Sunday marked the culmination of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival—a Super Bowl in its own right for cinephiles from around the world. And for Denver-based documentary filmmaker Daniel Junge, it marked the pinnacle of his career (at least so far).
When 5280 last caught up with Junge, he was just about a year into production on Being Evel, the bio-doc about iconic daredevil Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel. He already had Grand Jury Prizes from South by Southwest and the Tribeca Film Festival, an Emmy, and an Academy Award under his belt. But there was one goal he had yet to achieve: having a film accepted into Sundance. Three years after embarking on the project with producer Johnny Knoxville, the long-awaited line of “Sundance Film Festival Official Selection” now appears on his list of credentials.
Junge arrived in Park City, Utah, on January 22, and was immediately thrust into a 10-day whirlwind of films, meetings, panels, and parties. His history with Sundance, however, goes back decades. In 1993, a then 23-year-old eager, aspiring director attended the festival for the first time as a volunteer. This visit, as a filmmaker, was a totally different experience.
With Knoxville by his side, Junge endured the interview rounds with the likes of The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, and scored the coveted Canada Goose down jacket along with loads of other swag. He made appearances at the CNN Lounge and New York Times Op-Docs reception, was welcomed at the U.S. Documentary Competition Director’s Dinner, spoke on two panels, met with Morgan Spurlock and managed to squeeze in a few screenings himself.
“Those first few days gave me a sense of what it was really like to ‘be handled,’ which for a documentary filmmaker, is pretty overwhelming,” an exhausted Junge said via phone on his long drive back to Denver. “I was shuffled around by publicists, doing interviews and following a totally controlled schedule. It was surreal.”
The culmination of his experience was the world premiere of Being Evel on January 25. Arriving at the MARC Theatre ahead of the 5:30 p.m. screening time, Junge hit the red carpet in a classic western snap shirt from Denver’s own Rockmount Ranchwear before ducking inside to gather his thoughts for his official introduction to the overflowing 550-seat house.
“I was more nervous than I’ve ever been in my life. More nervous than at the Oscars,” Junge said. “It’s just a testament to a moment that I had imagined in my head for almost 25 years.”
It’s also a testament to the momentum of the Colorado film community. Thanks to a $94,270 grant from the Colorado Economic Development Commission, the majority of the film’s production was done in his home state. The credits run deep with the best local talent: Davis Coombe, Mitch Dickman, Tim Kaminski, Brendan Kiernan, Chelsea Matter and Robert Muratore.
In the Sundance theater, Junge’s parents, brother, and wife were joined in the audience by most of his crew, Colorado Film Commissioner Donald Zuckerman, Denver Post film critic Lisa Kennedy, Denver Film Society’s Britta Erickson and a slew of her staffers. After a short welcome from Trevor Groth, Sundance Film Festival’s director of programming, Junge reflected on his early days as a print runner (a now obsolete position) and the film rolled. As the opening credit sequence wrapped, the crowd erupted with applause. (I was a member of the audience that day and have never witnessed that kind of excitement for an opening credit sequence at a film festival.) The energy of Being Evel held steady throughout its 99-minute runtime.
“Hearing the audience react to your film that first time and be able to move through it with them was just incredible. Especially a Sundance audience, who are the most discerning of film lovers. It was more than I had hoped for,” he says.
The celebration continued late into the night at an exclusive after-party hosted by Blackmagicdesign, Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media, Denver Film Society, Dickhouse, H?L?, and Land Rover. Junge was beaming as he received kudos from the rowdy crowd and a big kiss on the cheek from Knoxville. Buzz is essential to a successful Sundance run and Being Evel certainly got it. Junge introduced the film at four additional screenings throughout the week, which went just as well.
“The best kind of compliment you can get at Sundance are the secondhand ones,” he said. “Those that come from someone that heard about the film from someone else who saw it and loved it. I got a lot of those.”
Next up? Junge is currently weighing many offers for the purchase of Being Evel. He’s also been tapped by none other than the legendary Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford to direct a documentary about surfing. It’s likely that Junge will return to Park City for many Sundances to come.
Catch the Colorado premiere of Being Evel at the Boulder International Film Festival on Sunday, March 8 at 2:45 p.m. at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St. Junge, producer Molly Thompson, and editor Davis Coombe will be on-hand for a post-film Q&A.
Update: Soon, you’ll be able to catch Being Evel in theaters. Independent film distributor Gravitas Ventures announced on February 9 that the company has acquired the North American rights to Junge’s documentary, with a theatrical and video-on-demand release slated for this summer.
Follow contributor Katie Shapiro on Twitter at @kshapiromedia.