Park City 98: Around the World in 10 Days
by Anthony Kaufman
"Lawndogs," one of the World Cinema Films.
While the American independent film scene continues to make strides, evidenced
by the numerous distribution deals going down everyday at Sundance, their
international counterparts have just as much of a fight, if not a harder one, to
get their films shown and distributed. It would be impossible, for example, to
compare an American indie like "Next Stop, Wonderland's" path to distribution
with the latest film from Chile or Korea whose subtitled screenings to illiterate
execs only end in the lowest, if at all, of offers.
But this year's World Cinema section at Sundance is hopefully making a dent in
the unsaid English-only embargo present on American screens. At a press
conference this week, Geoffrey Gilmore, once again, espoused his views, this
time on the 33 international films from 15 different countries playing in Park
City. "I've often said that I don't consider Sundance to be a major international
film festival, because I do think it's totally inadequate to somehow represent
the world with only 35-40 features." "But we're extremely proud of these features,"
continues Gilmore, "Because we think they're carefully selected and they really
represent the best of independent film that's been done in the world this year."
Many of this year's films have been riding the world film festival merry-go-round,
having toured such cities as Cannes, Berlin, Stockholm, Toronto as well as New
York, picking up international territories along the way. But the U.S. market
still remains elusive to many, here at Sundance hoping to change that. Brit Nick
Hurran who directed "Girls' Night" voiced the wishes of most of the directors on
the panel in saying, "U.S. distribution is really the goal were all striving
towards -- for filmmakers to get a wider audience and North America being the
The countries represented in the program range from Japan and Norway to the
Ukraine and France. Also included in the section have been a number of talked
about English language features from Canada, Great Britain and Australia: Thom
Fitzgerald's subtly surreal tale of a gay man returning home years after his own
suicide in "The Hanging Garden", the recent Miramax picked Super 16 Australian
comedy "The Castle", the comedic crime film and audience favorite from Ireland,
"I Went Down" as well as the popular Brit imports: Nick Broomfield's
controversial "Kurt and Courtney"; Carine Adler's recently picked up tale of
sister rivalry, "Under the Skin"; Shane Meadow's "TwentyFourSeven"; and
acclaimed director John Duigan's tale of brutal adolescence "Lawn Dogs".
There are also a grouping of Spanish language films in the festival with works
from Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Spain. "We have, as always," says
Gilmore, "a wonderful selection from Latin American work which is one of the
focuses of our international program." Many of the Spanish language directors,
contented to be at Sundance, spoke of common themes across their work. The
importance of dreams in a Latin aesthetic tied a bond that Brazilian director,
Djalma Limongi Batista, here with the poetic film, "Bocage, the Triumph of Love",
explains, "I do think this culture is very different and in counterposition to
the American culture of Anglo origin, found in the North and that in fact, is
now the dominant culture all around the world. We have an important heritage
that includes very special values and characteristics. There is a multicultural
element, a mix of races, a pansexualism that you don't see in other cultures.
And that we have evolved a specific language to deal with those issues and that,"
concludes Batista is the language of dreams.
If the language of dreams has not yet become understood to American audiences, then
most of these films will remain in their homelands. We are aware of the difficulties
of a non-English language film penetrating into U.S. borders, says Spanish
director Alejandro Amenabar, here with the psychological thriller "Open Your
Eyes". Gilmore supported and was sympathetic to many of the foreign language
filmmakers, confirming their worries, Certainly, the question of the American
marketplace and the difficulties of getting foreign language films distributed
in the United States is in a real crisis. There are a lot of explanations as to
why this is the case, says Gilmore, explaining the problem: "Usually, having to
do with the fact that foreign English language work or American independent work
has marginalized foreign language work in this country all together."
For Pal Sletaune, the Norwegian director of the minimalist comedy-crime thriller
"Junk Mail", whose film was picked by CFP (now Lions Gate) before the festival,
worries about the demise of different language films, dreading a possible future
in 5 or 10 years consisting of only English language works. "The sound of
different languages is so important," says Sletaune. When Gilmore asked French
director Sylvie Verheyde whether the success of her film, "A Brother" ("Un Frere"),
depends on U.S. distribution, she insisted that it was. Italian director Davide
Ferrario, whose film "We All Fall Down" comes from last year's Toronto fest,
admits his film will not likely be picked up by U.S. distribs, but is returning
home with a number of scripts from production companies looking for Mediterranean
directors. He still laments, "I would like to make the movies that I want to make."
Even with all this dread, the exquisite collection of foreign experience at this year's
Sundance gives a certain amount of hope that directors will continue to make
movies the way they want to make them. Yet with U.S. markets becoming more
competitive and with the number of foreign filmmakers increasing with just as
rapid a pace as here in the States, space is going to be limited.