HBO and Showtime go 'indie'

HBO and Showtime have emerged as important nurturers of independent film, securing a major presence at the Sundance Film Festival now under way in Park City, Utah.

Both cable networks have become regular providers of films at Sundance, the nation's main "indie-movie" showcase. Premium cable has its most high-profile slate yet at this year's festival, with three of the event's 18 premier slots going to HBO or Showtime films. "Showtime and HBO in a way have become the biggest independent film production companies," said Jerry Offsay, Showtime's president of programming. "Studios focus on the big roller-coaster-ride action films. The little films can get left on the sidelines."

The festival opened last week with "The Laramie Project," directed by Moises Kaufman from his play. "Laramie" examines the community where gay student Matthew Shepard was fatally beaten. It premières on HBO in March. Other HBO movies at Sundance included "Hysterical Blindness," with Juliette Lewis, and the comic drama "Real Women Have Curves."

Showtime premièred its urban drama "Our America," the story of two Chicago ghetto teens and a National Public Radio producer. Showtime expects to air "America" in July.

"The independent arena has always been a theatrical arena on one level," said Sundance festival co-director Geoffrey Gilmore. "But ... HBO and Showtime have really decided this is a vein that very much fits for them."

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