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It takes two to tango, and most films at Sundance just won't get a partner to ask them onto the commercial release floor, reports JEFF SIPE from Park City, as Sundance 2000 waltzes into history.

Sundance, Slamdance, Nodance, Jamdance, Lap Dance…January in Park City, Utah and everyone is wondering just which dance it is that they've come to enjoy, what with posters for films that no one besides the filmmaker and his/her friends has ever heard of plastered every available surface in this tiny ski village (formerly a silver mining outpost) of 12,000 inhabitants, a population that burgeons to some 36,000 at festival time.

Sundance was originally founded as a festival for filmmakers, principally American, a place where they could come to discuss their films, others' films and films that are still unspooling inside their heads. It has since grown to proportions previously unimagined and spawned a series of satellite events (Slamdance, Nodance, etc.) featuring films that have sometimes been rejected by Sundance programmers. Still, the idealism remains.

"this is still a place for filmmakers to... meet" Robert Redford

"Despite everything else that is swirling around us here today," Robert Redford, the event's fabled founder told Urban Cinefile, "this is still a place for filmmakers to come to meet other filmmakers and to discuss films and filmmaking." That "everything else" consists largely of agents, lawyers and other deal makers and businessmen who have come to regard Park City's Main Street as the next best thing to Cannes' Le Croisette. Well…that may be just a bit of an exaggeration, but it is clear that the commercialization of Sundance is in high-gear, ironic as that may be.

"Ninety percent of the films screened at Sundance will never be released commercially," according to festival programmer, Geoffrey Gilmore. Meanwhile, the Hollywood trades trumpet the deals made at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains. "Lions Gate Deal Caps Hot Sundance Sales" crowed Variety early in the festival, and conversations among journalists in the festival's Hospitality Suite often centered on the wisdom of a particular acquisition.

"two Sundance Film Festivals"

And one writer for a daily one-sheet produced by TNT's roughcut.com, in an obvious fit of self-importance, went so far as to suggest that director Miguel Arteta's Chuck and Buck, acquired by Artisan, should have been sold to Sony Pictures Classics since it was really "their kind of film." Just more fodder for Redford's plea that the festival remain of, for and by filmmakers.

There does, indeed, appear to be two Sundance Film Festivals at work in Park City. One stems from the festival's idealistic roots and accommodates struggling filmmakers, aspiring actors and the cineaste intent on viewing films that are likely to remain obscure just about forever. The other is the one Hollywood chooses to recognize. It is characterized by the kind of headlines Variety loves to run and attended by those executives and stars that hide away in VIP rooms at parties while the filmmakers of tomorrow elbow their way to free food and drink.

Although Sundance is a primarily American event - often characterized by that uniquely American compulsion to strike up conversations with any stranger within 10 feet - the World Spectrum sidebar highlights some of the world's better "independent" fare. "Independent," of course, can mean just about anything these days, from films made on your great-aunt's credit card to the publicist-concocted "indie" that springs from a studio's "specialty releasing" division.

"Soft Fruit sits squarely on that fine line between indie and studio"

Christina Andreef's Soft Fruit sits squarely on that fine line between indie and studio. Australian, by all accounts, Andreef was unable to find financing down under and sent the script to Fox Searchlight who immediately greenlit the project. Although screenings of Soft Fruit were filled nearly to capacity by appreciative audiences, many fest-goers stayed away, knowing that the film is likely to show up in their local cineplex sometime soon, since, unlike the vast majority of Sundance films, it came ready-equipped with a built-in distributor.

New Zealand director Robert Sarkies' debut feature, Scarfies, received lots of word-of-mouth publicity, but the teen-thriller has yet to announce a distribution deal. Ditto for the two Australian docs that screened in the World Cinema sidebar: Amiel Courtin-Wilson's Chasing Buddha, about a former tough-talking Australian ex-pat who became a Buddhist nun; and Maciej Wszelaki's Original Schtick, the story of American "artist" Bob Fischer's attempt to scam Melbourne hipsters.

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Robert Redford

Winners at Sundance 2000:

Grand Jury Prizes (Drama):

Best Director: Karyn Kusama for Girlfight

Best Film (tied): Karyn Kusama's Girlfight

"Fueled by Karyn Kusama's accomplished direction and newcomer Michelle Rodriguez's fierce, nuanced performance, Girlfight is a work of tremendous ferocity, intelligence, and tenderness, marking the debut of an astonishing young filmmaker."
- Rebecca Yeldham


Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count on Me

"These characters, defined by what they do that is out of character, are fully realized and never cloying. In You Can Count on Me, Lonergan has created a work which explores the emotional landscape of commitment and love, family and home, pleasure and responsibility."
- John Cooper


Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking
Five Feet High and Rising
directed by Peter Sollett

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