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PARK CITY ’07 DAILY DISPATCH | $15 Million Dealmaking Day at Sundance; Also, Inside “Rocket Science”

PARK CITY '07 DAILY DISPATCH | $15 Million Dealmaking Day at Sundance; Also, Inside "Rocket Science"

As the first weekend came to a close, bloggers and industry journalists continued to brand this year’s Sundance a bust, saying that biz activity was off in Park City and trying to justify pre-fest predictions that the market this year would be soft. Yet dealmaking continued at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, heating up on Monday with millions of dollars in deals announced. Fox Searchlight announced two pacts, perhaps spending as much as $9 million for both Waitress“, a comedy written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly and George Ratliff‘s competition feature “Joshua.” Warner Independent jumped into the action, nabbing Cherie Nowlan‘s “Clubland” for multiple territories in a pact pegged at about $4 million. The other specialty division active in the past 24 hours was Sony Pictures Classics, closing a nearly $2 million deal for worldwide rights (excluding UK television and a U.S. TV window for A&E), according to an inside source. Finally, ThinkFilm scored North American rights to David Sington‘s “In The Shadow of the Moon” and will release the film in association with Discovery Films in a multi-million dollar pact, according to an insider close to the deal. In total, thats more than $15 million spent in deals announced Monday, with more to come over the next few days.

Finding Your Voice, “Rocket Science”

IN a Q & A after the first screening of Jeff Blitz‘ “Rocket Science” over the weekend, the filmmaker commented that his first narrative feature is essentially about finding your own voice in life. For “Rocket Science” lead Hal Hefner, a young kid who is coming-of-age with a stutter, that idea has both literal and figurative connotations. Despite his disfluent speech, Hal (played by outstanding newcomer Reece Daniel) joins the debate team at his New Jersey high school and falls for a girl, an aggressive, controlling, top debater (played by the equally accomplished Anna Kendrick).

“I really try to think of voice in a bigger sense,” Blitz elaborated, during a conversation with indieWIRE after the successful screening, “To find your voice is really to find your place in the world and how difficult it is to find your place in a world that seems like its so completely arbitrary.” Continuing he added that at the age of his protagonist (young Hal is about 14 or 15 years old), everything is filled with mystery. “To figure out how to make your stand in a world that you don’t understand at all is such a complicated thing.”

Elements of Hal’s character are drawn from Blitz’s own life, including his own memories of being a debater in New Jersey when growing up, and also emanating from his own speech disfluency that increased after making his first feature, the Oscar nominated doc “Spellbound.” “I was writing the script when going through a really hard time in terms of my public speaking, starting right around the time that ‘Spellbound‘ took off.” Blitz told indieWIRE, “When I suddenly had to speak articulately about this movie, my ability to do so just started to crumble.”

“I think for Hal, its more complicated because he stutters,” Blitz told indieWIRE of his lead character, “But I really do believe that everyone has something like that everyone has something that makes its hard or them to really feel out what the right place is.”

Concluding the conversatin, Blitz added, “The emotional content of wanting to express yourself in a certain way and not being able to was really fresh content for me.” [Eugene Hernandez]

“Broken English” Director Zoe Cassavetes with Sundance Film Festival Director Geoff Gilmore. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

Loneliness in The Big City, in “Broken English”

Probably most people can relate to loneliness, and Nora, played brilliantly by Parker Posey in Zoe Cassavetes‘ Sundance dramatic competition feature, “Broken English,” is surrounded by friends and family in one of the world’s most dense cities — but she is alone. Nora is smart, funny, pretty and has great style, but a relationship to match her finesse is naggingly elusive. And unlike some lonely people, she gets a chance — on a fluke. After randomly going to a 4th of July party she might have otherwise not attended, Nora meets a hot Frenchman who takes to her instantly.

OK, they get it on after the second date, but is it the real thing? Awkwardly, while laying in the bathtub together, Nora asks Julien (Melvil Poupaud), “What is this…?” Hoping to find that fleeting love, she doesn’t quite get the answer she wishes, and Julien’s command of diplomatic English doesn’t quite help the situation. But, Julien’s biggest drawback is that he’s from, well, France. And, unfortunately, this is not a rehash of “Green Card,” so Julien eventually has to leave the U.S. for home. Despite herself, Nora takes the plunge with her married, yet similarly lonely best friend (played by Drea de Mateo) and heads to Paris. Anyone reading this can probably imagine where the story is going, but wait… I’m not quite sure the audience had a collective idea how it ended when exiting the theater. It’s not exactly “Sixteen Candles.”

“This was a real opportunity to play a complex character,” said Posey during the post-screening Q&A in Park City. “Characters [like Nora] don’t come along often.” Posey went on to say that she was thrilled to take on a role where she could interject the experiences of her friends (and who knows, maybe herself) in tackling the love trauma. “Nora has abandonment issues, and I was excited to play that,” said Posey.

“…I looked at how women had this pressure to be with someone,” said writer/director Cassavetes about formulating the story. “[It’s a] pressure to be with someone in order to feel ‘complete.'” [Brian Brooks]

Inside indieWIRE On the Scene: Park City

PARK CITY ’07 REVIEW | Home of the Weak: The Middlebrow Melodrama of “Grace is Gone”

Anthony Kaufman reviews James C. Strouse’s “Grace is Gone,” which he found to be “not nearly as funny or sad as it needs to be, “Grace is Gone” represents the well-intentioned efforts of a novice filmmaker still finding his way.”

REVIEW | Bad, Bad Boy: George Ratliff’s “Joshua”

Steve Ramos reviews George Ratliff‘s “Joshua“, which is screening in Sundance’s Dramatic Competition Category. “The audience I sat with was polite and only laughed at all the wrong places,” he writes, “the only person yelling back at the movie was I.”

INTERVIEW | Amir Bar-Lev: “I had no way of knowing that, 5 months into production, I would be faced with the possibility that the whole thing was a hoax.”

The Sundance Documentary Competition director of “My Kid Could Paint That” (Amir Bar-Lev) discusses the event that turned the film upside-down, and the difficulties of having a 4-year-old documentary subject in his interview in today’s indieWIRE.

INTERVIEW | Petr Lom: “Leaving the safety net of my life in the university for a freelance profession was a very difficult choice.”

The Sundance World Documentary Competition director of “On a Tightrope” (Peter Lom) talks about the rewards of changing his career, and the challenges of making a film in an area as sensitive as Xinjiang in his interview in today’s indieWIRE.

INTERVIEW | Steve Berra: “My philosophy was to never have a back-up plan.”

The Sundance Dramatic Competition director of “The Good Life” (Steve Berra) talks about why he believes in not having a back-up plan, and the challenges he faced on set as a first-time director in his interview in today’s indieWIRE.

INTERVIEW | Newton Aduaka: “This was a project ready to go, with people I’d hoped to work with for years.”

The Sundance World Dramatic Competition director of “Ezra” (Newton Aduaka) describes how growing up in Nigeria had an impact on his film, and how independent filmmaking is like jumping off of a cliff in his interview in today’s indieWIRE.

Get the latest coverage of Park City ’07 in indieWIRE’s special section here at indieWIRE.com

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