrested for criminal trespassing." I asked his name. He handed me his card and said "call my attorneys." He then grabbed my arm, pulled me out of the venue, and again threatened to arrest me.
The law professor who was taken to jail with me says she's planning to fight the charges. Other lawyers she's contacted say she has a case. The criminal charges against her are thin, and her physical wounds were visible. One criminal attorney said he'd never heard of someone being detained for 10 hours before being charged.
Despite all that, things didn't seem so bad the next day, when a report was released saying the Assad regime is guilty of executing 11,000 prisoners and torturing tens of thousands more. Sundance, despite all the dumb corporate fascism, gives voice to gay rights activists and Syrian rebels who might otherwise not get an international voice. And I can afford a new jacket.
[Image by Jim Cooke, Photos via Getty and Shutterstock]