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Sundance Live VI: “Girlfriend Experience,” “Education,” “Season” Deals, LGBT Panel, “Dare” Premiere

Sundance Live VI: "Girlfriend Experience," "Education," "Season" Deals, LGBT Panel, "Dare" Premiere

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In today’s Sundance Live, Eric Kohn and James Israel report on a sneak peek of Steven Soderbergh’s new film, “The Girlfriend Experience,” Peter Knegt reports from a panel at Main Street’s Queer Lounge, and Andy Lauer reports on the premiere of “Dare,” and studios make deals on “An Education” and “Winning Seasons.”

8:40pm MST

Steven Soderbergh Offers Sneak Peek of “Girlfriend Experience”

Steven Soderbergh unveiled his latest film, “The Girlfriend Experience,” starring porn star Sasha Grey, in a sneak peek screening at the Sundance Film Festival Tuesday evening. Noting the film was a work in progress, Soderbergh joked that “none of you were here,” but did participate in a Q&A after the screening to illuminate his latest digital project. When asked about how he came to the decision to cast Grey, a twenty-year old porn actress who has apparently been in over 150 films, he explained, “I read about Sasha in an article in Los Angeles Magazine a couple of years ago, and I’d never really heard anybody in the porn industry talk about the industry the way she did and why she wanted to go into it. So when the idea of this movie came about, I contacted her and we sat down and talked. I sort of described the way that we work on these things and I said, ‘would this be interesting for you?’ Even though the film is not very explicit, there’s a comfort level she obviously has from making all those films that I think is difficult to fake.”

Continuing, Soderbergh added, “she’s the only person in the film that’s been in front of a camera before. Everyone else in the film is a real person who was cast based on theirs similarity to the character description. It was kind of fun to watch.” [James Israel]

SNAPSHOT REVIEW: “The Girlfriend Experience”

A period piece set in late 2008, Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience” sets a clever relationship drama amid recession-era woes. Starring porn actress Sasha Grey as Christine, a self-described “sophisticated escort” in New York City, the movie broadens the minimalist approach that the director first applied in “Bubble.” Soderberg creates an eerie atmosphere by esoterically cutting between Christine’s various clients and her unique relationship with her fast-talking metropolitan boyfriend.

A hustler for hard times, Christine puts on a tough facade when questioned about the validity of her profession by a local journalist (Marc Jacobson, who wrote a real magazine piece about escorts), but her fragility eventually starts bubbling to the surface.

Soderberg’s off-center technique, which involves excessively long takes, unusual framing stategies and the gorgeous photography supplied by his beloved RED camera, suits the need for the movie to work as a nuanced character study. Christine’s doomed power drive echoes the motives of Wall Street and other contemporary forms of avariciousness – which turns her intellectual dysfunction into a parable for modern times. “I should probably see a shrink,” one client tells her, “but it seems like more fun to see you.” As a dumping ground for American hedonism, Christine symbolizes the frailty of the last eight years, and leaves the future wide open. In other words, it’s the ideal inauguration day treat. [Eric Kohn]

6:25pm MST

Deals for “An Education” and “Winning Season”

Dealmaking picked up at the midpoint of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, even as many people at the fest paused today to take in the Inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. Sony Pictures Classics made a deal for North American and multi-territory rights to Lone Scherfig’s “An Education,” while Lions Gate Films closed a pact for North American and UK rights to James Strouse’s “The Winning Season.”

Strouse’s “Season,” stars Sam Rockwell, Emma Roberts, Rob Corddry, Shareeka Epps and Emily Rios. The film was produced by Gigi Films’ Kara Baker and Gia Walsh and Plum Pictures’ Celine Rattray, Danela Taplin and Galt Niederhoffer. The film is the story of, “a onetime basketball star who is brought on to coach his local high school’s girls basketball team.” Meanwhile Scherfig’s “An Education,” a coming of age story set in London in the 1960s, stars Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina and Emma Thompson.

3:30pm MST

The Business of LGBT Cinema

At a panel at the Queer Lounge in Park City yesterday, The Advocate’s Kyle Buchanan sat down with producer Christine Vachon (at Sundance with “Motherhood”), IFC Films’ Vice President of Marketing Ryan Werner, and Eric d’Arbeloff, co-president of Roadside Attractions to discuss shifts in the business of LGBT cinema.

Reflecting back on her experience in the industry, Vachon hoped that the “community [had] matured a little bit” since examples of her early 1990s producing credits “Poison” (directed by Todd Haynes) and “Swoon” (directed by Tom Kalin).

“Because, you know, ‘Swoon’ was picketed by GLAAD,” Vachon said to laughter from the audience of the GLAAD-produced event. “Funnily enough, I’ve never been invited to one of their awards ceremonies.”

“Poison” and “Swoon” both premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival, and were subject to a lot of discussion about positive gay imagery and what it meant. “A lot of debate about what made one gay image more positive than another,” Vachon said. “I actually think it was an interesting debate. Although, we were often really lambasted in it. ‘Swoon’ came out the same year as ‘Basic Instinct.’ And it was compared to ‘Basic Instinct.’ And not in a good way. I was being told that by making movies like ‘Swoon’ we were in effect promoting the idea that gay people were perverts and pedophiles and killers. Some of them are! And those are the ones I think the most interesting movies can be made about. And I’ll go to my grave saying that.”

