Paris Hilton Baffles Kevin Smith; Matt Dillon Offends Sundance Audiences

Documentaries and thought-provoking features keep the celeb-soaked festival grounded.

PARK CITY, Utah — “God Save the Hollywood Industry,” read the banner. Below it hung a sign with Paris Hilton’s disembodied head flashing a vapid smile in the middle of a red circle with a “Ghostbusters”-like slash through her face. Beneath that was the entryway to one of Tuesday night’s most popular industry parties, the crowd roaring with conversations about how hard-partying pseudo-stars are undermining the Sundance experience.

While the argument certainly carries some weight (hours earlier, Shannon Elizabeth and Lance Bass had engaged in a kiwi-shaving contest to promote an electric razor), if the haters spent as much time seeking out movies as they did making Paris-bashing signs, they may have realized that this year’s festival is shaping up to be the most diverse and thought-provoking in recent memory.

“Music is a lineage; everything starts somewhere,” punk chronicler Steven Blush beamed while discussing the documentary “American Hardcore,” which he wrote and produced. “The bands we see today — Green Day and Blink-182, or you go back to Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers or Nirvana — well, if you go back before that, it was hardcore.”

The film, which features mind-blowing archival footage and new interviews from the likes of Black Flag, the Circle Jerks and Bad Brains, was screened for the first time to a group of delirious old timers and music-savvy younger folk as well. And, according to Blush and director Paul Rachman, the hardcore attitude bubbled to the surface again as they watched some of Hollywood’s hipper-than-thou Sundancers attempt to understand why the music wasn’t about being in love or how much their bling was worth. “D.O.A. was like, ‘We can’t wait to come and horrify celebrities,’ ” Blush laughed.

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“Somebody walked out of our screening and said, ‘That didn’t even sound like music,’ ” added Rachman, calling out those who listen for toe-tapping melodies rather than passion. “That’s exactly what we want to hear.”

Shifting gears dramatically, a true cinefile could follow-up a “Hardcore” screening with the 180-degree turn that is “God Grew Tired of Us,” a gripping documentary produced by Brad Pitt that follows four orphans from the Sudan who travel to America after years of wandering Africa trying to escape genocide. It’s the kind of film that could change the world — and months before it will be released, it already has. “One person came to me (after the screening),” recalled refugee John Bul Dou, his eyes glassing over. “A woman from Texas said, ‘I want to write a check to your clinic,’ because I’m building a medical clinic.”

“I looked at the check, because she wrote it and got out,” he continued. “She disappeared, and when I looked at the check it looked like $25. I looked again and saw another zero. The woman just wrote a check for $25,000 in only five minutes.”

It wasn’t just a day of documentaries, however, and those bemoaning the Hollywood slant of the annual get-together could likely find some resonance within “Factotum,” a brilliantly executed movie that marks the closest Hollywood has ever come to capturing the voice of poet, pariah and self-assured madman Charles Bukowski. “He was an equal opportunity offender,” laughed Matt Dillon, who portrays a thinly veiled version of the legendary writer. “He was very much a renegade; a guy who goes his own way, who thinks, ‘To hell with the system; to hell with society’s rules.’ ”

“He refused to conform to the dictates of society,” Dillon added when asked about the Bukowski he wanted to get across with his performance. “And he’s got a sense of humor, and he’s laughing all the way through it. He’s part of that great tradition of rebellious literary icon. … He [is still] a voice for anyone who’s stuck in a dead-end job.”

It is such diversity and innovative filmmaking that has resulted in a year that will likely be remembered as one of the most financially quiet. As the film buyers encounter one audience-pleasing, thought-provoking film after another, it is simply becoming more obvious that they aren’t sure how they can promote them.

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Which brings the conversation to “Small Town Gay Bar,” a loving documentary from executive producer Kevin Smith and director Malcolm Ingram that leaves every eye in the house soaking — but promises a marketing campaign so difficult that it would make “Brokeback Mountain” look like a “Spider-Man” sequel. “The title tells you nothing about what the movie is,” joked “Clerks” mastermind Smith. “It’s actually about a shark that terrorizes a small fishing village. But we thought ‘Small Town Gay Bar’ would go for the gay audience.”

“It’s a film that is a portrait of small-town gay bars in rural Mississippi,” Smith said, straightening up. “Which is probably the hardest place in the world to be gay. It’s a portrait of how people will create their own community, even in the middle of a community that ostracizes them and wants nothing to do with them. They can still collectively come together and create an oasis for themselves to just chill out and be themselves and be who they can’t be in this particular buckle of the Bible Belt.”

That said, the conversation with the always-outspoken Silent Bob turns to the corporate attempts at Sundance to get celebrities to wear, use, or otherwise promote the free products that are constantly being handed to the likes of Greg Germann or Corey Feldman — the latter of whom spent Tuesday afternoon trying to convince the Philips celebrity lounge that he was worthy of free electronics.

“The fact of the matter is, with all the free swag and clothes and crap, they don’t have the fat-guy-store swag here,” he laughed. “You walk into one of these clothing joints and you’re like, ‘Can I get a 50 large?’ And they’re like, ‘God no — unless we sew three pair of pants together.’ So until big-and-tall shops open up free swag joints at Sundance, dudes like us ain’t gonna make out.”

“I don’t understand it, man,” he added, pointing to celebrities like Paris Hilton, who doesn’t even have a movie in Park City. “I guess some people come out just to get the stuff.”

“[Hilton] is just like, ‘Where’s there a camera? I’m there. Where’s my little dog? In two years, nobody’s going to remember that name; mark my words,” he laughed, sounding like he’d already R.S.V.P.’d to the “God Save the Hollywood Industry” party himself. “But to be fair, two years from now, nobody’s gonna remember mine either.”

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