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Sundance 2013 Dips Its Toe Into the TV Business with “Top of the Lake”

Sundance 2013 Dips Its Toe Into the TV Business with “Top of the Lake”

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Though it is best known for screening buzzed-about independent movies, the 2013 Sundance Film Festival is about to go in an exciting new direction. It was just announced that the Sundance Channel’s seven-episode TV series “Top of the Lake” will screen in the premiere category, making this the first time Sundance has included a scripted long form series in its line-up.

Co-directed by the acclaimed Jane Campion (The Piano; Bright Star), who also co-wrote the script, and Garth Davis, “Top of the Lake” is a haunting mystery set in the remote mountains of New Zealand. The series follows a gutsy but inexperienced detective (played by Emmy-nominee Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men”), as she investigates the disappearance of a 12-year-old pregnant girl, who was last seen standing chest deep in a frozen river. Needless to say, not everything about the case is what it seems. “Top of the Lake” also features a stellar supporting cast, including Holly Hunter (in her first collaboration with Campion since winning the Best Actress Oscar for The Piano), Peter Mullan (War Horse) and David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings)

“I am excited to be returning to the Sundance Film Festival with ‘Top of the Lake’,” says Campion. “I love crime mysteries and I wanted to write one that had room to expand like a true novel so the idea of doing a six hour long story was very exciting to me. To be able to screen the series in its entirety for the film community is a fantastic opportunity.”

The seven-part series will screen in its entirety (so make sure you have a comfortable seat!) on January 20 at the Egyptian Theater in Park City, followed by a Q&A with the creators and cast. Campion will also participate in a discussion on the creative appeal of working in TV as part of a Festival pane, titled “Power of Story: The New Face of Independent Voice,” on January 19.

And “Top of the Lake” isn’t the only series to debut at this year’s Sundance. “Rectify,” Sundance Channel’s first wholly owned scripted series, will be showcased in a private screening on January 19. The six-part series was created and written by Oscar-winning moviemaker Ray McKinnon (The Accountant; That Evening Sun), and follows an ex-con (Aden Young) whose release from prison after serving 19 years on Death Row reopens a mystery that defined a small town. The cast also includes Abigail Spencer (“Mad Men”), J. Smith Cameron (“True Blood”) and the legendary Hal Holbrook.

“My feature film Chrystal screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004 and I really enjoyed the experience,” says McKinnon. “This is such a personal project for me and I’m very much looking forward to showing ‘Rectify’ to the festival audiences.”

Adds Sarah Barnett, executive vice president and general manager of Sundance Channel: “We’re so thrilled to bring two of our scripted projects to the Sundance Film Festival this year and to have a Sundance Channel original series as the first scripted television series to screen as an official selection. It really shows the captivating quality of these two shows and proves how creators with a brilliant vision can successfully move between the worlds of both television and film.”

So, with these promising series, will Sundance’s new foray into TV be a success? We’ll find out next month.

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