Sundance: Day two

Day two was, in a word, hectic. The streets were crammed with weekend snow birds, Sundancers (doubled in number since yesterday) and locals—who seem to be losing patience with the mounting festival takeover. But who can blame them? Park City is small, and right now, Main Street (or the “strip” as I have learned to call it), crawls at the pace of a snail, whether you’re moving by car or on foot. Luckily, towards the edge of town, where most screenings take place, things are more spacious.

Saturday was a big day for Canadian director Yung Chang, responsible for Up the Yangtze, the doc that has everyone here talking. Premiered as part of the festival’s documentary competition, the film tracks the lives of Yangtze River Cruise employees, and explores China’s controversial Three Gorges Dam project, revealing truths that lie beneath the surface of the neon-lit guided river tour.

The story of employee Cindy Shui stands out as a staggering glance into the hardships of a river town native. A young woman of no means, Cindy works on the boat to support her family. With each day that passes, her hope of getting off the boat and going back to school seems dimmer, while back home, life is even bleaker—the flooding caused by the Three Gorges Dam project means that her house is slowly sinking into the river. (Since the film’s production, the director and his team have organized a fund for Cindy to help pay for school. Visit givemeaning.com to learn more.)

I left Up the Yangtze sure that I had just watched one of the year’s most important documentaries, but I was also feeling pretty fragile due to some of its more tragic elements. Regardless, I was looking forward to the light-hearted fare I knew they would be serving up at the Nylon/Horrors screening later in the evening.

I wasn’t disappointed.

From the moment we all piled into the Marquee Lounge, the energy was buzzing. The Horrors arrived in style, dressed in skinny black suits with hair fashionably askew—not nearly as outlandish as you might expect from listening to their garage take on screamo. Jared Leto—a friend of the band’s—was in attendance, looking more New York than mountain man with his tailored, grey wool overcoat and matching houndstooth earflap hat. Leto sat with the band during the screening and stayed for the after-party, where red coats ruled. The crowd included Mischa Barton‘s ex-flame Cisco Adler, frontman of the band Whitestarr.

Though a secret back tunnel, I circumvented the lineup to the bar next door and  headed straight over to a stage where Maroon 5 was hanging out. Lead singer Adam Levine remained perched on a speaker talking to friends while playfully bobbing his head to the music, while the rest of the band—looking more Seattle grunge than L.A. pop—danced onstage to the bar’s top ’40s mix until closing time. The night ended with some late-night munchies and a sound sleep.

Today, I’m going to check out Sea Wolf at the ASCAP-run music bar on Main. While still flying under the radar, Sea Wolf’s Alex Church is heralded by music critics to be amongst indie rock’s best songwriters. I’ll give you the skinny on his lyricism tomorrow but until then, check out the band on myspace.com.

By Jennifer Lee

Shown: A scene from Up the Yangtze, one of the most talked-about docs at Sundance.

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