PARK CITY 2002: A Kinder, Gentler $undance
with articles by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE
(indieWIRE: 12.22.01) -- As the condo party for an acclaimed competition
entry wore on last week, biz-types were holed up in an adjacent bedroom
hammering out a distribution deal that would be announced the next day. "I
didn't think that really happened at Sundance," one festival-goer who
witnessed the action told me. Well it does and this year in Park City it
did, many times.
Whatever the reasons, this year's Sundance is being remembered as the year
that the crowds of hangers-on stayed home and the year that acquisitions
executives got busy. There were fewer parties, smaller crowds and more
deals. While the Festival had the distinct feeling of a slightly scaled back
affair (there was no closing night party), IndieWood and independent
distributors were spending millions on some of this year's hotter films.
Digital video seemed to come into its own this year. InDigEnt, the digital
video company created by John Sloss, Gary Winick and the Independent Film Channel struck gold in Utah. Winick's "Tadpole" was sold to Miramax for a reported $5 million, while Rebecca Miller's "Personal Velocity" went to the recently re-energized United Artists. Meanwhile, Blow-Up Pictures (Open City's digital video shingle) was in the spotlight on the opening day of the fest when it announced a pact with the recently lauched, ContentFilm. The outfit was in Park City with Peter Mattei's entry,
"Love in the Time of Money," The movie was sold mid-fest to new distributor,
The presence of the IFC, through the aforementioned InDigEnt films, signaled
a strong year for cable television produced movies. The channel's IFC Films
distribtion arm was showcasing its acclaimed Mexican film, "Y Tu Mama
Tambien," while its Next Wave Films finishing funds division was in Utah
with the doc, "Blue Vinyl." HBO was another dominant force, behind a number of documentaries as always, but also touting its opening night production,
"The Laramie Project," and the dramatic audience award-winning "Real Women
Have Curves." Showtime, partner in the Sundance Channel which used the fest to annouce the debut of an all-doc channel, brought Ernest Dickerson's "Our America" to the festival.
The party circuit was much more manageable in 2002. The IFC canceled its
annual bash in favor of a smaller gathering, while corporate sponsors that
in past years backed high-profile concert events at places like Harry O's on
Main St. were nowhere to be found. Reebok, Chrysler and and others set up shop at large houses in Deer Valley and pampered VIPs, while Diesel, Details and William Morris joined forces for what was arguably the party scene of the week, produced by star L.A. nightclub promoter Bryan Rabin (host of
the venerable weekly club, Cherry). Sundance focused its energies on
opening night, a few nightly parties and Sunday's Piper Heidsieck Tribute
to Benecio del Toro. The Piper evening, though, was unfortunately marred
by the news of Ted Demme's death, which spread throughout the soiree
and dampered spirits. Studios kept things low-key, hosting intimate
dinner parties or receptions at Main St. resturants, rather than full-
Logistically speaking, the Festival was hampered by the unfinished
renovations at the Holiday Village Cinema multiplex. The lack of screening
space forced organizers to create additional makeshift venues. Press
screening sites were among the hardest hit -- with only two very small press
venues media attendees groused about having to sign up on waiting lists and
sometimes missing key films. Anticipating the impact of pre-Olympic
planning, Sundance organizers apparently made the appropriate arrangements
-- shuttles seemed to run more frequently and more reliably than ever.
Finally, the new Sundance Sales Office bodes well for the future.
Authorized by Geoff Gilmore and Nicole Guillemet, and organized in
conjunction with Film Finders, the small office bridged the gap between
the festival and the international sales community. It was a step in the
right direction for the festival's embracing of its market side.
Overall, as the Festival concluded this weekend, attendees were wondering
what the true hits of Sundance 2002 really were. Sundance 2001 gave us
one of the Festival's strongest lineups in years -- boasting "Hedwig,"
"In the Bedroom," "Waking Life," "The Business of Strangers," "L.I.E.," "Memento," "The Deep End," and "Sexy Beast," while 2002 saw the debuts of "Personal Velocity," "Better Luck Tomorrow," "Tadpole," "Cherish," "Love Liza," "The Slaughter Rule" and "Gerry." Many films this year seemed to have their supporters, but also an equal number of detractors. Even as biz activity intensified later in the week, attendees quietly
seemed to crave an unqualified hit.
Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein's "The Kid Stays in the Picture" ended the festival on a high note Friday night. The highly entertaining,
stylishly constructed portait of Hollywood producer Robert Evans was
unveiled before an enthusiastic crowd at the Festival's final Eccles
premiere. Robert Evans was king during an era in Hollywood (the late
1960's and early 1970's) that independents consider golden. How fitting
then that Miramax, the once heir apparent to the throne when it housed
so many watershed indie films in the early 90's, would be the buzz of
the Evans' doc's low-key afterparty hosted by Vanity Fair. Earlier in
the day, Miramax ad announced that it would shut down "Talk," its
venture into magazine publishing led by Tina Brown (once the chief
at Vanity Fair). The move is a defeat for Miramax, which had sought
to expand its reach into the publishing world. Now the company, and
Harvey Weinstein, are looking back hoping to find a recipe for future
Reflecting on the direction of his company yesterday in The New York
Times, Harvey Weinstein explained that he is "Trying to take myself and
my company back to its roots, which is smaller, independent films."
Whether its Park City deals for "Tadpole" and "Blue Car" will help
the Weinsteins achieve that goal, of course, remains to be seen.
At their best, independents are achieving or striving to achieve what
Robert Evans and others were doing in 1970's Hollywood. Candidly
reflecting on both successes and failures, and openly considering the
reasons that he now feels mostly abandoned by Hollywood, Evans
explained to me that he feels a kinship with those in the
independent community who now look up to him.
"I'd rather take a chance and go do for infamy, than lie back and
go for mediocrity," Evans told me, as we sat in his Stein Erickson
suite Friday morning. "Sometime it backfires -- I have taken
risks and when you takes risks you can fall on your ass and
every so often you can catch a little magic."
Concluding the thought, he added, smiling, "I've always, always,
beieved in being independent, independent in whatever I do. And you
can get In trouble that way, big trouble." [Eugene Hernandez]