Park City 2014: Sundance Film Festival Diary, Entry Two
by Jeff Meyers

In the second dispatch of his Sundance 2014 diary, MovieMaker correspondent Jeff Meyers talks Locke, international distribution strategy and a creepy-beautiful illustrated book from The Babadook.

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Friday, January 17 in Park City kicks off with a 9 a.m. screening of Locke by director Steven Knight (writer of Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things amongst others). In what will prove to be the Sundance selection with the ballsiest conceit, this cinematic one-man-show is 85 minutes of actor Tom Hardy in a car fielding phone calls as he tries to keep his life from falling apart around him. It’s an astounding performance and, honestly, the sole reason the film works.

Waiting in line, I meet one of the programmers of the Boston Independent Film Festival. He says he screens about 600 films each year as part of the festival’s selection process. What percentage of submissions are hard to sit through, I ask. He answers: most of them. It’s not a job I envy.

Immediately afterward I make a play for A Most Wanted Man, the John le Carré adaptation starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. No luck: I miss the cut-off by about 10 seats. Hoofing it back to Sundance HQ, I decide to check out what the festival press office offers in their “library.” It’s mostly shorts. I watch a couple and, frankly, they aren’t particularly worth a mention.

BABADOOKLater that afternoon, at the Indiegogo party, I chat with a producer who has transitioned from making indie-comedies into the international film market. His strategy is fascinating: The production company will get behind, say, a domestic comedy in Brazil. If it does well, they’ll then have the script adapted for the German, Chinese and French markets where local writers, directors and cast produce their own version of the movie. It’s a franchise approach that requires modest budgets but can yield big returns, especially when you consider how much those four countries make up of the world market.

I finish the day off with a midnight showing of The Babadook, an Australian spook-show in the spirit (pun intended) of Insidious or The Conjuring. Writer-director Jennifer Kent (in attendance) spins the monster-under-the-bed premise to eerie effect. There’s a precocious kid, his psychologically fragile widowed mum, and a strange children’s book on a shelf that warns of the Babadook coming to get them.

The highlight of the film is the gorgeously designed pen-and-ink pop-up book by Alex Juhasz. The illustrations seem like a mash-up of Edward Gorey and German Expressionism, accompanied by creepy nursery-rhyme text. There was a copy of the book in the lobby and if the crowd’s desire to check it out is any indication, I suspect there will be a enthusiastic market for sale copies.

We close with the biggest news of the day: Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash sells to Sony for $3 million. MM

The first installment of Jeff’s Sundance 2014 Diary can be read here. The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 16-26.

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