PARK CITY ’06 BUZZ DAILY: “Lion” Filmmakers Face Personal Cancer Struggle; Exhibition Challenges Tod

In a striking blow of unbelievable news, Julia Reichert and her partner (in life and filmmaking) Steven Bognar were met with a dreaded telephone call when they stepped off the airplane in Salt Lake City last week en route to the Sundance Film Festival. The directors of “A Lion In The House,” the competition doc about five children and their families dealing with cancer over nearly eight years, learned that Reichert herself had been diagnosed with lymphoma. After attending their first two Park City screenings last weekend, then introducing a third in Salt Lake City on Sunday, they decided to return home to Ohio where Reichert is now hospitalized.

Throughout the week, Sundance organizers and those close to the project told friends, colleagues, and screening audiences that the filmmakers had left town to deal with personal medical reasons. Some twelve families and leading oncologists traveled to Sundance this week to see the nearly four-hour film and discuss it with audiences, but doctors ultimately advised Reichert to return home immediately for treatment.

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Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, directors of “A Lion in the House,” in a photo taken prior to the Sundance Film Festival. Image provided by ITVS.

Bognar and those involved with the film have begun notifying friends and colleagues in the film community. A spokesperson for ITVS, a funder of the PBS documentary, explained to indieWIRE this morning that Reichert has been diagnosed with lymphoma and is now under the care of the head of the lymphoma unit at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, OH.

An ITVS spokesperson told indieWIRE today that Bognar and Reichert are asking friends to refrain from calling the hospital, but are instead encouraging well-wishers to send cards and get well notes:

Julia Reichert
Room 1037
James Cancer Hospital
300 W. 10th Ave.
Columbus, OH 43210

The filmmakers began making “A Lion In The House” more than eight years ago after seeing their daughter battle cancer. In a personal email exchange this afternoon, Steven Bognar reiterated that Julia is a strong, resilient woman and added that they are grateful to have spent eight years with role models and advisers who can now help them through these times. He added that they were fortunate to have been able to share the film with audiences here at Sundance before returning home.

Earlier this month, indieWIRE published an email interview with Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, kicking off a series of profiles of Sundance competition filmmakers. The indieWIRE team in Utah want to wish Julia, Steve, and their family warmth, strength, and peace.

The Future of Exhibition

“Going, Going, Gone? The Culture of Moviegoing” was the subject of a panel Wednesday afternoon at the Filmmakers Lounge on Main Street. The ubiquitous pessimism that has created gloom among some circles of exhibitors and within the film biz in general — including concerns about the advent of new technologies, declining box office, DVD piracy, as well as day and date distribution — took center stage in the initial conversation, but a historical perspective regarding the ebb and flow of the industry also became a focus.

“The one thing that this [downturn in theater attendance] topic reminds me of is how I’ve heard this before. In the ’60s, there was a conversion of art house theaters into porn theaters, and there was fear then. Then came the advent of home video, and everyone thought nobody would go to movies anymore, and that video would become the ‘paperback’ for film,” detailed veteran San Francisco-based critic B. Ruby Rich.

She acknowledged that following the introduction of new forces changing the way moviegoers view movies did usually result in a temporary downturn in cinema audiences, but they usually returned.

Former United Artists head Bingham Ray acknowledged that technology, including big plasma televisions in homes were a challenge, but said the desire to ultimately enjoy the movie-going experience with others is paramount.

“Our need to get out of the house and [our] desire to commune with people like ourselves and [with people] not like ourselves is great,” Ray said. “People have wanted group storytelling since [historic times] with the Shaman telling a story. Even with big plasma screen TVs, there is not the same group experience as in the theater.”

Ray continued, saying that any cyclical downturn has caused undue panic within the film business. “This industry expects a record- breaking year every year, and they look for something [to blame].”

The art house theater was also a big focus of discussion Wednesday. California Film Institute founder Mark Fishkin (who also runs the Mill Valley Film Festival) said he is fearful of giant exhibitors pushing out smaller venues, while Russell Collins, CEO of the Michigan Theater, cited the role films played in replacing live theater as the primary means of popular entertainment, just as television did in the ’50s.

“I’d be more worried if I were a multiplex owner than an art house owner,” explained Rich. “The arthouse caters to their communities.” Rich later added, “Something art houses can do is promise to show films that are unrated, and they can use that as a brand. They have that going for them.”

Wednesday’s Parties…

Sundance hosted an afternoon press and filmmaker reception at the Riverhorse on Main Street Wednesday. The event was closed off to publicists and one who tried to make it inside at the beginning of the soiree was turned away. Many filmmakers attended the event, of course, snacking on food and chatting up members of the press and each other. As the party went on, a few publicists had made it in. “I don’t understand why they don’t want us here,” said one. “How are the press members suppose to know who the filmmakers are? And a lot of them can be shy.”

A storm that threatened to dump another ten inches of snow Wednesday night didn’t seem to derail the bash hosted by the New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development several miles further up the mountain above the Stein Erikson Lodge in a swanky gated community. The party was held at a private residence – a mansion to be more specific – complete with an indoor basketball court where about 150 – 200 people partied down. Despite the snow and cold temps, several attendees decided to where their summer skimpiest. Bellybuttons and bosoms were presented in their full glory.

IFC also held a party for “This Film is Not Yet Rated” near Main Street, while “American Hardcore” hosted its party complete with a concert from ’80s punk bands The Circle Jerks and DOA. The gift bag for that one included a Vans T shirt and a gift certificate for a free pair of custom-made Vans shoes.

All Tomorrow’s Parties…

Slamdance will host its awards ceremony and party Friday night. Other then that, go to dinner with friends and chill out. You deserve it.

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