Sundance 2008 Roundup: After the First Weekend
By Greg Felden
Film is definitely ‘taking place’ here at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival as this year’s slogan promises, with 121 features screening over ten days. In spite of rumors that the streets aren’t as crowded here as years past, word is that the buyers are here in serious number, are in attendance at screenings, and seem to be in the hunt for that coveted Sundance discovery among the 100 titles up for acquisition.
But the buying isn’t happening. At least not the way everyone predicted. Many foresaw a feeding frenzy, especially over the buzzy films of the year like New Zealand director Christine Jeff’s Sunshine Cleaning, starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, Marianna Palka’s The Good Dick, Alex Rivera’s debut Sleep Dealer, and The Wackness, the story of a troubled teenager who pays for therapy with weed starring Ben Kingsley. The festival is three days old, and while all of these films premiered in the first weekend, none have secured a deal and interest seems muted. One source said that though critical response is good to some of the films, buyers are calling them ‘small’ and not easily marketed. The sense is that the deals will happen, but sellers won’t make what they were hoping for.
On the flip side, documentaries are surprising everyone by generating a lot more heat than their dramatic counterparts. Timothy Sanders and former New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell’s The Black List, featuring interviews with the likes of Kareem Abdul Jabaar and Chris Rock on their experience of race, sold to HBO on the first day of the festival. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, a film that explores the scandal that caused the Polish director to flee America, is without question the hottest title at the festival, both on the street and on the market. Variety reports the Weinstein Co. has already closed a deal on international rights for ‘low six figures,’ and HBO Documentary beat out Magnolia Pictures for the North American rights. Other docs to watch will be American Teen directed by Nanett Burstein about four teens in their final year of high school, Bigger, Stronger, Faster, a timely and by-all-accounts hilarious take on steroid culture in America, and Steven Sebring’s Patti Smith: Dream of Life, a bio-pic on the legendary musician/poet/painter/activist.
One film in the dramatic competition that could be turn out to be a discovery this year, is Ballast, first-time director Lance Hammer’s story about three people in the Mississippi Delta coping with a man’s suicide. IndieWIRE reports that Ballast has already closed a deal with Celluloid Dreams for international rights.
The Australian presence at Sundance 2008 is about to skyrocket. Five Australian shorts were chosen the year for the Shorts Program, and the writers and filmmakers will descend on Park City today after attending G’day USA’s Australia week in Los Angeles. Among them are the directors and writers David Michod, Sean Byrne, Erin White, and Nash Edgerton, whose short Spider has an impressive track record, winning the Jury Prize at the AFI/Los Angeles Film Festival and the audience award at both the Sydney Film Festival and the Prague Short Film Festival.
Buying aside, the parties rage on, and many are gossiping about the presence of tabloid favorites Mary Kate Olsen and Paris Hilton. Mary Kate is starring in The Wackness, a film in the festival’s dramatic comptetition, while Paris, who was spotted at multiple venues, is most likely looking to promote her upcoming The Hottie and The Nottie, due out in February, a film perhaps not surprisingly passed over for the festival this year.