PARK CITY 2002: A More Serious Sundance? Dramatic Directors in Dramatic Times
by Anthony Kaufman
(indieWIRE/ 01.10.02) -- Like many filmmakers at this year's Sundance Film Festival (which kicks off tonight and runs through Jan. 20), Peter Mattei was hard at work on his film when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11. At the time, Mattei was in the middle of post-production on his DV feature debut, and he was having trouble deciding on a title.
"I was thinking about a title after the events in Sept.," recalls the New York-based director, who prior to the tragedy had been toying with names like "Nine Scenes About Love" and "The End of Love." "The film is very much about the hysteria of the late nineties. After Sept. 11, the movie had a different resonance for me; it felt nostalgic for a time that was lost." Mattei eventually chose a title that reflected this change in mood: "Love in the Time of Money," which is screening out of competition in the dramatic category.
Not every film at Sundance this year has has been directly impacted by the events of Sept. 11, but the tragedy has had a huge effect on everyone in Park City. And while Sundance programmers insist that this year's selection is not a direct a reaction to the terrorist attacks, festival director Geoffrey Gilmore has admitted that it "didn't make us change our agenda, but it makes us reflect on it."
Reflection is what many of this year's Sundance filmmakers have been forced to do. "I do look at the film differently," says Andy Smith, who along with his brother Alex, co-directed "The Slaughter Rule," one of this year's dramatic competitors. The brothers' feature-length debut tells the story of a fatherless teenager (played by rising star Ryan Gosling) growing up in rural Montana. "In a strange way, it seems like an important film for us to have made. There's a lot of talk about the use of aggression and the value of it. I think we challenged that and tried to steer a course towards compassion, understanding and not fearing the other." Continues Andy, "We felt like we were trying to make a relevant film, and it feels even more relevant now."
Mattei also feels his film has taken on deeper meanings. "A lot of my work is about people who are myopic, heading for a crash," he says. "Maybe I'm trying to talk myself into it, but I think my film does resonate with September 11. Also, because it's sort of a portrait of New York City, in all of its beauty and madness."
Filmmaker Kasia Adamik has the challenge (or fortune, depending on how you look at it) of bringing a quirky comedy into this same environment. Her first feature "Bark" is about a veterinarian who becomes involved with a client whose wife is acting like a dog. "If you think the role of this film is to entertain," states Adamik, "I guess it would be hard to ask for better timing."
With rumors of a more subdued festival this year, with fewer blowout parties and less journalists and company reps in attendance, this year's fest may indeed be more serious in tone than recent years. Many filmmakers are looking forward to the change. As Adamik notes, "I hope that the festival will be different. I hope that we all are a little different now."
"I wouldn't be surprised if it felt different," agrees Mattei, "and that's probably a really good thing. And like many things after September 11," continues the director, "many people had to ask, 'What are we really doing this for?' Maybe the festival will go back to the way it was like in 1990."
Austin Chick, another debuting director, feels that the mood of the festival -- and contemporary society -- will actually help Park City audiences appreciate his film, "XX, XY," which chronicles the relationship between two women and one man. "One of my concerns for the movie had always been that it has much more of a European sensibility," says Chick. "It's not a romantic comedy and it's not cute in the way a lot of American movies are. Not to trivialize the 11th, but I feel that now Americans are more willing to take a more sober look at their lives. So I feel like it puts my movie in a better place. People are going to be more inclined to see a movie that makes them think." Then again, Chick ponders, "It could go the other way. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who want to see movies that make them forget."
Chick also wonders whether September's events will affect the potential sale of his movie. "Because of what happened with Toronto," says Chick, noting that Canada's industry-heavy event that was cut short by 9-11, "there are a lot of companies that haven't filled their quota and are ready to buy movies." Other feel that with the economy still lumbering, buyers will be reluctant to part with their money. Either way, says Chick, "I like the idea of a bit mellower Sundance."
Concerns about the current economic climate notwithstanding, most of the directors we spoke with don't seem too concerned about security issues with air travel or the upcoming Olympic Games. "I'm more concerned about my personal safety taking the L train to Manhattan," says Mattei.