Vachon believes that what’s happened in the past fifteen years is that “what exactly constitutes a gay image has really changed and morphed.” “It’s not so black and white and it’s not so cut and dry,” she said. “I think [back in the early to mid 1990s] there was a built in gay audience that we knew would come to the cinema, that I don’t think is there anymore. Because now they have more choices. [Back then], people almost were like ‘oh my god, there’s something where I’m going to get to see myself represent on screen. I’m gonna go no matter what it is.’ I think now that that has changed, I think that when we make movies, we can’t depend anymore on marketing it only to a gay audience and have it do well.”

She stated Jim Fall’s 1999 film “Trick,” which d’Arbeloff produced, as one of the last examples of a film that could market itself solely to a gay audience and succeed financially.

“There sort of an attempt with ‘Trick’ to make it cross over and it sort of failed,” d’Arbeloff said. “So, economically ‘Trick’ was interesting in the sense that you actually had a really game distributor who said ‘I think teens are going to go see this.’ They did these screenings on Long Island and we went to a couple of them and I think people were slightly uncomfortable with the whole thing… But who did show up was the gay audience and I think they really loved it. They were happy to go to the Sunset 5 and now if you go to the Sunset 5 in LA, the gays don’t go there anymore they want to go to Arclight.”

d’Arbeloff feels that gays are no longer comfortable, “on some level,” with being “this kind of cool, marginalized society.” “We want to be on TV,” he explained. “We want to see the same movies that everybody else is seeing. And I guess in the case of ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ its thrilling to us when everybody wants to see our movies too but not to the extent that were not going to see the mainstream stuff… It’s a very, very tough time when you become mainstream and you have all these opportunities. What do you do with them? And I think there’s a little but of pressure on people to maybe think about, well, there’s a group of gay people out there that still feel underserved, still feel alienated, still feel all of these things and maybe do want to see their stories.”

“It’s disappointing when the gay audience doesn’t show up,” Werner said. “I worked on a film called ‘Tarnation’ that was such a landmark, special movie. And I had really hoped that the gay audience would show up for this movie. Not that it was totally gay. It was about a relationship between a mother and her son. There were so many beautiful elements to it. But it was a really tough movie and it didn’t even end up making a million dollars. And it had so much press. I mean, it was pretty impossible to miss. That’s when I kinda felt like the gay audience isn’t really showing up that much anymore. And I feel like now you have to make a lot of other elements work to really get people in.

Werner referenced two recent gay-themed films he worked on with IFC, Tom Kalin’s “Savage Grace” (which Vachon produced), and Christophe Honore’s “Love Songs.” “I don’t think we sold either of them as necessarily gay. I mean, we tried to get the gay audience in. We did a lot of outreach. We did festivals and screenings, and advertising to gay publications. But on those films we had to work different angles. With “Savage Grace,” the movie was so beautiful and glamorous and we tried to play up the true story and Julianne Moore’s performance. I think just relying on a movie because it has gay elements now is pretty tough.” [Peter Knegt]

2:57pm MST

Subverting a Familiar Formula: “Dare” Premieres

The premiere of “Dare” at the Racquet Club Monday night began with the clearly excited director, Adam Salky, snapping a picture of the audience to commemorate the event. “If you all could move in…” he joked to the large crowd.

“Dare” tells the story of an unusual high school love triangle: drama geeks and best friends Alexa (Emmy Rossum) and Ben (Ashley Springer) both fall for, and begin hooking up with, the popular, but troubled jock, Johnny (Zach Gilford), who navigates conflicting feelings about his sexuality and deep-seated insecurity.

A scene from Adam Salky’s “Dare”. Image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

According to Salky and writer David Brind, their intent in making “Dare,” which began as a short and was then fleshed out to include more characters and story lines, was to create a teen movie that subverted the clichés of that genre. “I love teenage movies,” said Brind, but said he wanted to take the kinds of characters familiar to those films, “and turn those types on their head.” Brind also said that, “I won’t say it’s autobiographical but there’s a lot of me in it.”

Zach Gilford, one of the film’s leads–all of whom were on hand for the Q&A following the screening–also received quite a bit of love from Brind and his co-stars. Said Brind: “Zach Gilford blew all of our minds,” adding that he “brought a richness to Johnny.” Speaking of the character, Brind described his intentions in creating Johnny. “We’ve all gone to high school with the bad boy who seemed totally unreachable, untouchable…what happens when he goes home?”

Despite some audio issues midway through the movie, the director took the technical difficulties in stride, joking at the Q&A the feedback was intentional.

Of working with Salky Gilford said: “it was a very collaborative work environment,” and Rossum praised him, saying, “Adam is one of the most sensitive, focused directors I have ever worked with.”

Buzz from the audience was positive if not overwhelming. [Andy Lauer]

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