Inside the Sundance Film Festival HQ at the Park City Marriott on Wednesday afternoon, as staffers and volunteers here in Utah hung signs and made final arrangements behind the scenes, a big brown box of promotional buttons sat awaiting the many festivalgoers who will check-in Thursday. The large, round items, some in purple and others in green, will be distributed to attendees and they carry a simple message: "Focus on Film." An accompanying postcard explains the motive behind the button, to focus attention on Sundance's films, filmmakers, cinephiles, and also the official sponsors. This year, rather than highlighting and criticizing the increasingly visible circus atmosphere that has become synonymous with Park City during the festival, organizers seem focused on emphasizing all that their
event has to offer.
"Visibly wearing this button during the 2007 Sundance Film Festival means that," in the words of the declaration postcard attached to buttons, "I want to see film that I know I'll never get to see anywhere else; My idea of 'celebrity' is the filmmaker who directed my favorite film at the Festival; I'm willing to wait in the cold for two hours to see a hot documentary; I love that for 10 days I have something in common with over 50,000 people in a small ski town; (and) I understand that without the support of the official sponsor community, I would not have the opportunity to Focus on Film at the Sundance Film Festival." (And the flip side offers the logos of the many official leading supporters, from presenting sponsors Entertainment Weekly, Volkswagen, HP, Adobe and AOL, to the many other sponsors backing the event.)
Taking A Stand: Brett Morgen's "Chicago 10"
Brett Morgen, director of Sundance's opening night film "Chicago 10," has traveled to Park City before in order to debut a new film. His first feature "On the Ropes" (co-directed with Nanette Burstein, screened at Sundance back in 1999, receiving a special jury prize at Sundance. The film later won DGA and IDA prizes and an Oscar nomination. Then five years ago, Morgen returned to Park City with the Robert Evans doc, "The Kid Stays in the Picture" (also co-directed with Burstein), and the film later screened at the Festival de Cannes. This year he returns with only the second documentary ever to open the festival.
The unique new film turns the spotlight on one of the most controversial periods in the '60s anti-Vietnam War movement -- the 1968 Democratic Convention. During the momentous protests that took place outside the convention hall in Chicago, activists clashed with police while America watched the ensuing meltdown on television. In an effort to attach responsibility to the melee, the Chicago police charged eight protestors, resulting in a circus trial that became a symbol of abuse of individual liberties. "Chicago 10," according to a Sundance description, "takes a stylized, innovative approach that gives contemporary history a forced perspective."
"I wanted to make a film about the need and importance of taking a stand and raising a voice," Morgen told indieWIRE during a Main Street chat in Park City on Wednesday afternoon. "With this film my goal was to allow the audience to experience what it was like in the middle of a riot where you are being gassed...and all you want is to have your voice heard. To celebrate the courage and bravery of those involved who were willing to -- in the face of violence -- to continue to march on."
In the film, Morgen mixes original animation along with archival footage of that day in order to tell the full story leading up to the infamous trial and its eventual unraveling.
"This subject has been told a dozen times," Morgen admitted, "But I wanted to do something that was uniquely cinematic." He continued, "We animated everything that we didn't have footage for so that the movie could be told in the present tense."
Morgen employs the voices of Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo, Jeffrey Wright, Liev Schreiber and Dylan Baker, and in order to bridge the generation barrier, he incorporates music from the era and the work of contemporary artists including The Beastie Boys, Eminem, and Rage Against the Machine in order to tell the story of revolution and young people's desire to challenge oppression.
"If there's going to be any social change in this country, its going to happen through youth movements, so if you want to make a film to motivate people to go out there and take a stand, you don't make it for people who are over 60. You make it in a language that is accessible to kids. I like the idea that the people on the scren are the same age as the audience that i am intending the film to be shown for." [Brian Brooks]
Brett Morgen will be featured in the first episode of indieWIRE's iW: Video daily video podcast series, set to premiere Thursday at indieWIRE.com.
The Lessons of "Little Miss Sunshine," Let the Buying and Selling Begin
Morgen's "Chicago 10" is the first of many new films that will screen for buyers at the festival as directors and producers arrive hoping for a distribution deal. Speaking with indieWIRE one day before the world premiere of his new film, Morgen admitted the usual jitters most filmmakers experience ahead of their debuts, "I just want to enjoy the experience of watching the movie with an audience. As filmmakers we all make films because we want to see them...to see it on the screen here opening night in Park City, that to me -- if I don't throw up or have a break down -- that will be fantastic." But Morgen admitted that the business aspect of the experience can't be ignored.
