By the time Tia Lessin and Carl Deal got to Louisiana to start TROUBLE THE WATER, they had years of experience under their collective belts. Lessin had worked with documentary filmmakers Charles Guggenheim and Arthur Dong before joining forces with Michael Moore, for whom she served a producer on his two television shows. Her filmmaking partner Carl Deal had been a broadcast journalist before meeting Lessin on BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE.
Now in its second year, New Frontier on Main has become an essential stop in the Festival experience. Located in the bottom of a galleria, the basement space has been transformed into a dimly lit, mysterious world filled with quivering colored lights and drifting shadows.
Courtney Hunt shooting FROZEN RIVER Courtney Hunt first heard the story of Native Americans smuggling merchandise over the frozen St. Lawrence river – an anecdote that would become the basis for her 2008 Sundance Film Festival Dramatic Grand Jury Prize FROZEN RIVER [frozenriverthemovie.com] – more than ten years ago. She had just graduated from Columbia’s…
Article: Queen Diaz
Every year, one actress is anointed the queen of Sundance. First it was Parker Posey, then Christina Ricci, Patricia Clarkson, and now, Melonie Diaz. The 23-year-old actress who is still in school at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts has already had several Sundance Films (in 2003 with RAISING VICTOR VARGAS and in 2006 with A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS). This year, Ms. Diaz in four films, as well as being a juror on the Short Film Competition.
Article: Wall-to-wall Panels
While most programmers struggle with late prints, expired bulbs, torn films, and busted speakers, they for the most part don’t have to deal with human beings (other than filmmakers, of course). Programmer John Nein, who coordinates most of the Festival panels, is left to wrangle the human element for his panels.
Article: New American Realism?
While many acquisition execs, journalists, and film goers were often confused by what to make of the tangled mess of films at this year’s Sundance Festival, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis seems to have already named this year as a movement. In “New American Realism Emerges Amid Grousing and Hummers [www.nytimes.com],” Dargis identifies a certain perspective that permeates the better films this year:
Article: Science Class
This year the Alfred P. Sloan award, which is bestowed on “a feature film focusing on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character,” went this year to Alex Rivera’s SLEEP DEALER. The jury – which included filmmaker Michael Polish, technology writer Evan I. Schwartz [www.harpercollins.com], Benedict Schwegler (chief scientist of Walt Disney Imagineering), John Underkoffler (Oblong Industries), and Alan Alda –– recognized the film “for its visionary and humane tale of a young man grappling with a technological future in which neural implants, telerobotics and ubiquitous computing serve a global economy rife with fundamental challenges and opportunities, and for its powerful and original storytelling and direction.”
E. B. White wrote, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” As such, it was brave of Sundance to convene a panel called “On Comedy: Laughing in Dark Times.” Screenwriter Larry Gross moderated the following group of funny filmmakers: Mark and Jay Duplass (BAGHEAD) [www.sundance.org], Marianna Palka (GOOD DICK), Taika Cohen (EAGLE VS SHARK), Clark Gregg (CHOKE), Pam Brady (HAMLET 2), and Jason Reitman (JUNO), Short Film Juror.
Article: Cops, Park City
As blogs and papers are rushing to get out their Sundance round up, I turn to the local Park Record’s “Police Blotter” [www.parkrecord.com] for the inside scoop of what really happened this week. Here is just a sampling of the week that was. “At 9:22 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19, a man told the police…
Article: Pangea In Park City
Filmmaker Jehane Noujaim arrived at Sundance in 2001 with STARTUP.COM [www.phfilms.com], a harrowing study of ambition gone mad in the dot.com economy that she directed with veteran filmmaker Chris Hegedus. Three years later she returned with THE CONTROL ROOM [www.noujaimfilms.com], a provocative look at Al-Jazeera, the Arab-speaking television network, to see how the Iraq war looked from an Arab point of view. Born in Cairo of Egyptian Lebanese, Syrian and American descent, Noujaim knows first hand how truth is the sum of different and often conflicting perspectives. So when Noujaim won the 2006 TED Prize [www.ted.com], an honor bestowed by TED [www.ted.com] (Technology, Entertainment, Design) which grants the recipient $100, 000 and one wish, she asked to allow different global perspectives to be brought together. Her idea will manifest itself on May 10, 2008 as Pangea Day [www.pangeaday.org], a global event during which, as the organization explains, “sites in Cairo, Dharamsala, Kigali, London, New York City, Ramallah, Rio de Janeiro, and Tel Aviv will be video conferenced live to produce a 4-hour program of powerful films, visionary speakers, and uplifting music.”
Article: Read The Book
We are continually told that Sundance is for the filmmakers. True enough, but at Dolly’s Bookstore on Main Street it is also for the authors. Right next to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory – in case reading makes you hungry – Dolly’s takes advantage of the film festival by stocking up on film books and roping in authors for signings and readings. In recent years, producer Christine Vachon A Killer’s Life, Roger Ebert and others have showed up with their books. Manager Sue Fassett sets out to find literary connections the minute the Festival issued their line up.
