Sundance Diary – Day 2: 'Operation Avalanche,' 'River of Grass,' and 'Jim'
Image: Andy Appelle, Jared Raab
'Operation Avalanche'

I had a hard choice to make this morning: 9am screening of Swiss Army Man, or 10am screening of Operation Avalanche?

You might already have heard about the former, which is now known as “the movie where Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse.” (Yes. That’s a thing.)

I think it’s very slightly more nuanced than that—I gather from my Twitter feed that Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse that saves Paul Dano when he’s shipwrecked, or something like that—and I think the idea of a talented actor playing a dead body for a whole movie is brilliant and gutsy.

But the buzz hasn’t been great, so I passed, and instead I went to Operation Avalanche. It was a good decision.

But First, a Digression: So How Do You Get a Press Pass?

A friend asked this on Facebook today, which reminded me that it’s not as obvious as it might seem—and in keeping with my promise from yesterday, I thought I’d explain.

Having a press pass to a festival is great. It means you get access to press and industry screenings, which are usually before the film screens for the general public, and (probably most importantly) don’t cost you a penny.

Most festivals have a standard system for accrediting press. Generally they require a “letter of assignment” from your editor with details about coverage, plus a series of links to film coverage you’ve written, a photo (for your badge), and some basic information about the publication you’ll be writing for. Generally you submit all this information via an online system and then just wait for confirmation.

Some festivals are easy to get into (especially regional ones); others are quite difficult; the Toronto Film Festival, for instance, to our unending confusion, has stopped accrediting a lot of outlets in the past few years (including Christianity Today, unfortunately). But in general, if a decent outlet (web or print) is willing to assign coverage to you, then you’re golden.

When you get to the festival, you pick up a nifty badge and flash it at the door, often after standing in line for a long time. At a festival like Sundance, you’re also given a limited number of tickets to public screenings, to increase your chances of being able to see all the films you want to see. The goal is to get press in the door. Especially at Sundance, favorable coverage is key to a film’s chances of being purchased by a distributor.

And so my press pass left me in a pickle this morning, but I ultimately picked the film that didn’t have a farting corpse.

Operation Avalanche

Operation Avalanche is a mock-documentary purportedly about CIA agents who go undercover with NASA in the mid-1960s, posing as documentary filmmakers, who eventually get embroiled in a plan (of their own making) to fake the moon landing. This is a description, roughly, of my ideal film—so meta it makes my head spin and my inner postmodern-theory professor (which, not incidentally, I’m teaching this semester) sing for joy.

'Operation Avalanche'
Image: Andy Appelle, Jared Raab

'Operation Avalanche'

In essence, they fake faking the moon landing, and it is totally great.

The word “mock-documentary” should not be confused with “mockumentary,” the style that is probably most associated with Christopher Guest (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) on the big screen and The Office on the small one. I love mockumentaries, but they aren’t really out to fool you. We all know Jim and Pam don’t exist in real life. (They don’t, guys. They’re fictional.)

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Sundance Diary – Day 2: 'Operation Avalanche,' ...