By Indiewire | Indiewire December 3, 2003 at 2:00AM
Docs Dominate Sundance '04, Fest to Open with Peralta's "Giants"
by Eugene Hernandez
For the first time in the history of the festival, a documentary will open Sundance. The film, "Riding Giants," is a surf film from Stacy Peralta whose "Dogtown and Z-Boys" was a double award winner at Sundance in 2001. The movie, which is seeking distribution, follows such famed surfers as Laird Hamilton, Darrick Doerner, Titus Kinimaka, Brian Keaulana, and Dave Kalama, in its look at three generation of wave riding.
"Giants" will kick-off the 2004 Sundance Film Festival on January 15 at the Eccles Theater in Park City, marking the first time that the event debuts in the mountain town. Sundance typically opened with a gala showing in nearby Salt Lake City, but this year, the opening nights have been swapped and the event will screen Chris Eyre's "Edge of America" on January 16 in Salt Lake City. The news contradicts a Hollywood trade publication report last week about the fest's planned opener. Eyre's film is a culture-clash drama about a Native American girls basketball team with an African-American coach, which is the Salt Lake City premiere.
"Opening the festival in Park City has been a long time coming," Sundance Film Festival director Geoff Gilmore told indieWIRE earlier this week. "We felt it was appropriate, we don't want to lose Salt Lake City, we have a commitment to the city and state." Gilmore added that Park City now has a number of venues that can accommodate a splashy opening night party. "We are not leaving Abravenel Hall (in Salt Lake City)," Gilmore said, "We just reversed the order."
Talking about Peralta's doc, Gilmore said, "It is a wonderful work that has really special qualities to it. It is a great, fun film for us to start with." Gilmore added that kicking off the festival with a doc this year is a nod to the important role that non-fiction films play in the fest.
"Documentaries are all over the festival this year," noted Gilmore. "I am sure that we have more documentaries in this festival that we have ever had before."
Indeed, Gilmore, head of programming John Cooper, senior programmer Trevor Groth, and programmers Shari Frilot and Caroline Libresco have placed documentaries in all sections of the event, from David Sampliner's "Dirty Work," David Petersen's "Let the Church Say Amen," and Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky's "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" in American Spectrum, to Mark Brian Smith's "Overnight" in the Midnight section. Smith's film will be a must see for the film industry as it follows the rise and fall of filmmaker Troy Duffy who was given a bar by Miramax's Harvey Weinstein as part of a deal for his hot film project back in the 1990s.
"This is very much a commitment that we feel very good about," Gilmore told indieWIRE, adding that a number of additional doc projects are to be announced, including one-shot special doc screenings of a number of notable new films.
World premieres dominate Sundance's Premieres section as usual. Other than the cringe-inducing thought that Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore might be making the scene on Main Street for his film "The Butterfly Effect," it's mostly good news in the section. Of the 24 selections, many are seeking U.S. distribution, so look for some acquisitions action from these mostly star-studded films.
In addition to several films that played well in Toronto -- Stephen Fry's Evelyn Waugh adaptation "Bright Young Things," Takeshi Kitano's update of "Zatoichi" from Miramax, Mario Van Peebles' "How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass" from Sony Pictures Classics, and Guy Maddin's "The Saddest Music in the World" from IFC Films -- there are a number of world premieres. Those include Tom Cairns' "Marie and Bruce," starring Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick as a couple whose marriage is decaying. George van Buskirk of Holedigger is producing. Former "Strangers with Candy" writer Mitch Rouse makes his directing debut with "Employee of the Month," about a man whose life falls apart after he loses his job. The film stars Matt Dillon, Steve Zahn, and Christina Applegate.
"Tiptoes" (a U.S. premiere) stars Gary Oldman, Kate Beckinsale, Matthew McConaughey, and Patricia Arquette in a tale of dwarves in love. The Matthew Bright film is produced by a group including Chris Hanley ("The Virgin Suicides," "American Psycho," "Bully"). The United Artists film "Saved" is a dark coming of age comedy directed by Brian Dannelly and starring Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, and Mary-Louise Parker. Other star-studded pics include Artisan/Lions Gate's "Eulogy" by Michael Clancy, starring Hank Azaria, Zooey Deschanel, Famke Janssen, Kelly Preston, Debra Winger, and Ray Romano, and HBO's "Iron Jawed Angels," directed by Katja Von Garnier, starring Hilary Swank, Anjelica Huston, and Francis O'Connor.
The section also includes the latest from directors Bernardo Bertolucci ("The Dreamers"), Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries," starring hot property Gael Garcia Bernal as Che Guevara), and Brad Anderson ("The Machinist" starring Christian Bale and Jennifer Jason-Leigh). For something completely different, the section offers the ContentFilm-backed DMX project "Never Die Alone" (already acquired by Fox Searchlight) and the South Korean animated feature "Sky Blue."
Gilmore noted that the inclusion of such filmmakers as Bertolucci and Kitano in the festival marks a slight change for Sundance as the festival welcomes master filmmakers. Other special screenings along the same lines will be announced next week.
In the experimental Frontier section, there are five offerings. Highlights include Robert M. Young's dark comedy "Below the Belt" starring Xander Berkeley ("24"); and Jonathan Caouette's "Tarnation" a challenging autobiographical portrait that has been 19 years in the making. Caouette uses a blend of snapshots, home movies, video diaries, and dramatic reenactments in telling the story of a young gay man who has to leave his modern life behind to care for his schizophrenic mother in rural Texas.
There are eight films in this year's midnight section, 15 set for the annual Native Forum, and 28 films in the World Cinema section along with nine in the second year World Documentary section (see today's World Cinema article for analysis of those sections).
With the high-profile list of festival entries again this year, it's fair to ask Sundance's programmers how they balance the large number of films from notable distributors and producers with work from new filmmakers and producers who aren't insiders.
"Quite a few things still come over the transom," Gilmore explained, "I would not say it is the majority, but it's a percentage." Continuing, Gilmore added, "My gut tells me that there are more unknowns than last year."
"More than usual came from nowhere," agreed Cooper.
"We may have more tentacles than anybody else," offered Gilmore after thinking about it for a few more minutes. "We're constantly in touch with people from a range of different places."