Sundance: Take my film ... please!
The annual indie film festival is proving a tough sell for moviemakers as the economy craters and distribution channels shrink.
Park City, Utah
The 25th annual 11-day Sundance film festival premièred Jan. 15 with the Australian claymation feature "Mary and Max," an oddball romance about a pen pal friendship between a chubby, friendless, Melbourne girl and a 44-year-old Manhattan recluse diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Just another day in the life of America's premier indie-movie beauty pageant.Skip to next paragraph
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In the Q-and-A afterward, director Adam Elliott explained that making movies was "like making love and being stabbed to death at the same time." Aspiring auteurs – of which there are jillions this week traipsing up and down the streets of Park City, Utah – please take note.
In the recent past, the Sundance honchos, from founder Robert Redford on down, have attempted to defuse the festival's marketplace madness. (Two years ago buttons emblazoned with "Focus on Film" were proffered to participants.) The madness is still here but the marketplace, given the cratering economy, has slimmed dramatically.
In this year's festival there are a total of 118 features, selected from 3,661 submissions, and many of them, the good as well as the bad, will be orphaned. (I saw 15 of these films in five days.) This is partly because, as a result of the recent gutting of specialty
film divisions like Warner Independent and Paramount Vantage, there are fewer adoptive families out there. But even the remaining big buyers, which include Sony Pictures Classics, Focus, and Fox Searchlight, agree that a new paradigm, a new delivery system that doesn't rely so heavily on theatrical distribution, is essential if small and worthy indies are going to be seen by the audiences who should be seeing them.
Critics often feel frustrated that, with disturbing frequency, movies they champion at film festivals never see the light of day. For the foreseeable future, this frustration will only get worse.
Maybe this is why Sundance is emphasizing its green credentials more than ever this year. At least the environment is something you can do something about right away. So no more bottled water giveaways in the festival venues. Reusable bottles are being provided by festival sponsors to be refilled at "hydration stations." This year's trendy button says "I pledge to reduce bottled water waste." All the while, eco-unfriendly limos unload their high-tech, energy-gobbling equipment on Main Street.
Still, this is the festival that unveiled "An Inconvenient Truth," and eco-themed movies abound. "Dirt! The Movie," directed by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow, is all about how dirt – you know, the soil beneath you – sustains us. Louie Psihoyos's "The Cove" is about a covert operation, led by the guy who trained the original Flipper, to expose the slaughtering of dolphins in a small Japanese town.