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by Brian Brooks
January 20, 2006 2:10 AM
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PARK CITY '06 BUZZ DAILY: On Opening Day at Sundance...A New Institute Initiative (and a Spotlight o

At the Sundance Film Festival's first opening day press conference in many years today, Sundance Institute president Robert Redford and Sundance Film Festival director Geoff Gilmore set the stage for an event that has become the most important film festival in the United States. With the Institute marking its 25th anniversary this year, Redford and Gilmore, seated alongside Nicole Holofcener, director of the opening night film "Friends With Money," announced plans for major new organization initiative. The Sundance Institute Art House Project is pairing the group with leading art house cinemas in the U.S. to create a program of screenings in 14 different American cities. Curators from each theater will be at the festival this year to custom design a program that will screen in their local theater this year. The slate will be a mix of recent Festival films, as well as classics indies from past Sundance festivals.

"This is a real chance to bring independent film out of the centers [such as New York and Los Angeles] and connect with a range of communities," explained Geoff Gilmore during the press conference at the Kimball Art Center in Park City, in announcing the initiative.

Participating art house cinemas will include: the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, TN; the Broadway Centre Cinemas in Salt Lake City, UT; the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, MA; the Enzian Theater in Orlando, FL; the Fine Arts Theater in Asheville, NC; International Film in Boulder, CO; the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY; the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI; the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in Oklahoma City, OK; the Palace Theater in Hilo, HI; the Pickford Theater in Bellingham, WA; the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, CA; the RagTag Cinema in Columbia, MO; and the Railroad Square Cinemas in Waterville, ME.

"For 25 years, Sundance has been committed to building audiences for independent film, and the art house cinemas carry on our work day in and day out at the local level," said Sundance Film Festival programming director John Cooper in a statement. "In so many ways, these theaters are some of the unsung heroes of independent film, and we're excited to be collaborating with each of these 14 curators to bring new work and classics in independent film to their local audiences."

Glitz, Parties and the Power of Branding

The 'other side' of the festival was also a topic for discussion at today's press conference. Some call it "Brand-dance". Plentiful parties, branding and hospitality suites are certainly nothing new to the veteran Sundance attendee, but the Sundance Film Festival itself, nevertheless views its mission as a constant since its more humble inception, giving a voice to filmmakers working outside the mainstream. It has, however, acknowledged the now famous ancillary parties and glam have become well-established in Park City.

"Sometimes it blurred what we are doing," Redford admitted during the press conference. "Once the festival achieved a certain level of notoriety, people [came here] with agendas that were not the same as ours." He added, "Once we had built a [film] market, we [also] got an outer tier. So you get parties and celebrities, and that's fine."

Still, competing for media and industry attention is a vast party circuit. According to one of many Excel party spreadsheets circulating amongst some festival vets well-before the start of the festival Thursday, there are about 65 different parties, events, and hospitality suites to party-on at through Sunday alone. Among the biggies are the Weinstein Company's "Lucky Number Slevin" party and the ICM party on Friday night as well as the Entertainment Weekly and Sony BMG Film and Premiere Magazine Party Saturday night. Sunday will be the 10th anniversary of the Queer Brunch hosted by HERE TV and Outfest (former co-host Planet Out will host its own brunch Saturday). Monday night may prove to be a real dilemma for well-connected fest-goers with parties being hosted by Cinetic Media (which practically caused a riot outside Zoom on Main Street last year), the Gen Art/My Space.com party featuring the Beastie Boys, as well as the William Morris, ITVS and Variety 10 Directors to Watch events.

Giveaways aka 'swag' are again a looming presence in Park City. In 2003, the Sundance Channel party had a minor shoving match when invitees clamored to secure one of the network's famous gift bags, and with good reason. The bags contained, among other things, a gym membership, high-end sunglasses and other goodies packed into a suede Kenneth Cole bag. Three years later, the lavish bags are still slated for distribution, although the lucky recipients have been pared down.

"The Sundance Channel Gift Bag is being given to 250 pre-selected individuals, including cable and satellite affiliates, film and TV makers, talent, and strategic marketing partners, according to Kirk Iwanowski, SVP of marketing at the network. And what's some of this year's loot for the lucky group? Kenneth Cole returns with a full grain leather duffel bag containing the new Apple video iPOD (60 gb); an AMC entertainment card worth $150; Block head-ware; a full year membership to the chic David Barton Gym, including five private training sessions; a visit to Exhale Spa; a $100 gift card to China Grill; Grey Goose Vodka; J Crew cashmere gloves; a "day of skiing" at the Sundance resort, including ski rentals and passes for two; a two-night stay at a W Hotel and more including an DVDs from ThinkFilm and Sundance Channel as well as a Leonard Cohen CD.

According to Iwanowski, distributing the extravagant bag is well-worth the effort. "From [Sundance] Channel's point-of-view, it's a 'thank you.' That said, for our promotional partners, it certainly provides access and a rather unique and controlled environment in which to get their brands into the hands of key influencers within their (commercial and consumer) target."

Hospitality suites, also see Sundance as a treasure-trove of targeted marketing. Mostly located in the dense Main Street area are the suites that are back en force to brand their client's products to celebs and others attending the fest.

"It's a perfect platform to organically introduce a brand, whether it be a new brand like an energy drink like Tab Energy or to reintroduce an older brand to media, celebrities and tastemakers," commented Jessica Meisels of Partner Fingerprint Communications, which is partnering with Strategic Group to create two high profile events, including the Marquee Hospitality Suite (the Park City version of the New York night club of the same name) and Blender Sessions at nightspot Harry O's, which underwent a million dollar facelift to replicate the Tao Las Vegas in the Venetian Hotel. The Marquee will offer celebs and "tastemakers" such goodies as Lia Sophia jewelry, Godiva, AG Jeans and Kooba Handbags, while Paris Hilton is on tap to host a night at Harry O's as well as and Rob Thomas and Wilmer Valderama "It's a great opportunity since you have all of these individuals in one place for a concentrated period of time," said Meisels.

Though Sundance first witnessed its explosion of branding and unofficial events taking place arguably at the heyday of the dot com bubble in 1999 and 2000, festival organizers say they don't see the event attracting even more outsiders.

I wouldn't necessarily say it's more this year," explained Sundance Film Festival director of strategic development Elizabeth Daly, in a conversation with indieWIRE. "As the festival goes on, it attracts more people [and] there are more companies that are interested in marketing in the film industry." Daly touted the advantages to official sponsors such as Volkswagen, Turning Leaf and Adobe who she says benefit from going the Sundance route as opposed to venturing out and renting Park City space solo.

"We can also put [Sundance sponsors] in contact with filmmakers attending the festival as opposed to other house [and] they can capitalize on the 40,000 people attending the festival."

Back at today's press conference, festival director Geoff Gilmore touted the festival's roots and mission of championing the filmmaker. "We are really allowing filmmakers to speak for themselves at this festival," explained Geoff Gilmore, "Its not about parties, its not about glamour, we are trying to give filmmakers a chance to speak for themselves."

[Eugene Hernandez contributed to this article.]

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