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.
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…
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.
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.”
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…
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The truth is that non-fiction film is the hot item so far this year. Year by year, documentaries have become more visible, discussed and more attractive to buyers. Coming into this year’s festival, much of the business buzz has been about documentaries. Before the Festival had even kicked off, Zeitgeist Films [www.zeitgeistfilms] had picked up Yung Chang’s political travelogue, UP THE YANGTZE [uptheyangtze.com], in which a poor Chinese girl is hired to work on a luxury cruise with the famed and controversial Three Gorges Dam in the background. Zeitgeist co-president Nancy Gerstman emphasizes the film’s “compassion and dark humor” as among its selling – and in their case buying – points.
Filmmaker Michel Gondry is back at Sundance with his latest romp BE KIND, REWIND [www.bekindmovie.com]. In it, a video store dude (Jack Black), who, after he accidentally erases the store’s merchandise, decides to remake all the lost films on video. Gondry, who has taken his DIY aesthetic to sublime places, is endorsing others video imagination this week. While at Sundance, he will be curating YouTube [www.youtube.com] videos all week.
IN BRUGES, the opening night film for this year’s Sundance Film Festival, played to two packed houses at the Eccles Theater last night. In some ways, a film made by the Irish playwright Martin McDonagh about hit men in an old Belgium town might seem to set an incongruous note for America’s premier independent film festival. But the rough and tumble play of blazing guns, high-swearing dialogue and squirting blood pays a worthy tribute to how Sundance and its filmmakers — such as, indie action directors like Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino – have influenced global culture.
UPDATE: The last tale from talented and late Adrienne Shelley, THE WAITRESS, was recently released on DVD after selected theater theatrical release earlier in 2007. A touching story of love in a comically busy world of three waitresses trying to make ends meet.
UPDATE: This runaway hit from Sundance Film Festival, SON OF RAMBOW, went on to the Milwaukee Film Festival and will be coming out on DVD soon. The story of two young kids who think of themselves as the “sons of Rambo(w)”. About youth, imagination and the troubles of a challenging childhood.
UPDATE: Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood have received praise from critics for their roles in KING OF CALIFORNIA, which had a limited release in theaters this past September 2007. With a theatrical release coming this January 28, 2008, Variety’s Justin Chang describes HOW SHE MOVE as a “moody, intelligent take on conventional material.”
Update: WAR DANCE was a hot topic discussion and went on to receive the Audience Award from the Wisconsin Film Festival, and it made its limited theatrical debut on November 9, 2007. “The glories of War/Dance are torturously won, and all the more glorious for it.” – David Edelstein (New York Magazine) WAR DANCE info…
UPDATE: Said to have the ability to obtain cult-movie status, ROCKET SCIENCE had a limited theatrical release this past summer.
“What makes the first fiction feature from documentarian Blitz persuasive is its late-film detour from the inspirational niche-sports genre to something altogether unexpected — and the winning lead performance of Reece Daniel Thompson.” – Jim Ridley (Village Voice)”
UPDATE: With a limited theatrical release in June, CRAZY LOVE captured the attention of critics with its interesting look into a dysfunctional relationship. “Crazy Love scrapes away the cartoon exterior around this story and peers into the unknowable murk of the human heart.” – Ty Burr (Boston Globe)
UPDATE: Irene Taylor Brodsky’s Audience Award winning documentary HEAR AND NOW [festival.sundance.org] documents what happens when a pair of deaf parents decide to undergo cochlear implant surgery in order to hear the world again. The twist, however, is that the subjects aren’t just any pair of parents; they are Brodsky’s own mom and dad, Paul and Sally Taylor.
The last day of the festival is also the last day of the ASCAP Music Cafe [www.ascap.com]. This afternoon sets by Annie Stela [www.ascap.com], Ron Sexsmith [www.ascap.com], Emerson Hart [www.ascap.com] and Sparta [www.ascap.com] were the final performances before the Music Cafe closes its door for another year. But there was more music at Sundance than could be held in a single cafe…