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December 18, 1996 2:00 AM
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Sundance Channel Derails "Fuel Tour"

Sundance Channel Derails "Fuel Tour"

by Eugene Hernandez




The Sundance Channel has withdrawn its financial support of the
Fuel Tour, a Lollapalooza-style "movable film festival" showcasing four
independent feature films. The tour, conceived by filmmaker Suzanne Meyers,
was set to commence this Spring. The move caught organizers and filmmakers
by surprise on the day final contracts were being submitted and a press
release touting the project was set to be distributed. The tour was
scheduled to feature four films: Chris Smiths' "American Job", Dante
Harper's "Delicate Art Of The Rifle", Suzanne Meyers' "Alchemy" and a fourth
film on a ten-city trip through the east coast and midwest. The 30-day
tour, set
to include screenings, filmmaker discussions, an Internet webcast and
parties in each city, will most likely be postponed as a result of The
Sundance Channel's actions.


Suzanne Meyers said that the Sundance Channel's move was completely
unexpected and that The Channel joined the project in August and had
neither expressed any concerns nor indicated that they were on the verge of
withdrawing financial support. The Channel was on board as a presenting
sponsor and had committed to investing $75,000 in the tour, which according
to Meyers, was approximately 1/3 of the project's budget. While Sarah
Eaton of the Sundance Channel would not specify the financial level of The
Channel's involvement, and characterized The Channel's agreement with the
filmmakers as a "verbal" one, the organizers maintain that negotiations
between the two parties had been ongoing since late-summer and both groups
were working closely to cultivate other sponsors and revise their agreement.


Expressing frustration with the way The Channel handled the situation, Meyers
explains, "I think it is a little bit irresponsible of them [The Sundance
Channel] to make commitments when they cannot follow through with them."
Filmmaker Dante Harper who feels that basic trust between the filmmakers
involved and The Channel was betrayed, adds, "If you are optimistic enough
to make an independent film you cannot be cynical enough to keep pace with
the machinations of the industry." Meyers confirms that The Channel's
decision creates planning problems for herself, as well as Harper and the
other filmmakers and parties involved, since all those concerned adjusted
their schedules accordingly to accommodate the spring tour.


When asked for the reason behind the decision, Eaton said: "We had to
re-prioritize our budget...we think it (The Fuel Tour) is a really really
great project, we're really disappointed, and we had to make a hard
business decision." Speculation among some indie-industry sources is that
The Sundance Channel's decisions to withdraw support for the Fuel Tour, as
well as their recent decision to drop the new John Pierson TV show "Split Screen" are the direct result of a shake-up and re-direction by the
Channel's top
management.


Amid published reports that Sundance Channel President Nora Ryan is leaving
her post, Channel executives are said to be pursuing a larger subscriber
base to insure their outlet's long term survival. Sarah Eaton explained
that "Our priority right now is to aggressively go after getting
subscribers -- this particular budget item (The Fuel Tour) did not fit into
our priorities at this time." Among The Channel's plans are a high-profile
presence,
in association with Starbucks and USSB, at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival.


Sande Zeig of Artistic License Films, the company responsible for booking
the tour, was "devasted" by the news, explaining that exhibitors in some of
the ten-cities had already expressed interest based on The Sundance
Channel's involvement. Zeig added, though, that "the idea stands on its
own with or without Sundance," and that her company has "...every intention
of remaining involved [in the tour]." She also said that because
exhibitors have responded positively to the idea of an indie-film tour, she
is certain
that they can make keep the tour alive without The Sundance Channel.


Tour Advisor Ted Hope of Good Machine Inc., who has been championing the
idea of a traveling film festival for a number of years, is optimistic about
the tour's future, but admits that "it really requires corporate sponsorship
to get off the ground." Meyers remains determined to solidify
sponsors' support and explains that this setback "is certainly not going to
stop
us from doing [the tour]." She has received interest from a number of
other potential sponsors and has meetings scheduled for this week with a few
other broadcast entities. Hope remains optimistic that a sponsor will be
found because [The Fuel Tour] "is such a wonderful opportunity [for a sponsor]
to reach a desired demographic." He adds, "Theatrical distribution can
only support a handful of films per year -- there is a real need for
alternative
distribution systems [and] Fuel provides that." Short of a sponsor signing on
for a spring tour, organizers are planning for a fall 1997 launch.

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