Sundance 2011: Amy Seimetz, indie-film MVP?
Every year, the Sundance Film Festival has a semi-official "It" girl who encapsulates the festival's cocktail of discovery and buzz. But what about someone who embodies the independent film world's sense of community and the pitch-in spirit of collaboration, something like a most valuable player?
That prize might well go to Amy Seimetz. Seimetz is at Sundance for her lead role in "The Off Hours," which had its premiere Saturday in the Next section. But a quick look at her Internet Movie Database page reveals Seimetz's name attached to more than a dozen projects in 2010 alone, not just as an actress but also a producer, director and writer.
She is a regular face on the film-festival circuit, as just last year saw the premieres of "Tiny Furniture" and "The Myth of the American Sleepover" at South by Southwest, "Bitter Feast" at the Los Angeles Film Festival and "A Horrible Way to Die" at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film "Open Five" streamed free on the Internet and "Gabi on the Roof in July" just opened at a 65-seat micro-theater in New York City. At times, it can seem that Seimetz would be the very center of a Venn diagram of current American independent filmmaking.
In "The Off Hours," Seimetz plays a night-shift waitress in a small-town truck stop who yearns for something more, gracefully portraying a sense of emotional damage and quiet resolve. Audiences used to seeing only teasingly brief moments of Seimetz onscreen in supporting roles get a chance to watch the actress really blossom.
Megan Griffiths, writer and director of "The Off Hours," cast Seimetz having seen her only in 2009's "Alexander the Last." Since then, she has had some catching up to do.
"I've seen Amy in a lot of things since I cast her," Griffiths said. "She has done so many films in the last couple years, she's been really busy, and she really is really different in all of them. When the trailer came up for 'Tiny Furniture,' it took me a moment to realize, 'That's the same girl from my movie.' It doesn't seem like the same person at all."
The 29-year-old Seimetz attended New York University for one semester before finishing college in her home state of Florida. She then bounced out to Los Angeles to be part of a comedy troupe, moved to San Francisco to work as a seamstress and is now living in New York City when she's not shooting a movie elsewhere.
"I've always thought of filmmaking as just being a part of my life," said Seimetz in an interview before the start of Sundance. "I'm not necessarily going to die if I'm not a great success. Whatever happens, happens. I'd rather, personally, watch something that goes to the end of the earth and falls flat on its face than something that's just coasting and playing it safe."
As for what seems to be her prodigious workload, she is slightly dismissive of the idea that it is anything out of the ordinary. "When you're working, you're pulling crazy hours nonstop, but then after a couple of weeks or a month or a day, you sit and you wait. You don't technically work for long periods of time," she said of how she ends up involved in so many different projects. "Well, I don't wait. So I don't think it's like I work so much or it's a pace I can't keep up. I don't really think about it so much because the work ethic I was raised in is an atmosphere where you get up every day and you go to work."
Seimetz appears in and helped produce the film "Silver Bullets" for director Joe Swanberg, which will premiere at the upcoming Berlin International Film Festival. Seimetz previously appeared in Swanberg's "Alexander the Last," and the two acted together in "A Horrible Way to Die."
"One of the reasons I think she keeps having medium-sized roles in movies is because if you look at the credits, she's also a producer on these movies or does several jobs," Swanberg said.
"I feel like she's so beneficial to have around and such a useful utility player that people are afraid to give her the lead because then they can't utilize all of her other skills."
-- Mark Olsen
Photo: Amy Seimetz in "The Off Hours." Credit: Jason Ganwich / Sundance Film Festival