Heath Ledger’s Death Sends Shockwaves Through Sundance

Tuesday should have been a great day for entertainment; it should have been a great day for a cinephile like myself.I woke up in Utah, at ground zero for the greatest movies of tomorrow. The Oscar nominations were announced, promising more attention for deserving gems like “Juno” and “No Country for Old Men.” Indie filmmakers and big stars alike gave me heartfelt interviews while trying to get their passion projects some national attention.

Then, as I sat opposite Diddy, my overworked cameraman Aaron received a text message. It was 2:47 p.m. Utah time, and one of the most acclaimed actors of our time was gone.

As I watched, others in the crowded junket room checked their wireless devices, repelled in shock, then whispered to those around them. Diddy, John Stamos and other celebs typed furiously, and you could see the information spreading like that scene in “Outbreak” where the disease sweeps through the airport.”Heath Ledger,” “pills” and “suicide” were just a few of the constantly overheard words walking up Main Street to our next interview. Rumors flew, and who knows when they’ll finally yield to the truth. Random friends and colleagues stopped me as the snow poured down on us, asking: “Have you heard?”

Four actors, who shall remain nameless, turned us away from scheduled interviews, unsure of how to handle the inevitable “reaction” question a news organization would have for them.As we pressed on, others were positively relieved to have an opportunity to share their thoughts. Remembrances of Heath, sadness over the news, and articulate words on his legacy came from Stacy Peralta (a friend and inspiration during “Lords of Dogtown”), Bijou Phillips (another friend), Josh Lucas and others. Tears were shed, as they undoubtedly were by many of his fans.

Sadly, all the sweat-powered indie films yearning for national attention will now be relegated to page two. Sadly, few will be talking about today’s Oscar-nominated films. But saddest of all, much like James Dean and River Phoenix before him, we’ll always wonder how many more great movies Heath Ledger would have given us.