Sundance Film Festival 2012: Tracy Morgan collapses, Rashida Jones promotes writing debut

The Sundance Film Festival brought Hollywood elites to sleepy Park City, Utah, for the 28th annual celebration of independent filmmaking. Opening with four films and four inches of fresh snow on the slopes, founder Robert Redford told the Associated Press that this year’s films are “dark and grim,” and characterized by “suffering from a government that’s in paralysis.”

Redford said the institute’s mission remains the same: to support and encourage independent filmmakers and provide a platform for their work to be seen.

“There are those people who say, ‘Why give money to art? It means nothing,’” Redford said. “I think it means a lot. And we’re here to try and prove how much it does mean. So we can only do what we can do, but we’re going to keep doing it.

News about the films was overshadowed for a bit by when actor Tracy Morgan was hospitalized after he collapsed following a Sundance event. Though there were reports that Morgan was inebriated, his rep denied it in a statement, saying that he had suffered from “a combination of exhaustion and altitude.” “Any reports of Tracy consuming alcohol are 100% false,” the statement said.

Celebrities took the opportunity to promote their latest projects:

Rashida Jones talked about “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” her writing debut. She stars in the film, along with Andy Samberg, Emma Roberts and Elijah Wood.

Jones’ first screenwriting effort (with co-writer Will McCormack) emerged from “pain, lots of pain.”

“We’re both very deeply feeling people, and we love to talk about relationships and love and feelings,” she said. “We like to be as inappropriate as possible when things are grave and difficult, so I think it probably came from that place. It also came from, as an actress, reading so many scripts, you kind of intrinsically absorb storytelling script structure into your being without even knowing it, and we wanted to try and tell this story.”

Sean Penn ’s new movie, “This Must Be the Place,” casts him as a rock star who skips out on fame and exiles himself overseas — a sentiment that Penn understands. He told the Associated Press:

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that it’s an obscene disease of celebrity that’s taken over far too much of the life that we do live. I think it’s a disease,” Penn said. “I think that it’s diminished the quality of life. Not particularly for the people who are the focus of it, though that is clearly something that I’ve been compromised by. But for the culture at large, there is this kind of herd commitment. ... I think it’s just become cheap.”

Sigourney Weaver revisits the paranormal in her new film “Red Lights,” where she plays a skeptic who debunks phony claims of the paranormal.

“I probably don’t believe in fairies and ghosts, but I certainly believe that people have souls,” Weaver, 62, said in an interview. “I think that, and that’s there’s more going on around us than we can explain in a rational way.”

Peter Jackson , director of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, debuted “West of Memphis,” a documentary about a wrongful-conviction death row murder case that he made with his wife, Fran Walsh, and Amy Berg.

Jackson, Walsh and Berg said “West of Memphis” amounts to the fair trial Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley — known as the West Memphis Three — never got as Arkansas teenagers when they were convicted in 1994.

“We went into this case believing that they didn’t do it, and the facts and the evidence we came out with at the end completely supported that,” Jackson said in an interview. “So is the documentary sort of providing the prosecution’s point of view? No, it’s not. We’re not interested in that. They had their go back in 1994. ... The documentary, it’s the case against the state, really.”

Richard Gere was in town to promote “Arbitrage,” “a thriller about the lure of money and power and how it affects one’s personal values,” according to the Associated Press. The film also stars Susan Sarandon.

Celebrities from outside of the filmmaking world made an appearance in Park City, too, with their ties to projects.

2 Live Crew , the rap group known for songs like “Me So Horny,” announced at Sundance that they will reunite and tour this summer. Rapper and producer Luther Campbell made the announcement in support of his appearance in the film “The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke.” “We’re going to perform the songs and everybody’s going to be excited,” he said. “Some of the older people of our generation will be able to tell their kids, ‘You’re staying home tonight, we’re going to see 2 Live Crew and shake our booty!’”

Neil Young is the subject of a new concert film by Jonathan Demme, “Neil Young Journey.” Demme’s 2006 film about Young, “Heart of Gold,” was a hit, but Young said their second collaboration is totally different.

“’Journeys’ is so different from ‘Heart of Gold.’ It’s like the other side of the universe,” Young, 66, said in an interview alongside Demme. “’Heart of Gold’ was a massive production with great caretaking to present this whole image of this forgotten style of presenting music, in this great old chapel of country music. ...

“This film we just made is so opposite of that. It’s just one person,” Young said. “The sound is completely different and the attitude of it is different. The look is different. ... The sounds are kind of enveloping. You get to move way inside, whereas, ‘Heart of Gold,’ you’re way back, going, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful seeing it from the back, seeing all these beautiful people, these great musicians.’ And this one here, you’re like inside my instrument, inside the distortion of the guitar. There’s nothing in the way.”

Mary J. Blige lent her voice to a documentary about sexual assault in the military. “The Invisible War” features her song “Need Someone” in the closing credits of the film.

And for those who didn’t have to work at promoting a film, there’s always the swag suite. Facials, lip treatments, snow boots, handbags, gluten-free snacks, and even soup were among the freebies that celebrities walked away with this year.

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