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
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
"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.