Article: Remembering Derek
A stark black-and-white photograph from 1992 shows a group of young filmmakers and critics (among them Tom Kalin, Isaac Julien, Todd Haynes, Sadie Benning, RubyRich and Derek Jarman) after a panel at the Sundance Film Festival entitled “Barbed Wire Kisses.” The photo marks not just a moment in history, but a moment when a history would begin. Later that year B. Ruby Rich would call this gathering the “New Queer Cinema” in an article for the British film magazine Sight and Sound, a term that would simultaneously serve as nostalgia for an artistic movement that never arrived and a promise of what independent cinema could become.
Article: Heath Ledger (1979 – 2008)
The Sundance Film Festival turned quiet and mournful as the news of Heath Ledger’s death started showing up on computers and blackberries across Park City. Whispers spread through crowds at theaters as smiling faces suddenly became downcast. On Main Street, all I could hear was people on cell phones saying, “oh my God, have you heard. I can’t believe it.” While Heath Ledger’s work touched the world, the independent film world, many of who have worked with him, have felt his passing even more so.
Each year, the film world looks to the Sundance Film Festival selection to reveal the tone of American film for the next year. Why were there so many dark comedies this year? And why so many films with the word American in it? But it is not only the films that are scrutinized – so are the filmgoers. Two reports look to the behaviors of the Sundance film viewer.
Article: Finally, Fiction
After a weekend of documentaries taking center stage, at least in terms of Sundance acquisitions, distributors stepped up to acquire the first three narrative features of the festival. The newly formed Overture Films picked up Mark Pellington’s dark comedy HENRY POOLE IS HERE, about a dying man who suddenly regains his lust for life. Fox Searchlight acquired CHOKE, actor Clark Gregg’s directorial debut adapted from Chuck Palahniuk’s novel about a man who fakes choking in restaurants to pay for his mother’s elderly care. But the big news was Focus Features purchase of Andrew Fleming’s HAMLET 2.
Article: Cyborg Cinema
On Thursday, as people listened in the dim light of the Microcinema theater at New Frontier on Main to a panel entitled “Social Cyborg: How Technology is Changing Us,” across town at the Racket Club ticket holders were lining up to see Alex Rivera’s SLEEP DEALER. At one place people were discussing the future of technology in extending bodies, identities, and communities; at the other, Rivera unfurled his dystopic image of a cyborg future in which labor crosses over from Mexico via fiber cables rather than through border check points.
Marcus Hu is the co-president of Strand Releasing, which has distributed both theatrically and on DVD with a wide-range of films from the Sundance Film Festival. He shared a few observations about what hasn’t changed at Sundance.
1. Going to one of the most anticipated acquisition screenings and seeing the domino effect of execs fleeing.
Ari Gold has been to Sundance with three short films: FROG CROSSING in 1997, CULTURE in 1999, and HELICOPTER in 2001. He also came to Park City as an actor in the 2000 Festival feature GROOVE. This year Gold arrives at Sundance with his directorial feature debut; ADVENTURES OF POWER [www.adventuresofpower.com], unfolding the epic story of an air drummer on a mission.
1. Who’s dancing? Stop exchanging business cards for a few minutes, people.
Article: A Good Day To Be Black In Indie?
Elvis Mitchell, Orlando Bagwell, Danny Glover, Melody Barnes, Katrina Browne, Nick Cannon Park City, UT — On Tuesday, January 22, former New York Times critic and co-creator of the film THE BLACK LISTintroduced a panel of filmmakers, activists, and policy makers to a more than overflowing crowd at the Film Lodge. The topic for the…
Article: Producers At Sundance
Sunday’s lunch for Independent Producers at the Kimball Arts Center was good news for the more than 150 producers in attendance. The Creative Producing Initiative will provide five hopeful producers a year-long fellowship, which includes participation in a 5-day Creative Producing Lab as well as year-round mentorship form industry advisers. Scott Macaulay, who has produced a number of Sundance films, welcomed the Initiative: “I think that having a year-long commitment is significant, especially for a new generation of producers. And I’m also glad that it’s for “creative” types rather than money grubbing producers.
Article: Made In Utah
While many of the festival’s films were developed at the Sundance Labs (like Alex Rivera’s THE SLEEP DEALER) in Sundance, UT, other films are even more local, having been shot in the state or made by locals. Salt Lake City Tribune’s article “Sundance: Utah under the lens” [www.sltrib.com] highlights the local films at this year’s festival. Parts of Ari Gold’s “Park City at Midnight” adventure ADVENTURES OF POWER [www.adventuresofpower.com] were shot in various Utah towns. And then there are a variety of local heroes who hail from the state. The most obvious is Amy Redford – here with her debut feature THE GUITAR…
Last year Ian Olds was here at Sundance with his short narrative film BOMB, which was anything but.
1) Watch movies. It seems obvious, but it’s not. If you don’t make this a priority you could find yourself going mad on the quixotic quest to meet that one person who will magically grant you a career.
2) If one of your goals is to meet with agents and managers, don’t expect any of them to come to your screenings. Get copies of your movie to whoever wants to see it, preferably before the festival even begins, and if someone responds to your work you can use the festival week to meet face to face.
“I guess, I’m a people person,” jokes Marina Zenovich trying to explain why she makes films that focus on complex, fascinating individuals. Her documentary ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED [www.sundance.org] is not exactly a bio-doc, but rather an attempt to understand a particular historical moment, in this case, the 1977 arrest of Polanski for sexual assault, and his subsequent flight from the United States…