Sundance Film Series Plans Emerging; "Dopamine" and "World" Set for Fall Debut
by Eugene Hernandez
Plans are coming together for the inaugural Sundance Film Series, which was unveiled in Park City earlier this year. In a deal announced on Tuesday, the company confirmed its acquisition of Mark Decena's Sundance 2003 competition entry, "Dopamine." The film will join Michael Winterbottom's Berlinale 2003 winner "In This World" for a 10-city release. In a conversation with indieWIRE yesterday, Sundance Channel SVP of film programming Paola Freccero discussed the plans for the new series.
"We are really excited -- so far do good," Freccero said. She explained that in the programming of the new series she hoped to offer "a sample of the kinds of films that Sundance supports and represents," noting the project's "creativity, vision, and risk-taking in filmmaking." The other two films that will join the series will be announced in the next few days.
The deal for "Dopamine" was negotiated by attorney Linda Lichter and rep Jeff Dowd on behalf of the filmmaker, with Sundance Channel acquisitions VP Chris Vesper negotiating for the network. Winterbottom's "World" was sold to Sundance by Aline Perry and Joy Wong of The Works.
Freccero and the series planners, working in tandem with partner Loews Cineplex Entertainment, have set the 10 markets for the series, which will kick-off in September. On tap are venues in New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C. Presenting sponsors, offering funding and in-kind support, include Loews, Volkswagen, Coca-Cola, Kenneth Cole Productions, and Entertainment Weekly.
Decena's "Dopamine," named after the natural amphetamine that human bodies produce when falling in love, is described by the channel as "a romantic drama for the hi-tech age." It is the story of two computer programmers who have created an artificial intelligence life form. The form inspires one of the programmers to engage in a dialogue about the nature of love with a woman who strikes his fancy. The picture, winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation prize at Sundance this year, was written by Decena and Tim Breitbach and produced by Tad Fettig and Debbie Brubaker. The executive producer of the HD film was Eric Koivisto. The director previously made two shorts, "A Fly by Shooting" and "One of Those Days," both of which screened at the Sundance Film Festival. He, Fettig, and Breitbach are co-founders of the San Francisco-based production company Kontent. Notably, "Dopamine" is the first project to go through every phase of Sundance's support, from the Institute labs to the Sundance Festival and now to the film series and ultimately to Sundance Channel Home Entertainment and the Channel.
Michael Winterbottom's "In This World" was written by Tony Grisoni ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas") and produced by frequent Winterbottom collaborators Andrew Eaton and Anita Overland. It stars Jamal Udin Torabi and Enayutallah as two Afghan refugees living on the Pakistani border. Described as a "semi-documentary," the movie was shot with a digital camera and explores the life of refugees who moved just inside the border after the bombing of Afghanistan began in October 2001.
As Freccero noted, the Sundance Series is the latest effort to market film releases via relationships with theater chains and corporate support. Picking up most closely from the success of the recent Shooting Gallery Film Series, the effort secures its P&A (prints and advertising) monies from the sponsors. Filmmakers are able to secure small advances through the deals, as well as "back-end" participation for profits if the films break out and do well. The P&A costs are not recoupable, Freccero said, which is a big bonus for filmmakers, producers, reps, and agents.
"We have made every effort to (give filmmakers) a little bit up front," Freccero told indieWIRE. "And we hope they have a healthy chance to make money on the back end."
Finally, with the Sundance deal, filmmakers are also securing ancillary pacts. "With other distributors of our size, (filmmakers) very rarely know where their ancillary revenues are coming from," Freccero added, "But we have the ancillaries in place, we have a home video track record under way and we know television." Concluding she added, "(Filmmakers) respect the fact that we have a pretty solid brand name."