Surviving Sundance

Edmonton filmmakers borrow money from mom, sleep seven to a space and chase down Robert Redford in the street – all part of enduring the world’s biggest independent film festival.


By day three of the Sundance Film Festival, Edmonton filmmaker Trevor Anderson had already collected material for a pub story that he will tell forever. Sitting in the main media room of the festival headquarters in Park City, Utah – an Olympic ski resort serving $25 rye and Cokes – Anderson was still red-faced after a run-in with festival founder, Robert Redford.

After spotting Redford on the street, he had sprinted over to introduce himself to the Hollywood icon. Why not? The High Level Bridge, the five-minute documentary directed by Anderson, was selected for Sundance. They were practically colleagues.

“He said ‘Good luck to you, good for you,'” said Anderson. “That was it. It was a very small lesson for me. If something happens, it has to be organic. What’s the point of desperately bum-rushing an old man?”

To help reduce the high cost of staying in one of the world’s most exclusive resort towns during the world’s most famous indie film festival, Anderson and six others crowded into a rented condo seven minutes – without traffic, that is – from the festival hub. Anderson and cinematographer Fish Griwkowsky were bunk-bed buddies. Griwkowsky’s mom, Anne Ferguson, having helped finance the trip, was also part of the entourage.

When Sundance announced that its 2011 selection would include The High Level Bridge, accommodation had to be secured right away. Because Anderson and crew needed time to raise the money – which they did online and with a sold-out fundraiser at the ARTery a week before Sundance – Griwkowsky’s mom agreed to act as a bridge financier. She was repaid out of the fundraisers’ proceeds.

After attending the American Film Institute Festival (AFI) in Los Angeles and the Toronto International Film Festival, Anderson and his crew learned that indie filmmakers have to stick together to survive.

“The part I like most about film festivals is that I get to meet other filmmakers,” said Anderson. “My favourite memories from festivals is attending the films from filmmakers I am still friends with. You see these people on the festival circuit.”
Just as the filmmakers move from festival to festival, so do the keen volunteers. So, to the Edmonton crew, Park City wasn’t just a town filled with Hollywood strangers. “It’s like a big giant Edmonton,” said Griwkowsky. “It’s a support system. Everyone is cheering for each other. No one is competing.”

But, while Anderson and crew have done about six months worth of festivals to promote this film about how the ghosts of suicidal Edmontonians haunt our tallest bridge, Sundance offers a special sort of push. Having an “Official Selection 2011 Sundance” logo at the front of his film will make it easier for Anderson to get his next doc screened – currently he’s working on a 20-minute musical dedicated to the life of his great uncle Jimmy.

During the festival, The High Level Bridge was screened five times for audiences, which included Simpsons creator Matt Groening – and Anderson even got a more formal and dignified meeting with Redford at the directors’ brunch, where he also hobnobbed with Isabella Rosselini.

Meanwhile, on Sundance’s YouTube page, the film got more than 100,000 views by the end of the festival. “More people have seen it than the entire population of Red Deer when I was growing up there,” said Anderson.


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