PARK CITY 2001 BUZZ UPDATE: Slamdance Opener is Out; Digital Discussion; Sundance Channel and Cowboy
by Maud Kersnowski /indieWIRE
>>UPDATE: Slamdance Opener Yanked
(indieWIRE/01.19.01) -- Slamdance opener, Marc Levin's "Brooklyn Babylon", was pulled from the festival because it was "submitted without Artisan's [the distributor and co-producer's] approval," according to an Artisan rep. A fax from Rick Blum of OFFLINE Entertainment, the film's producer, arrived at Slamdance yesterday "prohibiting the screening or exhibition of the film for any
reason." The letter was copied to Artisan head Amir Malin, attorney John
Sloss and Levin among others.
Meanwhile, up the hill at Slamdance they're scrambling to line up a film for
tomorrow night which, according to fest chief Peter Baxter, "Is sure to be a
surprise to someone."
Even though "Babylon" is officially pulled not everyone is ruling out the
possibility that the original opener may still be able to roll says Dan Mirvish, Slamdance co-founder-at-large and Levin. Roots, the hip hop band in the featured in the film "music driven cross between "West Side Story" meets "The Harder They Come"," will still play the opening night party. Levin, who won Sundance in 1998 for Slam,
arrives today with hoping he can "sit down with Amir and work this out."
Levin told indieWIRE that OFFLINE, which he co-founded with Henri Kessler
and Ezra Swerdlow, was forced to withdraw the film due to legal threats from
Artisan. Levin says there has been tension between himself and Malin
about the Slamdance screening since before Dec. 12, 2000. "He [Malin] didn't
say don't do it," Levin told indieWIRE. "We still aren't clear about why
they don't want to show it there."
The standard contract between Artisan and Levin reads that "they can't
unreasonably withhold the film from a festival," according to the filmmaker.
'They [Artisan] basically don't want the film [at Slamdance] and don't have
any respect for the us," explained Mirvish "We've gotten this before from
big companies. They barely know what Sundance is."
The contract also guarantees a theatrical release, but Levin asserts Artisan
plans to dump the film. "He [Malin] said it to my face, You can't sell peace
and love to the hip hop market," claims the filmmaker. He remains mystified
by Malin's behavior towards the film and the fest. "I'm not even sure he
isn't staging all this," Levin mused.
>> Setting the Digital Stage
(indieWIRE/01.19.01) -- The digital discussion at Sundance this year was
highlighted by the first deal announced during the event, Lions Gate's
acquisition of the North American rights to Independent Digital
Entertainment's (InDigEnt) first five features. The deal covers ALL media
from theatrical to Internet for the completely digital slate.
Even though the dot-com presence at Sundance has shrunk along with the flow
of VC money, digital filmmaking is expanding in the indie world, as well as
Hollywood. The digital film "Series 7," premiering tonight, arrived in Park
City signed to a distribution deal with USA Films. Meanwhile, both the
Sundance Digital Center and ShowBiz Data's Interactive Lounge have expanded from last year.
The digital film initiative, InDigEnt, was created by director Gary Winick,
John Sloss and IFC Entertainment. Filmmakers agree to work digitally and
with limited budgets in exchange for funding. The cast, crew and director
split 50% of the films' earnings. "The technology keeps getting better and
less expensive," commented Winick. "More people are able to make films that
didn't have the opportunity before."
But as "Series 7" producer Jason Kliot recently told indieWIRE, "People are
thinking of films as a project of theirs, a pet project. And what happens
when you start doing that is you start losing an economy of people who do
this professionally. You can't sustain people. You know, if you make a movie
for no money the first thing that goes is salary. And then you don't have
professionals who know how to work on these movies anymore because they all
have to go to Hollywood where they can make a real living. And you also have
people who say, "Well, I'll make my real movies in film and my digital
movies will be my little experimental works of art and we're back to the
video art scheme."
"The idea that digital is easier than film is a myth. It's just as hair
raising to shoot digitally. Things still go wrong. You can still go down the
drain," explains Bruce Wagner whose InDigEnt film "Women in Film" (Beverly D'Angelo, Portia de Rossi and Marianne Jean-Baptiste) premieres at Sundance along another film on the recently acquired slate, Richard Linklater's "Tape" (Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman). Campbell Scott's "Final," Ethan Hawke's "Chelsea Walls" and Rodrigo Garcia's "Ten Tiny Love Stories" round out the package of
films bought by Lions Gate.
In a content hungry world where broadband and digital distribution is
considered both an inevitability and an economic Mecca, the question is
whether the digital revolution will be the savior of independent film (as
the multiplexes were predicted to be ten years ago) or push Indies out of
the theaters and into personal use platforms over computer lines. "I have
this real fear of independent film becoming marginalized and becoming dot
com-ized and becoming specialized to such a degree that it's basically where
video art was 10 years ago. Because if you don't have distribution and
you're not part of the cultural economy and you can't go toe to toe with the
big boys, then you don't have an impact on the culture," says Kliot.
Not all the filmmakers whose projects were picked up by Lions Gate are
pushing for their digital efforts to land on the big screen according to
Sloss. "Richard [Linklater] doesn't necessarily want this to be his next big
film." [Maud Kersnowski]
>> Sundance Channel Rides With Cowboy's Features
(indieWIRE/01.19.01) -- Sundance Channel picked up the U.S. television
rights of a four-picture package from independent distributor Cowboy Booking
International, yesterday. Feature films include David Gordon Green's
Southern coming-of-age drama, "George Washington" which won Best First
Feature, New York Film Critics 2000 and Ziad Doueiri's Cannes premiere "West Beirut" set in 1975 Lebanon. Two documentaries complete the slate. "Benjamin Smoke," the story of an artist and occasional drag queen that influenced Patti Smith and Michael Stipe created by Jem Cohen and Peter Stillen. And "Dear Jesse" the chronicles of filmmaker Tim Kirkman return to his birthplace, North Carolina, to examine his relationship with another native son, ultra-conservative Senator Jesse Helms. [Maud Kersnowski]