Established Vs. Emerging; Young Faces Are Here At Sundance 2003, But So Is the A-List
by Eugene Hernandez
A personal reflection: I attended Sundance for the first time in 1993. Ten years later, it is hard to suppress nostalgia as I walk around Park City. It's a feeling that many Sundance veterans feel towards this festival, and about independent film in general. In 1993, it was the "year of the twenty-something," a label that I embraced since I, too, was in my 20s. Bryan Singer came to Sundance with his first feature, "Public Access," and it shared the Grand Jury Prize. Robert Rodriguez brought his no-budget "El Mariachi," and it won the audience award. Rob Weiss debuted "Amongst Friends," and he scored a deal with a studio. The stories have been told over and over. As a rule, movies were not acquired during Sundance back then. And fewer people were in Park City. There were no alternative festivals, sponsored houses in Deer Valley, paparazzi, celebrity-driven lounges, or private evening parties.
Yet as Sundance 2003 begins, the dealmaking has already begun (Sony Classics acquired "Masked and Anonymous" this week), Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, and Jane Fonda are among the Hollywood stars eagerly anticipated by Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight, the Motorola House is just one of many hot-spots ready to cater to festival-goers, and alongside Sundance, Park City will host Slamdance, Slamdunk, X-Dance, TromaDance and No Dance, among other concurrent events. This is simply a different festival.
But what about the films? The nostalgia for a more intimate Sundance Film Festival is perhaps an annual hope for some moments of discovery. After 10 days in Park City, attendees hope to leave saying that they saw some terrific new films by an exciting group of emerging filmmakers. (Of course, the definition of a successful festival is not the same for each of the 20,000 people here in Park City.)
"(Sundance) is an unparalleled place to showcase one's unique and distinctive approach towards filmmaking," Stephen Beer of Rudolph & Beer told indieWIRE yesterday, "It's a place for discoveries." However, he acknowledged that it is tougher today than it was in the past. "To Sundance's credit, they do continue to embrace emerging directors, you just have look harder to find them."
There are certainly a few young faces among the feature filmmakers in competition at Sundance. The dramatic competition includes Michael Burke, whose first feature "The Mudge Boy" is a follow-up to his award-winning short film "Fishbelly White." It also offers Joey Curtis' "Quattro Noza" and Sarah Rogacki's "Rhythm of the Saints." Curtis is the producer of the 1998 Sundance hit "Brother Tied," while Rogacki's short, "Muse 6" screened at Sundance in 2001. But the number of younger narrative filmmakers in the festival is clearly off from previous years and certainly nowhere near the quantity that the festival showcased 10 years ago.
"The general age has gotten a little older," explained festival director Geoff Gilmore in a conversation with indieWIRE last month. "There is maturation in the independent community."
"It is harder to break through today, its much more difficult, the bar has been raised across the board in the marketplace and at the festival selection level," explained Beer. "It's a much more congested marketplace."
Director of programming John Cooper offered a blunt assessment about the greater number of films from sophomore or more experienced filmmakers during a conversation with indieWIRE last month. "Maybe their stories are much more interesting," Cooper said directly. He added that perhaps the programmers were "worn out by the youth." Concluding, Cooper said with a refreshing amount of candor, "Youth isn't always interesting. Stories are interesting; good stories."
In fact, Sundance 2003 is more a place for filmmakers that have already earned their stripes. Lisa Cholodenko ("High Art") is here in Utah with her second feature, "Laurel Canyon" and Scott Saunders ("The Headhunters Sister") will present his third feature film, "The Technical Writer." After receiving widespread acclaim for his second film, Dogme 95 feature "The Celebration," Thomas Vinterberg is debuting his third, "It's All About Love," while twin filmmakers Michael and Mark Polish ("Jackpot," "Twin Falls Idaho") will unveil their third feature, "Northfork." Mina Shum ("Double Happiness") is screening her third feature, "Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity."
"It is more difficult to spot those emerging filmmakers because today's independent films at Sundance feature so many 'A' list actors," explained attorney and rep Beer. "The focus is on those bigger, better financed, more market driven projects."
In some cases, as with David Gordon Green's "All The Real Girls," Joe Maggio's "Milk and Honey," or Scott Saunders' "The Technical Writer," the fest is showing work from directors whose previous works were rejected by Sundance (Green's "George Washington," Maggio's "Virgil Bliss" and Saunders' "The Headhunters Sister").
"I think that Sundance seeks to find a balance," explained Stephen Beer, "But its just human nature that those who are already established get greater focus and merit greater consideration."