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January 22, 1998 2:00 AM
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Park City 98: Colors of the Spectrum

Park City 98: Colors of the Spectrum

by Anthony Kaufman




"Brother Tied"'s Jason Hauser

When the creators of the documentary "Party Monster" received that fateful call
from Geoffrey Gilmore telling them their film was invited to Sundance's American
Spectrum, they were pretty excited. But when the producer/directors called
co-financier Cinemax and told them they got into Sundance, the cable channel
execs asked, "What Part?" When they answered Spectrum, the response was an
unenthusiastic, "Oh."


Likening it to Un Certain Regard at the Cannes film festival, Gilmore is out to
set the record straight on American Spectrum, claiming its equal importance
within the increasingly, broader cinematic sweep of the festival. "It used to be
that I'd call up filmmakers and I'd say, 'Guess what, you're in Sundance' and
they'd say, 'Great.' Now they ask the same question Cinemax asks, 'What
Section?' And I always say, If you don't want to be in American Spectrum, I
have
a hundred people who would be really happy to."


"When we started American Spectrum, in part, it was to broaden the aesthetic of
the festival," says Gilmore, "to really broaden out the range of work we were
able to put in the film festival." Compared with last year's 16 selected films
out of 500 submissions this year they picked about 18 films out of 750
submissions. "It's not giving ourselves a lot more latitude, but it is giving us
at least some possibilities and I think as you can see, there is an incredible
quality and incredible diversity in the work as much as there is in the
Competition."


Gilmore reiterates that the difference between those films in Spectrum and those
in Competion is "not a whole heck of a lot." Putting his fingers close together,
he continues, "The question as to what ends up in Competition and what ends up
in Spectrum is often times a choice that is this thin." Gilmore also supports
his contention with the number of sales and distribution deals, claiming, "Last
year, many of the major films that got picked up were picked up out of Spectrum."


Due to the growing popularity of Spectrum films in the last couple of years,
Sundance was prompted for the first time to make Spectrum films eligible for the
Audience Award -- a possibly controversial move by placing premiere-only
Competition films up against certain Spectrum films that have played to critical
and audience acclaim already at such festivals as Toronto or Cannes or Venice.
It will be very interesting to see whether this year's Audience Award crosses
the bridge for the first time into Spectrum territory. If it does, Spectrum
films are likely to take on greater importance in future years.


"One of the aspects of the Spectrum section that we felt was a very positive
aspect was that the filmmakers weren't in competion with each other," says
Gilmore, "There's really two kinds of pressure, the pressure of that Jury prize
and the pressure of finding that distributor. And one of the good things in
Spectrum is that several of the films already have distributors and that changes
their experiences." Susan Skoog, the director of "Whatever", being distributed
by Sony Pictures Classics, says, "It's a lot less pressure. Were here just to
have fun and we are." Other films already accepted with distributors include
"First Love, Last Rites" (Strand Releasing), "Niagara, Niagara" (Shooting
Gallery
), and "Life During Wartime" (Columbia/TriStar). So far, American
Spectrum was also host to some inter-Sundance deals: October's interest in
"Relax. . . It's Just Sex" and "Wicked's" acquisition by a new distribution
company.


During an American Spectrum press conference this week, Gilmore also brought up
the very important trend of indie films depending on name actors, "We used to
have this independent world that was only defined by that archetypal twenty-
something filmmaker with no known cast, no resources, who really came out of
nowhere and was discovered. I think we very much now have this world that is
defined by both a mainstream aesthetic and by a more mainstream set of resources.
Filmmakers are now working with a well known cast, working with some degree,
more resources."


This year's American Spectrum selections greatly testify to this growing need
for the celebrity actor to push their films from oblivion and into the spotlight.
"Relax. . . Its Just Sex", directed by P.J. Castellaneta and starring such notables
as Lori Petty and Jennifer Tilly, is about sexual and intimate relationships,
both gay and straight. At script stage, the Lori Petty character was a fat,
Asian woman, but Castellaneta rewrote the character to fit the mold of his the
actress. Unlike some of the other directors who strove for particular actors,
Castellaneta "took what he could get."


"For me, it's still amazing that I had this well known actress in my film," said
Wonsuk Chin of "Too Tired to Die", "It all started with me meeting [Mira Sorvino]
at a cafe when she was a struggling actress. I guess I'm just lucky. The rest
just liked the script." The rest included the come-back star Ben Gazzara and
indie mainstay Michael Imperioli. For Bill Condon, who wrote and directed "Gods
and Monsters
", famous British stage actor Ian McKellan was "the only actor" who
could play his central figure of James Whale, the director of the original
"Frankenstein". Condon also managed to include Lynn Redgrave, Brendan Fraser
and Lolita Davidovich in this audience favorite that may be the next on the list
of distrib catches. Evan Dunsky of "Life During Wartime" felt directing
experienced actors Kate Capshaw and Stanley Tucci "became about letting go,
stepping back and letting them teach me."


One of the only films in the Spectrum that does not include at least one
recognizable face is "Brother Tied". 22-year old director/cinematographer
Derek M. Cianfrance assembled actors and crew members who had never set foot
on a film set for his stylish, pretentious first film. The naive vigor of
someone like Cianfrance assures us that American Spectrum is not simply a
dumping ground for favorites from other festivals or high profile pieces of
fluff. With it's diversity of films, themes, budgets, and styles, the best
thing about American Spectrum is that it exists -- that more and more films
can take part in this fest of all fests.

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