Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sundance 2011: Opening Weekend Wrap

A copy of today's Sundance 2011 posting for Empire Australasia features below... 

24 January 2011
The 2011 Sundance Film Festival: Opening Weekend Wrap
Sundance marks its 30th year with an opening weekend championing emerging filmmakers – and new technology

NO LONGER the young pup of the film festival circuit, Sundance proudly promotes itself as the one-stop-shop for independent filmmakers. And, as the four-day opening weekend wrapped on Monday night (with a pair of intimate live gigs tied in with featured documentaries – one from Lou Reed, the other from Carole King), its credentials couldn’t be in better shape.

Six of its homegrown films have been rolled out for this year’s program (via its ‘Lab’ initiative) – and founder Robert Redford even hinted at a Sundance distribution arm coming into force, during last week’s press call (where he also dismissed, at 74, of any notion of retirement.) This year, there’s been Sundance streaming live on the net, Sundance official selections uploaded onto YouTube, a buoyant Sundance TV channel, an overseas Sundance initiative starting up in India – and a fresh festival strand aimed at getting movies made on bucket-shop budgets, for under $50,000.

Appropriately branded ‘Next’, this bold new section of the program had its unveiling on Saturday with Evan Glodell’s sensational debut, Bellflower. A no-holds-barred apocalyptic tale of love, loss and muscle cars, Bellflower (pictured, above) sees the first-time director also star, as the hapless, Mad Max-loving Woodreau - whose life descends into ferocious rage and violent chaos when his girlfriend cheats on him. But after wowing the sold-out audience at its weekend premiere, Glodell was at pains to explain that it so very nearly didn’t happen at all.

“We were working on the film for three years - with no resources, no help,” he says. “We had a medium rough cut that we thought was working. We took it around to anyone who we thought knew anyone in Hollywood, and had a small screening. And everyone said, ‘You guys are idiots, stop working, you’re going to embarrass yourselves.’ Then one of my friends, on the last day of the late submission deadline for Sundance, talked me into it, so I uploaded it, then forgot about, thinking, ‘That was a waste’ of the tiny money I had’. Then a few months later, I get a call from Trevor [Groth, Director of Programming], saying, ‘We’re playing your movie!’”

Glodell’s tale of persistence and, finally, success – the film was hotly rumoured to have been grabbed for distribution during the course of our interview – is typical of the pioneering spirit that Sundance breeds and nurtures, year after year. Something that Australians, too, know well.

Running in Official Competition at this year’s festival – following last year’s Grand Jury Prize winner Animal Kingdom - are two Australian features, one a moving drama, the other an irresistibly addictive documentary. The first is director Brendan Fletcher’s startling feature debut Mad Bastards, about a troubled soul who leaves the city to find his son (and himself). The other, Shut Up Little Man! – director Matthew Bate’s unique take on a pop culture phenomenon that sprung from an audio recording of two flat mates arguing relentlessly.

Tonight, Fletcher’s Mad Bastards, which premiered as part of last week’s Sydney Festival, will have its international unveiling, with members of the ‘Bastards’ band that feature so prominently in the film, here to serenade the locals on historic Main Street. Bate’s Shut Up Little Man!, meanwhile, premiered on Saturday night, to a predictably rapturous reception, and plays again later this week. (It will also screen at next month’s Adelaide Film Festival where, coincidentally, Sundance’s Trevor Groth will also attend, as one of the official judges.)

In addition to the Official Competition films – whose winners will be announced this weekend, on Saturday night – are over 100 new features shown against the backdrop of Park City’s snow-covered, world-famous ski slopes. Among the many excellent films viewed so far: James Marsh’s Project Nim, Miranda July’s The Future, Jim Whitaker’s Project Rebirth, Chris Kentis’ Silent House, Kevin Smith’s Red State and Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. All have rated highly on the ‘buzz’ factor – and have all been snapped up for distribution (expect to see them all feature in this year’s Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals and beyond).

Sundance is a curiously relaxed and joyous experience. Filmmakers and their cast and crews are here to sell their films – yet given the welcoming vibe of the place, it’s easy to forget. Equally, stars come and go with an unusually casual air – and are quite happy to chat with locals and tourists, and sign autographs. Being tucked away into this tiny ski resort town in Utah – with numbers said to swell by 40,000 during the four-day opening weekend – it soon becomes the norm. Among the notable faces spotted since Thursday night’s kick-off: Rutger Hauer (with two films in this year’s program, including the storming Hobo with a Shotgun), the cast of upcoming Brit flick Tyrannosaur, funny man Paul Rudd, role models Geena Davis, Rosie McDonnell and Oprah (shouting out for content for her new TV channel), and even 50 Cent (announcing a multiple-picture deal), among others.

Today marks the end of the so-called ‘opening weekend’ – many industry types will fly back to LA on Tuesday to ink deals done on the ground here – but the festival continues regardless through to Sunday, with screenings, workshops, discussions and live performance all vying for punters’ time. And making it all possible: a bus loop service that ferries festival goers around the key venues within minutes. Nothing is overlooked here. And, aside from the sub-zero temperatures of its winter wonderland home, Sundance has never been in finer fettle. Happy thirtieth, indeed.

Details of this week's films can be viewed at www.sundance.org