Becoming "A Window to Other Cultures," Sundance to Showcase Newcomers from Many Lands
by Anthony Kaufman
Don't count out foreign films in Park City. Just because Sundance is ground zero for the American independent film industry doesn't mean world cinema isn't staking its turf in the ski town. High profile premieres such as Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles' Che Guevera biopic "The Motorcycle Diaries," Andrew Lau's "The Park," and Achim von Borries' X-Filme production "Love in Thoughts," prove just how much the festival's scope has grown. And lest we forget, last year's Sundance World Cinema program included the top arthouse releases of 2003 ("Whale Rider," "28 Days Later," and "Bend it Like Beckham") and the inaugural World Cinema Documentary sidebar showcased some of the year's best nonfiction work (from "Bus 174" to "Balseros").
For the 2004 edition, Sundance director Geoffrey Gilmore and crew are taking an even greater interest in the shape of the World Cinema program. "We are attempting to establish a policy that is very clear: you can't play in the U.S. before you get to us," Gilmore told indieWIRE. "That helps the visibility of these films."
By guaranteeing U.S. premieres, the festival's international program looks as broad ranging and eclectic as ever. While Latin American and Spanish cinema has always been prevalent in Park City, the 2004 slate's Spanish-accented world premieres come from a group of names new to American audiences: Peruvian director Alberto Chico Durant's "The Con Game"; Mexican-Canadian Federico Hidalgo's cross-cultural Montreal-set romantic triangle "A Silent Love"; and the first Guatemalan movie ever to screen, novelist Rodrigo Rey Rosa's directorial bow "What Sebastian Dreamt," based on his book of the same name.
Additional Latin entries include: "The Basque Game," a documentary about the political tensions in Northern Spain from Julio Medem ("Sex and Lucia"); Julian Hernandez's 2003 Berlin Teddy winner "A Thousand Peace Clouds Encircle The Sky"; and Gerardo Chijona's Havana-set romantic comedy "Love by Mistake."
Outside of the Spanish-speaking world, the festival's range is extraordinarily diverse, with new films from such far-flung locales as Burkino Faso (Apolline Traore's "Kounandi"), the Congo (Zeka Laplaine's world premiere "Le Jardin De Papa"), India (Arvind Sinha's Calcutta documentary "Journeyings and Conversations"), Russia (Venice winner "The Return" and the Andrei Nekrasov's documentary "Disbelief"), Pakistan (Locarno winner "Silent Waters"), Singapore (Royston Tan's "15") and Malaysia (Amir Muhammad's documentary "The Big Durian").
Very few -- if any -- established Euro-auteurs will show up in the Sundance World Cinema section; instead, there's a wave of newcomers, such as Yugoslav-born Goran Rebic's sophomore effort, "Donau, Duna, Dunaj, Dunav, Dunarea," French actor-turned-director Guillaume Canet's reality TV satire "Mon Idole," Belgian Benoit Mariage's domestic drama "The Missing Half" and "Remember Me," the latest Italian tale of betrayal by Gabriele Muccino ("The Last Kiss").
New filmmakers from Canada are also prevalent: Jean-Francois Pourliot's "Seducing Doctor Lewis," Gary Yates's world premiere "Seven Lucky Times," the story of a con man and a drifter, starring Kevin Pollock and Liane Balaban, and Toronto's favorite anti-corporate documentary "The Corporation."
While Gilmore says Sundance will never compete in scope with Toronto or Cannes and doesn't view itself as a "full scale market," he admits there is an interest in expanding the festival's international sales office to facilitate the presence of more foreign buyers and sellers. "We did a lot of work on the sales office in the last two years to bring in the major international sellers and have them start to look to Sundance as a place to showcase," says Gilmore. "I expect a year from now that we may be able to have a place to play more international screenings with the new theaters at the Kimball Junction."
Aside from the practical business motivations behind both expanding and fine-tuning Sundance's international program, Gilmore's intentions are also political. "I have always felt that the insularity of America is one of its worst characteristics," he says. "There's a window into other cultures that film offers and we want to make the networking and connections to have those relationships between the U.S. and the rest of the world."
While newcomers and undiscovered talents are no doubt in higher supply in this year's World Cinema program, it may be at the expense of quality. Many of the films listed above have received less-than-stellar reviews at prior international fest premieres. So it may take some time before Sundance emerges as a top-notch launch pad for international cinema, as the foreign film community continues to wait for Berlin.
Audience might find safer bets with those films already acquired by distributors at recent festivals. Sony Pictures Classics will unveil three of its pickups, Wolfgang Becker's European hit "Good Bye, Lenin!," Hector Babenco's prison drama "Carandiru," and Korean helmer Kim Ki-duk's "Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring"; Paramount Classics will launch "I'll Sleep when I'm Dead," the latest from Mike Hodges ("Croupier"); Palm has Pen-ek Ratanaruang's poetic Thai collaboration with D.P. Christopher Doyle "Last Life in the Universe" and Newmarket will screen its recent South African acquisition "Stander."
[Eugene Hernandez contributed to this article.]