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Park City 2003

Park City 2003

Articles - Directing

When asked to rate Sundance on a scale of
1 to 10, MM’s Festival Beat respondents gave it an average
score of 28.

Sundance Film Festival
Dates: January 15-25, 2004
Submission Deadlines: Late Sept., early Oct.
Website: www.sundance.org


The lines were long at Sundance 2003 as nearly 20,000
visitors and some 14,000 locals filled the streets of an otherwise
quaint Park City, Utah. Along with the weather, the mood was sunnier
this year. Last year’s Sundance suffered in the shadows of September
11th, while the Winter Olympics happening in the neighboring Salt
Lake City took some of the festival’s spotlight away.

Though the buying was less frenzied at Sundance
2003, some of the festival’s original charm was present at the
House of Doc panels, where film critic B. Ruby Rich held court
on contemporary queer cinema while Albert Maysles eloquently explained
his reservations about Michael Moore’s confrontational film style.
The fabulous Holly Hunter, whose film Levity opened the
festival, won the well-deserved Independent Vision Award while
other indie favorites like actress Patricia Clarkson who, with
four films at the festival (All the Real Girls, Pieces
of April
, The Station Agent and The Baroness and
the Pig
), won long overdue acting accolades from the Sundance
jury.

There was no Blair Witch Project at Sundance
2003, but the studio heads continued to pay up. Lions Gate bought
the Las Vegas thriller, The Cooler, with Alec Baldwin,
William H. Macy and Joey Fatone, for a cool $1.5 million. Paramount
Classics paid $2 million for United States of Leland, a
controversial story about an affluent, 16-year old boy who kills
a mentally retarded boy. Pieces of April, a touching comedy
starring Katie Holmes about a young girl who tries to reunite
her dysfunctional family for Thanksgiving, went to United Artist
for a whopping $3.5 million. Newmarket Films purchased this year’s
Grand Jury Prize Winner, American Splendor, a film based
on the life and work of artist Harvey Pekar, for an undisclosed
sum of money.

Most of the other 124 feature films, like Jane Anderson’s Normal, about a Midwestern family dealing with a member’s
sexual identity crisis, were lucky to attract cable companies
like HBO, Showtime or IFC. The docs covered a range of topics,
from The Pill to The Murder of Emmett Till. But
with PBS being the strongest buyer on the market today, the bulk
of this year’s successful docs featured the more polite PBS style,
where an omnipotent voiceover guides the viewer through a historical
narrative cut with talking head interviews.

Chris Fisher’s Nightstalker.

All in all, Sundance 2003 was a mixed bag. On the
one hand, Sundance 2003 was the off-Hollywood premier that everyone
says the festival’s become (the Park City police had to control
the crowd looking to catch a glimpse of J. Lo and Ben at the HBO
party at Harry O’s on Main Street). Besides MAC and a host of other
cosmetic companies, Mercedes was also at this year’s festival to
promote its new SUV to the celebrities who clogged the already tight
parking lots with these bus-sized vehicles.

And lest we forget the Hollywood executives… The
cell phone Mafia was undeniably present at Sundance 2003. On the
other hand, Sundance 2003 also meant long conversations over dinner,
drinks or coffee with strangers from all over the world who really
do love the movies and can articulately explain why.

At the heart of it, Sundance is still a community
of people utterly devoted to independent cinema. Especially with
the addition of the remarkable World Cinema category, Sundance
2003 proved that despite the overkill, the hype and the negative
buzz, there’s life in them there hills.

When asked to rate the Sundance Film Festival on
a 10-point scale (10 being the best), our Festival Beat respondents
to our informal late January survey gave it an average score of
28. Okay, so maybe Kim Longinotto, who screened her documentary The Day I Will Never Forget, skewed the results a bit by
giving it a 100, but that in itself is a remarkable statement
for a festival that’s been derided by some as a sellout to Big
Hollywood.

Of the many advantages of Sundance that its proponents
cited, none was given more mention than publicity.

Kirsten Dunst and Billy Bob Thornton in Ed
Solomon’s Sundance opener, Levity.

“Sundance knows how to take care of its filmmakers,”
says Eric Escobar, whose short film Night Light had six sold-out
screenings at this year’s festival. “Since [mine was] a short film,
most of the other fests kind of lumped me in with all the other
shorts and promoted us as a whole.”

Sundance, says festival director Geoffrey Gilmore,
“has helped usher in a new and unconventional group of writers
and directors to the forefront of filmmaking, and has broadened
the market for independently-produced films.”

In an improvement over past years, “there was a
brand new venue for documentaries,” states Jennifer Chaiken, who
appeared at Sundance with My Flesh and Blood, a doc feature
she produced. “The venues have great sound, great projection,
stadium seating—and the experience finally feels as you’d hope
it would.”

With overwhelming support from attendees and at
least nine of this year’s films scoring distribution deals at
press time, Sundance remains the preeminent film festival in the
U.S.

Slamdance Film Festival
Dates: January, 2004
Website: www.slamdance.com

Apioneer of the “alternative festival” movement,
after two years at the Silvermine, Slamdance returned to their
original home at Main Street’s Treasure Mountain Inn in 2003.
Though the move made for a decidedly less fancy venue, it did
put the festival in the heart of all that Sundance foot traffic,
attracting more than a handful of new attendees. In fact, their
2003 opening day box office exceeded all previous years by 100
percent.