"I sort of feel like it's a cattle auction or something," he quipped, "Am I supposed to say, 'And by the way it's for sale if anyone wants it'. There is that whole component, too -- I made this movie for audiencs to experience in a movie theater and there just couldnt be a better place to launch it.
Leading the pack as the major broker of deals here in Park City is Cinetic Media's John Sloss, who is repping Morgen's "Chicago 10," along with a large, eclectic slate of other festival features.
"We love documentaries," Sloss said during a conversation with indieWIRE yesterday, "We sell docs because we love them and it's a good business for us. Continuing, Sloss added, "We have been integral in creating that market but we are concerned that the market isn't as robust as it was. Hopefully that will be belied by the performance of our documentaries this year."
With a sizable staff, Sloss and company viewed a majority of the U.S. films that are up for sale at this year's festival, he told indieWIRE yesterday. "We turned down more films than we ever have," Sloss said, yet adding that his company's slate includes a whopping sixteen titles and he's beefed up his staff to handle the roster. Last year's list was about ten movies, including "The Ground Truth," "Wordplay," "Quinceanera," and, of course, "Little Miss Sunshine."
Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris' "Sunshine," the sensation of last year's Sundance Film Festival, was sold to Fox Searchlight in a $10 million pact that was one of the biggest acquisition deals in the history of the festival. Despite the high profile pact, the film overcame concerns about a Sundance curse that has plagued films nabbed for big money at the fest. It earned $60 million during its theatrical run and now it may very well nab top Oscar nominations next week.
"What 'Litte Miss Sunshine' proves is that a film that comes in with all the elements and is heralded at Sundance can also deliver in the marketplace," Sloss told indieWIRE, but he also cautioned insiders and observers against expecting another mega-deal this year.
"We've seen the majority of the fims in the festival and I dont believe there is a film that is going to perform at that level," Sloss said, adding, "I don't know that we have a home run, but there are more doubles and triples than I can remember."
"Every year has its heroes and it won't be a failure this year if there isn't a 'Little Miss Sunshine' because 'Little Miss Sunshine' is rare," explained one industry veteran, who asked not to be identified out of respect for his colleagues. "You have to recognize something that is real and it's hard. It is hard to sit there (as a buyer). You really have to work, hustle, compete. That daunts and defeats quite a few buyers."
The lesson of "Little Miss Sunshine," the industry insider told indieWIRE, is that "anything can happen and it does from time to time, often enough to keep everyone coming back. If it never happened we wouldn't be having this conversation." [Eugene Hernandez]
Inside indieWIRE On the Scene: Park City
INTERVIEW | George Ratliff: "I loved the idea of being scared..."
The Sundance dramatic competition director of "Joshua" (George Ratliff) talks about his foray into narrative filmmaking following his work in docs, the tumult behind casting and what the film really "deserves" in his interview in today's indieWIRE.
INTERVIEW | John Carney: "We would steal the camera, heading around Dublin at night..."
The Sundance dramatic competition director of "Once" (John Carney) talks about being lured by filmmaking at 16, dropping out of school and later shooting rock videos, and how the classic musicals of the '40s and '50s inspired him to make a contemporary story in which the leads sing more and speak less in his interview in today's indieWIRE.
INTERVIEW: Ian Iqbal Rashid: "My main influences were the dance films I grew up with..."
The Sundance World Dramatic Competition filmmaker of "How She Move" (Ian Iqbal Rashid) discusses how a BBC ad in a paper prompted him to go for an internship for "wannabe" scriptwriters, and the challenge of working with a limited budget in a film containing 14 dance numbers and a complex story. Read more in his interview in today's indieWIRE.
INTERVIEW | Alejandro Landes: "...I did not want to control an already volatile environment like Evo's bid to the Presidency"
The Sundance World Documentary Competition filmmaker of "Cocalero" (Alejandro Landes) talks about inviting then candidate Evo Morales on a talk show, following his successful campaign for the Bolivian Presidency, and, though he had never made a film before, personally got the OK from Morales on the spot to film him in his interview with indieWIRE.
INTERVIEW | Lincoln Ruchti: "These guys talk about the arcade like it was their first girlfriend"
The Sundance Competition filmmaker of "Chasing Ghosts" (Lincoln Ruchti) talks about a CNN article that prompted him to go after "the amazing story" of teen whiz kids, cold-calling gaming companies for money, and playing "Two Tickets to Paradise" very loudly interview with indieWIRE.
Get the latest coverage of Park City '07 in indieWIRE's special section here at indieWIRE.com