Sundance Tries Theatrical With New Series Of Four Films
by Dan Cox
The sagging indie film market may just get a cowboy boot to the rear from Robert Redford's Sundance Film Series, which kicks off August 29 with Emilio Martinez-Lazaro's musical comedy "The Other Side of the Bed." In true western roundup fashion, the series will pluck indie films from the festival circuit and give them an automatic two-week theatrical run in at least 10 markets nationwide -- on Loews Theater screens.
The flicks will carry a monstrous marketing budget that Sundance Channel executives estimate to be between $10 million and $15 million in cash and in-kind services from such companies as Volkswagen, Kenneth Cole, Entertainment Weekly, and Loews. With that in mind, it turns the little film series that could into a mini major distributor of sorts. Studio indies like Fine Line Features, Fox Searchlight, Sony Classics, and Paramount Classics rarely put up that kind of marketing muscle behind their fare.
"Our goal is to try and help these films find an audience," said Kirk Iwanowski, senior VP of marketing for the Sundance Channel. "Our objective is to create a platform and opportunity for these films to be seen in more markets."
Paula Freccero, senior VP of programming, said the markets include tony theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. "We thought it would be great for films to be given more than just two markets (New York and L.A.)," Freccero said. "We'll give them a marketing platform, which they wouldn't normally get," she added. "We open them day and date in all 10 markets."
This fall, the inaugural series is set with Martinez-Lazaro's film first, followed by Michael Winterbottom's "In this World" on September 19, Mark Decena's "Dopamine" on October 10, and Mark Rucker's "Die Mommie Die" on October 31.
Marinez-Lazar's piece delves comedically and musically into a pair of wife-swapping couples that are struggling to find love and happiness amid the squalor. The film was nominated for six Goyas, the Spanish equivalent of the Oscar. Winterbottom's film charts two Afghan boys who travel through Iran, Turkey, Italy, France, and Britain in a story of illegal human trafficking. At Berlin Film Fest this year, "World" won the Golden Bear and the Peach Film Prize and the mouthful, Prize of the Churches of Ecumenical Jury.
"Dopamine" is being hawked as a romantic drama for the high-tech age. Decena's film is about two friends who are computer programmers who fall for the same woman. Finally, "Die Mommy Die" is written by and stars camp cultist Charles Busch. Rucker chose to shoot it as an ode to the Ross Hunter style of filmmaking and to the big screen soaps of the '60s.
Freccero said that Sundance will re-evaluate the series after the last film screens and decide whether to push for another quarter with the indie product. She noted the box office will not be the determining factor, but that reviews and reception in the indie community will play a part.
The series recalls a similar series from the Shooting Gallery in the mid to late 1990s, run by former Shooting Gallery executive Eamonn Bowles. Shooting Gallery had a deal with Loews Cineplex to exhibit indie films -- that Shooting Gallery chose -- in 40 theaters nationwide. Though most of the films were not stellar performers, Shooting Gallery shot a bullseye with "Croupier," Mike Hodges 1998 British indie effort that grossed $6.2 million domestic.
Freccero said she admires the Shooting Gallery's effort, but begs off on them. "I don't think we're looking for the next 'Croupier," she said. "We're looking for the same thing that Shooting Gallery was -- how to find an audience while minimizing expense."
Freccero said the films are chosen for the series by herself, Redford, and Sundance Film Festival leader Geoff Gilmore. "It really was something that Redford wanted," she said. "He has for a long time been supporting filmmakers every step of the way. The Sundance Channel was created to offer a distribution outlet that would get these films to the biggest audience. The only piece of the puzzle was a theatrical distribution line. He's never given up on live exhibition."