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The 2022 Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 20 - 30, in Park City, Utah

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A Bittersweet Homage To An Indie Icon

Saturday, January 20----It is pretty much di rigeur that if one has one's film at the Sundance Film Festival, one moves hell and high water to make it here for the premiere. A rare exception to this rule is the case of the film WAITRESS, written, directed and co-starring Adrienne Shelly, a beloved indie actress who made her first impressions in the early films of auteur Hal Hartley (whose FAY GRIM is premiering here as well). Ms. Shelly, sadly, will not make an appearance in Park City this week. She was found dead in her New York office on November 1st in what was first thought to be a suicide (since she was rather gruesomely found hanging from a shower rod), but which has now been ruled a murder.

Shelly's film WAITRESS had just received a confirmation to screen in the American Spectrum section of the Sundance Film Festival when the independent film community was shocked to hear about her untimely and grisly demise (she was only 40 years old). Now, the screening of the film later this week will serve as a kind of tribute to the feisty New Yorker, whose wide-eyed gaze and little girl voice belied a mature writing and directing style.

WAITRESS is a slice-of-life comedy/drama starring Keri Russell as a working woman who is trying to juggle a low paying job with the responsibilites of family, as well as her own personal dreams. She plays a pregnant, unhappily married waitress in the Deep South, who meets a handsome newcomer to her town and falls into an unlikely relationship as a last attempt at happiness. The waitress of the title is a woman trying to find her place in the world, finding a middle ground between her personal dreams and the realities of her life as a soon-to-be mother with a brutish husband whose threatens her with violence. Alternately funny and sad, filled with pathos and optimism, the film offers a prism of a hard life where hardscrabble reality clashes with the possibility of transcendence. Friends and family members of the late actress are expected to attend the film's premiere screening tomorrow afternoon in what will certainly be a bittersweet experience.

Shelly first came to prominence as an actress in the films of Hal Hartley, most notably THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH (1989) and TRUST (1990). After branching out into directing, first of some acclaimed shorts and eventually with the feature film SUDDEN MANHATTAN (1997), Shelly alternated a career as actress and writer/director. Her second directorial work, I'LL TAKE YOU THERE (1999), won her the Best Director Award at the US Comedy Arts Festival. She appeared earlier this year opposite Matt Dillon in the film FACTOTUM. She had been working on WAITRESS for the past several years, hoping to reignite her career as a director. That will now never happen, but at this buzzed event where the cacophony of self-promotion can be deafening, Shelly's intimate swan song is certain to be a Sundance highlight.


Sandy Mandelberger
Sundance Online Dailies Editor

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