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PARK CITY ’06 BUZZ DAILY: “Half Nelson” Takes Full Applause; Al Gore Charms at Discovery Party

PARK CITY '06 BUZZ DAILY: "Half Nelson" Takes Full Applause; Al Gore Charms at Discovery Party

Under a cloudless sky in Park City, a huge crowd of industry and festival attendees turned up at the Racquet Club for the premiere of Ryan Fleck‘s dramatic competition feature “Half Nelson,” with tremendous performances by Ryan Gosling and newcomer, Shareeka Epps. The film centers on an improbable friendship between an idealistic Brooklyn history high school teacher (Gosling) struggling with a crack habit, and a student (Epps) facing life with an absent father and overworked mother.

Fleck along with fellow screenwriter Anna Boden developed the script, which evolved out of a frustration with the current state of affairs in the United States. “We were initially just pissed off at what was happening in the country and we wanted to start a revolution,” said Fleck during the Q & A following the film’s screening. “But then we thought that was too dangerous (laughs), so we decided to write a script about a teacher wanting to change the world. But that turned out to be boring, so we decided to make him a drug addict,” added Fleck to more laughter from the audience.

The film, shot in Brooklyn, is named after a Miles Davis song that Fleck felt described the demons the film’s characters faced. “‘Half Nelson’ is a Miles Davis song about being stuck in a situation they’re not satisfied with,” said Fleck when asked how he came up with the title for the film.

Noticeably absent from the screening was Gosling, who was apparently wrapped up in shooting another project, but the audience warmly received 16 year-old Epps who charmed the audience and described how she became involved with the film. “Ryan [Fleck] noticed me for some reason at dance class, and asked me to audition. I told them I didn’t act, but they asked me anyway,” said Epps who starred in Fleck’s precursor to “Half Nelson,” “Gowanus, Brooklyn,” which won the short jury prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

“Half Nelson” director Ryan Fleck prior to the screening of his Sundance competition feature Sunday afternoon (with producer Jamie Patricof in the background). Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

Fleck also talked about Gosling’s involvement in the film. “We had [originally] only seen him in ‘The Believer’ and we thought he was only 19. But then we met him and thought his performance was amazing.” The consensus among industry/friends following the screening seemed to confirm a positive view of the actors’ performances and the overall film itself.

Sunday’s Plentiful Parties

10th Queer Brunch: A packed crowd, including director John Waters and singer Rufus Wainwright turned up for the 10th annual Queer Brunch at the Grub Steakhouse in Park City Sunday afternoon. Outfest announced a program with UCLA to spearhead preservation of gay films. The initiative has been given a bequest of $150,000 to launch the project. Aside from the announcements, invitees dined on an expanded brunch this year, which included tons of bacon, potatoes and eggs. Past QBs only served up danishes and muffins that ran out. Not this year… And, the Bloody Marys were still flowing as usual…

San Francisco Film Society party: A couple of hundred people turned up at the VW Lounge in upper Main Street for the San Francisco Film Society’s party announcing a slate of new initiatives, including a San Francisco-based film news and information website that will be published with indieWIRE. The hors d’oeuvres were fab! And the chipotle chocolate cake was especially deelish!

Discovery party: The Discovery Channel held a fabulous party for their slate of films at the festival, known as Discover Docs. Former Vice President Albert Gore and wife Tipper showed up for the event. Invitees chatted with Gore and he was inundated with requests for pictures, which he obligingly posed for. The event, held at Zoom on Main Street, had amazing food, including a decadent macaroni and cheese, which Gore couldn’t resist sampling.

All Tomorrow’s Parties… (a rundown on some of Tuesday’s parties and events)

4pm – ?: Sundance Channel will hold its annual afternoon soiree at 350 Main St. Last year’s event was popular, and consequently, pretty crowded, so arrive with patience, and don’t forget to pick up your wristband beforehand.

4pm – 6pm: Distributor Picturehouse will have a bash at tony Main Street eatery Zoom.

4:30 – 6:30pm: Doc competition film “The Trials of Darryl Hunt” by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg is having its party at Buona Vita restaurant on Park Ave.

9pm – 1am: Warner Independent Pictures is throwing a party at the Turning Leaf Lounge on Main Street.

11:30pm – 1:30am: Wim Wenders‘ Sundance Premieres film, “Don’t Come Knocking” will have its party at the VW Lounge.

[Get the latest from the Sundance Film Festival throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Park City ’06 section.]

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