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What Makes a Film Pop at Sundance? Cinetic Media Talks 2015 Breakouts, Raising ‘Boyhood’

What Makes a Film Pop at Sundance? Cinetic Media Talks 2015 Breakouts, Raising 'Boyhood'

Kate Hurwitz likes to think of her job at Cinetic Media—a multi-hyphenate film finance, distribution and sales label—as a “proto-acquisitions” position. “I’m looking out for material that acquisitions people will be looking at just a few months later,” she says, which is exactly what she’s doing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. She’s the eyes and ears of the firm, scouting for sales, tracking independent narratives and documentaries and tapping into new talent.

“My favorite part of the job is finding those new young voices who will emerge at Sundance, whether it’s a huge sale or a new, important filmmaker that has to be reckoned with in the next year to come.”

Last year, Cinetic, under founder John Sloss, who also spearheaded digital distributor FilmBuff, positioned Sundance 2014 buzz titles including “Appropriate Behavior,” “Listen Up Philip” and “The Babadook” and “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”—all of which have enjoyed prosperous lives on the independent film market.

“We found the filmmakers, advocated for them and helped sell the films. It has been great watching them emerge throughout the year,” says Hurwitz, a young go-getter who also worked at FilmBuff, and did publicity for HBO. Her primary job at Sundance this year will be as the first point of contact with filmmakers and producers in getting material ready for sales. “There’s a whole network of ‘me’s out there talking to each other and figuring out who other people are interested in.”

This year, Cinetic handles Matt Sobel’s buzzy NEXT entry “Take Me to the River” which Hurwitz says is “one of those films I feel will pop at Sundance. It has a hidden surprise in it. People will have different thoughts as they come out of the screening,” adding that “Matt’s a really talented filmmaker who’s going to go places after Sundance.”

Cinetic sees a lot of material, and for Hurwitz, assessing a potential breakout is more than just a feeling: it’s about discerning taste. “There’s a very clear vision that certain filmmakers have, the way that they execute,” she says. It’s a “combination of that with being able to pull a story through… they actually do something a little bit different within a framework we already know. Someone who hasn’t made tons of films and is already doing that in an early stage is exciting.”

Founded in 2001, the New York-based company was one of the lucky few onboard Richard Linklater’s labor-of-love “Boyhood,” the Sundance 2014 fairytale that Cinetic worked on for 12 years, from its early stages to its actual release. “That speaks to making sure that Richard Linklater’s vision was seen over a huge span of time, and it was a huge success,” says Hurwitz. “Seeing it through the entire process was great. More than most films, we were involved in that process.”

Cinetic also steered Sundance 2014 premiere “Life Itself,” Steve James’ moving documentary tribute to late film critic Roger Ebert, from the ground up, beginning with an Indiegogo campaign that activated an early fan-base and shook up the digital distribution model. Crowdfunders were invited to live-stream the film’s festival premiere and highly emotional post-screening Q&A from 26 different countries. “The high altitude and the tears go hand in hand,” Hurwitz adds.

Surveying Cinetic’s 2015 Sundance slate, Hurwitz is excited about Rick Alverson’s followup to “The Comedy,” “Entertainment,” “which is hilarious and bizarre and hits you in the face.” She also says to look out for “I Smile Back,” featuring “a powerhouse performance by Sarah Silverman” as a self-destructive drug-taker looking for redemption, and the documentaries “Russian Woodpecker,” “Tig” from stand-up comic Tig Notaro and “Racing Extinction,” Oscar winner Louie Psihoyos’s endangered species followup to “The Cove.”

“My favorite kinds of films at Sundance are the ones that I don’t want to say much about,” says Hurwitz. We’ll leave it at that.

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