Sundance 2017: Marti Noxon's Sundance Film Festival diary
Marti Noxon has been a force in Hollywood for some time. From her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce to unREAL, her writing has always been smart, pointed, and funny. She’s written for film, too, with the Fright Night remake and I Am Number Four. Now she has turned to directing and is at the Sundance Film Festival for the first time with her very personal film To the Bone.
The movie, which debuted Sunday night to strong reviews, tackles eating disorders and mental health with a story about 20-year old Ellen, played with brutal honesty by Lily Collins. Ellen has been in and out of facilities to conquer her anorexia and none have worked. In a last-ditch attempt, her dysfunctional family tries a group home run by an unconventional doctor (Keanu Reeves). The film is inspired by Noxon’s own struggles with eating disorders.
Here is Noxon with a diary of her first-ever weekend at the festival, which featured a Women’s March, wardrobe anxiety, and first-time thrills heightened by the mountain air. Read on for more:
Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017
6 a.m.: I wake up at 6. Got to sleep before midnight, so this is the most continuous sleep I’ve had in a while. But honestly, right now I feel very far from the film. The political situation caught up with me. I had an encounter with a man on the shuttle after running around in Park City and feeling full and excited. I bemoaned the pending loss of Obamacare/the Affordable Care Act. An older man in a red hat told me Trump would fix it with a stroke of his pen, like Obama forced ACA on us. He was an oil millionaire/billionaire. My heart hurts.
To The Bone is about eating disorders, but I see them as partly about addiction. I went right from EDs to booze. Without professional help, I’d be dead. Too many people will die needlessly if we go back to letting people buy junk insurance or insurance that doesn’t help people with diseases related to mental illness. There is absolutely a genetic component to my struggles. I always say my cavemen ancestors were guarding the bush with the berries that got them high. My people need that s— on some chemical level. And just like any disease, it needs treatment. Mr. Red Hat said he did great under Obama, but he voted for Trump to help the poor. How did we get here?
7:24 a.m.: Feeling better. Gathering for the Women’s March. No ride, but a woman friend piled us in their car! This is pussy power in the era of Trump. Watch out.
8:32 a.m.: In the green room before the speeches at the march. There are a lot of fancy people here. I can’t believe I get to be in the Room Where It Happens.
9:27 a.m.: So even Sasquatch came out of hiding for the Women’s March. Feeling better.
9:34 a.m.: Hanging with amazing Adriana Albergehtti and director Kimberly Pierce, who gave me advice on talking to the press. Sending a hopeful message. That’s what the movie is about.
12:14 p.m.: Heading out to do press. I actually had the traffic gods with me and caught a public bus out of the Main Street chaos. Got home in time for a bath and a food. Here all people talk about is movies, traffic, and politics.
Big debate over my sweater — Cute? Ugly? Cute-Ugly? It reminded me of all those fun ’70s fair isle sweaters, and it’s all about candy colors according to those on my daughter’s Pinterest. Although said daughter also told me that it was butt ugly.
12:42 p.m.: Used my headspace app to meditate in the van on the way into town. There’s new research that meditation helps curb cravings for booze. Cravings in general. Because let’s be honest, if eating belly lint got me buzzed, I’d be digging my finger in everyone’s tummy. So I have to be careful. But I got Horchata, the tiny stuffed unicorn my daughter gave me. He’s my sober buddy. The meditation/unicorn mix is gonna get me through this party town.
2:57 p.m.: Walked to place doing press. Traffic. Traffic and movies. And politics. That’s all anybody talks about. Oh. And weather. I forgot about weather. It’s cold here. People comment on it as if they didn’t expect it to be cold.
6 p.m.: So many pictures. Watching Keanu [Reeves], Carrie [Preston], and Lily [Collins] navigate this makes me proud of them. They are awesome famous people. They wear it well. Nobody likes to hear famous people complain about how it affects their life, but when you see a guy sneak up behind Keanu and flash a camera in his face like a real d—, you kinda get it.
Also, being the director — way fancier than “just” being the writer. People call you “talent.” I kept stepping out of pictures that were talent-only. Ha. We need to change that, though. “Just” writing is every bit as important as any other creative part of a film.
9 p.m.: We eat at a place called Grub Steak. It is perfect. There’s a salad bar and balls of butter the size of my head. I have to remind myself that I have permission to eat. And eat things I like. I still have to do this. But I’m getting better. I’m with some of my favorite people in the world and out of the party fray. They serve ice cream in a bowl made of cookies. I may have to move to Park City.
Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017
9:49 a.m.: Breakfast. Ate it. So nervous. But ate because food is important. When we left, I walked into the closet instead of the front door.
9:55 a.m.: People are already lining up on the waitlist. It’s an hour before [the screening] and 14 degrees out. I’m sweaty.
11 a.m.: Arrived at the theater. I see some of the women from the cast for the first time. I’m filled with love for all of them and what they gave to the film. How beautiful they all are in such different ways. I’m trying not to cry as I move down the line and talk to press, but adrenaline is keeping me on my feet and my eyes dry.
A reporter asks me if I was trying to “normalize eating disorders” with the film. I think it’s a language barrier issue. But I know what she means. What I’m trying to do is bring understanding and compassion to an issue that touches way more people than we realize. And I want more people to talk about how much food and body image affect men and women and keep us from loving the moment we’re in.
Alex Sharp had to stay in London and wasn’t able to make it to Sundance. I really miss him. He’s such an important part of the movie. Also, he’s British, and when he talks it relaxes me.
12:00 p.m.: So then this happened.
2:30 p.m.: Movie just ended. Screening went well. I’m told. I left my body.
2:35 p.m.: Somebody asked if I am giving a prescription for how to overcome anorexia with the film. It’s really important that the movie is loosely based on my own experience, and all I want to convey is what worked for me. That I had to accept (and still do) that living can be scary and unsure — but so beautiful.
2:(who knows?) p.m.: Right after the screening, Rick Rosenthal finds me with his gorgeous wife Nancy. Rick is a director; he took me under his wing and hired me out of a waitressing job. Literally. It was like being discovered in Schwabs, back in the day. We all cried. There’s been a lot of crying.
4:30 p.m.: I decided to stay at the hotel and hang with my son. I had so much adrenaline coursing through my body that I am now exhausted. Supposed to be a party in… basically now. Not sure I’m gonna be on time. Talladega Nights is on.
6 p.m.-rest of the night: People liked the movie. We’re getting offers. My agent is getting hit up about my “next movie.” Reviews were strong. More crying. F— you if you judge — girls cry. It doesn’t mean we don’t kick ass while we cry.
I have to leave the restaurant and walk around the block. In the snow. I’m really sad. Like, really. What the f—? Guess what? I think I thought this would fix me and the little broken heart I still have to treat with tenderness would suddenly be healed. Also, I would get a really hot sober boyfriend.
Have dinner with funny wonderful people. Feeling better. End at the WME lounge where I realize I don’t want to party. I want to sleep. Me and a pal steal a box of Tim Tams each and head out.
11:59 p.m.: Lying in bed with Horchata and the box of Tim Tams. Not going to get a hot sober boyfriend this way — but it’s perfect. I just want people to see the movie, and I hope it helps a few. Horchata says that might just happen.