Boasting the motto "Give
Independent Film Back to the People" TromaDance does everything
it can to recognize no-budget and low-budget films.

While other alternative fests are content to remain
within their own niche, Slamdance organizers have been tenacious
about raising their profile—and the scope of the movies and moviemakers
they bring to Park City each year—while remaining faithful to their
original mission of “independence.” It’s a goal that was evidenced
clearly this year, particularly in their choice of opening night
film, with Kenneth Bowser’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (see
pg. 22).

Some of the festival’s most popular films included
former Mr. Show star Bob Odenkirk’s Melvin Goes to Dinner and Elliot Greenebaum’s Assisted Living, shot on location
in a nursing home (using many of its residents as actors), which
picked up the Grand Jury prize for best feature. Tom Putnam’s
short film Tom Hits His Head, an agoraphobic comedy that
won the Spirit of Slamdance Award; the documentary Long Gone,
which intertwines the lives of six drifters who travel across
the country in a seven-year period, scored a Best Documentary
win for directors Jack Cahill and David Eberhardt, as well as
the Kodak Vision award for cinematographer Greg Yolen.

Slamdunk Film Festival
Dates: January, 2004
Website: www.slamdunk.cc

Though it’s now just one stop on a worldwide map
of screening locales, Park City, UT was where it all started for
the Slamdunk team, and the mountain is still one place where they
pull out all the stops.

The four-day event, which takes place at Harry O’s
on Main Street, promotes quality over quantity—and we’re not just
talking about the films. With a complete digital theater and an
unbelievable sound system, moviemakers have long sung the praises
of this fest’s attention to the technical side of their craft.

This year, those moviemakers included big winner
Ben Coccio, whose Zero Day, about a Columbine-like school
shooting, took home awards for Best Feature and Best Actor. On
a decidedly much lighter note, ’90s MTV icon Pauly Shore won
the audience’s favor—and Slamdunk’s Feature Audience Award—for
his semi-autobiographical You’ll Never Wiesz in this Town Again,
a guerilla-style comedy that made the most out of breaking the
rules of moviemaking. It also acquired what might be the most
eclectic “cameo” list ever assembled, from Heidi Fleiss and Todd
Bridges to Sean Penn and Chris Rock.

The Storytelling: Unplugged panel at Nodance
was hosted by Chris Gore and featured a panel which included
Mike Figgis, Forest Whitaker and DP Matthew Libatique.

Nodance Film Festival
Dates: January, 2004
Submission Deadline: Late November, 2003
Website: www.nodance.com

It’s been six years since Nodance announced its
arrival—and that of the digital revolution—onto the Park City
scene, and 2003 proved to be a banner year for the world’s first
DVD-projected film festival. A tribute to director Mike Figgis
turned into a Timecode reunion when actress Salma Hayek
turned up (from her cozy spot at Sundance where her directorial
debut, The Maldonado Miracle, was premiering) to hand over
the Free Spirit Award. Increasing the star power was actor/director
Forest Whitaker, whose Spirit Dance Entertainment came aboard
as this year’s presenting sponsor to help further the fest’s digital-focused
mission.

“Having a DVD festival was a huge opportunity because
we didn’t have to waste $30,000 on a film print,” notes Bob Cesca,
whose film The War Effort won the Audience Award at this
year’s event. “I was able to take what I learned at the screenings
and further polish the film without blowing all that money on
printing.”

“They paid for the cost of the DVD authoring and
all screening expenses,” says Scilla Andreen-Hernandez, co-producer
of The Outpatient, which won this year’s Grand Jury Award
for Best Feature. “No festival does that!”

Film Threat.com’s Chris Gore hosted a panel discussion
that included Whitaker, Figgis, and cinematographer Matthew Libatique
(Requiem For a Dream, Pi) called “Storytelling: Unplugged.”

Nodance thrives on its reputation as a truly independent
festival. Jeremy Lerman, who premiered his film Nebraska
Super­sonic at Nodance in 2001, agrees. “Were Clerks, Slacker and El Mariachi submitted today, Nodance is the only Park
City festival that would have the chutzpah to show them.”

TromaDance Founder Lloyd Kaufman takes Park
City, UT by storm.

TromaDance Film Festival
Dates: January, 2004
Submission Deadline: December, 2003
Website: www.tromadance.com

Speaking of “chutzpah,” there are few film festival
founders that the term would be more applicable to than Troma Entertainment’s
Lloyd Kaufman, whose TromaDance Film Festival made its fourth Park
City appearance this year. As you might expect from an event that
included the films Damn You, Mr. Bush, The Adventures of Fratman
and Pledgeboy
and Dud on its schedule, this is not your
average night at the movies. Boasting the motto “Give Independent
Film Back to the People,” the organizers do everything they can
to recognize no-budget and low budget films,including providingplaces
to sleep for those moviemakers who need them. One significant distinction
at TromaDance is the price: there are no entry fees for moviemakers
or admission fees for any screenings or panel discussions (Nodance,
too, has a policy of $0 screening fees).

“Not only do we promote the efforts of local businesses
in their generous support of independent film,” states festival
director Jonathan Lees, “but we support the Salt Lake and Park
City communities who want to be a part of the festival atmosphere
without paying exorbitant festival fees.”

Steve Herold, who screened his film Bum Runner at TromaDance this year, said that it’s the atmosphere at TromaDance
that sets it apart: “It was really fan based. The audience was
just there to have a good time, no BS about it. And from what
I could tell, they did.” MM

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