Sundance 2016: On the Ground

Posted By Audra Coulombe on January 29, 2016 06:41 am | Permalink
On my way to the airport yesterday morning, while listening to Seal's entire catalogue, my Uber driver looks at me in his rearview mirror and says, "That jacket will be warm enough for Utah?" 

Sergey was from Azerbaijan via Moscow. He probably knows a thing or two about the cold. 

"Yeah. I think... maybe. You have to layer."

Now that I'm in Park City, the weather is beautiful. Sergey wouldn't be worried at all.

Flying into Salt Lake City was one of my top 5 most beautiful airplane descents. I also couldn't stop thinking about The Oregon Trail. Trying to get through the Rocky Mountains in a covered wagon seems like it would be a risky/insane endeavor. 

Check into my hotel. Charge phone. Text from Andrew: "Entrench yourself."

So I hopped in a stranger's van (guys...this is Utah, not Brooklyn) with some other festivalgoers and entrenched myself right on over to the box office. 

I met up with a professor of mine from my days at Syracuse University. Tula Goenka teaches film production at the Newhouse School at SU, and was one of my favorites. She's here with 10 students, taking them to panels, workshops, and other events. More on their experience soon!

After some food, we wandered into the New Frontier section of the festival, where they feature all things hip, noteworthy, and up-and-coming. This year the focus seems to be on all things VR, and I was lucky enough to arrive on the night of "The Martian VR Experience." 

Not only was it my first time in Utah, but I've also never been to Mars. I got in line. During my two-hour stay in line I got to observe others who were also having their first Martian VR Experience. The viewer holds a controller in each hand and uses a combination of triggers and hand motions to follow prompts coming through the VR headphones. When it was my turn, I was ready. I knew all the hand motions (it was a long line). I put on the headset and got the giggles because I was in outer space. 

The game's technician said I was doing well. I mentioned the fact that I spied on the previous Martians. He told me I was cheating. Too bad! It was so worth it. Not only did I crash land myself on Mars, I got to float in space. All in all, it was a top-notch Martian VR experience, and an excellent day for my bucket list. 

Meanwhile, Tula headed over to the documentary Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny. She was excited for this film in particular because in addition to being a professor of film production, she's a filmmaker herself. She says, "It clearly demonstrates how passion, patience and perseverance are essential qualities in this profession. The filmmakers obviously had an inside track to Linklater and his work, since Louis Black has known him from his pre-Slacker days. However, it made me wonder whether too much knowledge of your subject makes you more timid as a documentarian."

All in all it was a good first day on the ground. More soon!

Audra Coulombe is Marketing Manager at The Molecule (, a VFX, MGFX, and VR studio based in New York City, with an office in Los Angeles too.