Sundance 2016

Sundance Film Festival: the cornerstone of indie filmmaking and a miraculous melting pot of hipsters and rich folk alike.  Several years ago, my family had the opportunity to attend several days of Sundance by the grace of God and a conveniently scheduled work trip on my dad’s part.  We stayed in a hotel that reminded me of The Shining and spent our days wandering around Salt Lake City, paranoid that we would spot a stray celebrity (which never happened), and catching a few short films through the festival.  It was a downright awesome experience and I’m pretty sure I tried to write a script for my own short film on the flight home (which I’m sure will be premiering at Sundance any year now) – so we decided to come back again in 2016 for my 16th birthday.

The City

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Although we were staying in Salt Lake City, we spent quite a bit of time in Park City, the true hub of Sundance.  Both cities are really cool and beautiful, but strikingly different.  Salt Lake City feels very casual and relaxed: there are a lot of vegan restaurant options and health food stores, and everyone looks like they either just woke up from a nap or just got off the ski slopes.  Most of the film screenings and festival events, however, are to be found in Park City, a swanky but cozy-feeling town that is overrun by celebrities, filmmakers, and press peeps during festival season (and yet, despite the small size of the town, I never once ran into Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  I love being able to spend time in both cities, and I would definitely recommend taking the time to explore both of them.  Maybe you prefer the space and chillness of Salt Lake City, or maybe you’ll thrive in the excitement and energy of Park City.

The Activities

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Most of our time in Utah was spent watching films, riding shuttle buses, and sleeping, but we found some time to do a couple other cool activities as well.  In Salt Lake, we spent some time in a beautiful, snowy park where I got to take some senior pictures and experience a strange man yelling at me to smile in my pictures.  We also took the time to visit Whole Foods about 28 times and check out various vegan restaurants and bakeries, where I consumed an ungodly amount of delicious vegan food.  In Park City, we did some book-browsing at local bookshops and checked out New Frontier, a Sundance spot that’s part tech convention, part film festival, and part art gallery, with a big focus on different virtual reality experiences (we got there half an hour after the doors opened and slots to experience The Martian virtual reality were already booked 7 hours out).

The Films

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Of course, one of the highlights of the week was getting to watch so many amazing films.  All in all, we ended up mostly seeing documentaries, although we did manage to catch one nonfiction feature film and a group of New Frontier short films (these films are very experimental in their format and/or plot).  Here’s the complete list of what we saw:

“Richard Linklater: dream is destiny”
“Jim: The James Foley Story”
“The Fundamentals of Caring”
“Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper”
Documentary Shorts Program
New Frontier Shorts Program

My favorite films that I had the opportunity to see were “Jim”, “The Fundamentals of Caring”, and several of the documentary short films.  One of the coolest parts of getting to see these films was being able to interact with the filmmakers in Q&A sessions that followed the screenings.  Hearing their passion for their art and stories, and experiencing the response from the audience, was such a cool and exciting experience that I think is really unique to Sundance.

The People

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Despite the undeniable coolness of getting to see a bunch of interesting films in such a beautiful place, the best part of going to Sundance is the people.  It can be a bit overwhelming at first to be in so many crowded spaces with all sorts of random people, but it’s actually a really eye-opening experience.  You get to people watch and meet so many incredibly talented and awesome people, from the Sundance volunteers, to the locals, and  the travelers who are just passing through.  Sundance is one of the few places where I can feel comfortable talking to a stranger about what movies they’ve seen and which they liked, and it’s the perfect place to meet people from all over the world and experience an incredible amount of culture, art, and storytelling.  Although there may be a few zany grapes in the bunch (looking at you, strange man who yelled at me in the park), the majority of them are just people like you who love to watch and make movies, and there’s nothing more beautiful or inspiring than that.

AT Approach Trail Hike

The weekend before Thanksgiving, my family decided to go on a impromptu camping trip along the 8-mile-long AT Approach Trail to the top of Springer Mountain, which is the southern terminus for the Appalachian Trail.
Before this trip, I had never actually gone on a proper camping trip, so I was really excited to have the experience and spend a weekend outdoors, exploring the trails of Georgia.

The hike turned out to be interesting.  Which is code for: I thought I was going to die approximately 27 times.  Let me explain:

The hike started off beautifully: the weather was cool but sunny and we were making good time on our hike.
About a mile from the top of Springer Mountain, we begin to hear gunshots coming from somewhere in the distance.  I become convinced that some crazy redneck is trying to hunt us down.  That’s probably not what was going on but regardless, the fear was real.
We get to the top of Springer and it’s awesome: there’s a plaque for the Appalachian Trail and everything.  There’s also a piece of paper taped to a tree warning prospective campers that due to BEAR INCIDENTS, overnight camping on the mountain is discouraged.  We’re too tired to hike anywhere else and there’s quite a few others staying at the summit so we still decide to camp there.  I become convinced a bear is going to attack us in the middle of the night.
We set up camp and all is fine and dandy.  It begins to get colder, so we pile on the layers.  We have a fire and make s’mores and all that good stuff and end up going to sleep around 7 because apparently everyone in my family is 85-years-old.  I wake up in the middle of the night and hear a sound outside my tent: obviously, I believe it is the crazy redneck from before trying to kill me.  I lay awake in fear for about 30 minutes before falling asleep.  The next time I wake up, I am convinced a bear is outside my tent, trying to get inside to eat me.  Somehow, I fall asleep again.  By the third time I wake up, I don’t even care if something is trying to attack me: I just don’t want to see it coming.  So I zip my sleeping bag up all the way and go to sleep for good.
The next morning, I stick my head outside and it’s like a winter wonderland.  Everything iced over throughout the night so everything is winter-y and peaceful and I feel like singing some Christmas carols.  Until I notice how cold it is.  We break down our campsite in about 10 minutes and realize our water is frozen so we can’t make breakfast.  We eat some mixed nuts and hike on.
About a mile in, my hands get so cold they burn and I have a meltdown because I remember that movie Everest and I become genuinely convinced that my hands are going to have to be amputated.  I am not as tough as I thought. My dad gives me his hand warmers like a true gentlemen and we carry on.
We stop once some of our water has melted to make some coffee and end up hiking the rest of the 8 miles back to Amicalola Falls on nothing but a protein bar and some mixed nuts.  Once we reach the end of the trail, we go to the lodge to stuff our face with the only vegan food available: salad (which wasn’t even vegan because there were bacon bits mixed into the lettuce).

And there you have it folks.  Even though camping at the end of November probably wasn’t the best idea, I still had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed my weekend with my family.  I can’t wait to go on another camping trip with them and share all of the adventures with you.

Photo Diary: Harney Peak

A couple weeks ago my family traveled to Colorado and South Dakota for a family hiking vacation.  The first mountain we decided to tackle was Harney Peak in South Dakota.  Harney Peak is a beautiful mountain located in the Black Hills of South Dakota that shares a fascinating history with local Native American tribes and is still considered sacred Native American ground today.
The hike itself was between 7.5-8 miles and was no walk in the park, although it was insanely beautiful.  It was interesting experiencing the terrain and landscape of the Black Hills in comparison to the forests and mountains my family typically hikes here on the east coast.  If you ever find yourself in South Dakota, I would highly recommend hiking Harney Peak; the history of the peak and the surrounding areas is fascinating, and the views are spectacular.  It’s also fun to spot the local wildlife: we even saw a lone buffalo in an area near the peak!