SOFT MARKET AT SUNDANCE FINALLY SWINGS INTO ACTION
You know you have a slow market at Sundance when six full days go by without Miramax buying anything. Of course officially there is no market at Sundance. But the acquisitions teams were there, as they have been every year since Hollywood realized the potential prestige -- read Oscars -- and discovery of new talent to be gained by plugging into Indieworld, whose annual convention is held in the little town of Park City, Utah each January.
They were all there, just not in a hurry to step up to the plate. Their reluctance couldn't be blamed on the quality of the films. Although no single big buzz film emerged, the overall quality of this year's crop of films was high. The Sundance programmers lived up to their mission to provide diversity. This year's slate defied categorization, although an argument could be made that many of the films were geared to a young audience. The best news was that the films were less derivative than in recent years. Finally it appears (fingers crossed?) that we may have seen the last of the Tarantino wannabes.
The buyers did finally swing into gear and by the end of the festival seven films had been picked up with many more deals expected to close soon. First to go was Jay Chandrasekhar's Super Troopers, purchased by Fox Searchlight for around $2.5 - 3 million. The comedy about a group of Vermont State Troopers was part of the "Park City at Midnight" venue, the same platform that launched The Blair Witch Project.
Fox Searchlight also ended up buying Scott McGehee and David Siegel's The Deep End and Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, a documentary by Billy Corben. The Deep End, which went for $4 million, won the Sundance award for Best Cinematography in a Feature Film. Indie fave Tilda Swinton gives a blazing performance in this psychological thriller (adapted from the novel "The Blank Wall" by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding) about the lengths a mother will go to protect her child.
Raw Deal, probably the most disturbing film this year, contains graphic footage of what some consider consensual sex and others see as rape. It documents the events surrounding Lisa Gier King's assertion that she was raped while performing as a stripper at the University of Florida's Delta Chi frat house. Actual video footage of the encounter makes up the (hard)core of this film. Artisan Entertainment, which made its chops on the likes of Pi and The Blair Witch Project, was not put off by the controversial footage and paid mid-six figures for the film.
Lions Gate Releasing paid $1 million for Tom DiCillo's Double Whammy, starring Denis Leary and Elizabeth Hurley and which, while moderately entertaining, is not DiCillo's best work.
Miramax purchased In the Bedroom for $1.5 million. Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson, were awarded a Special Jury Prize for their performances in this emotional drama by Todd Field.
IFC purchased two pictures for undisclosed amounts: Kenneth A. Carlson's very popular Go, Tigers!, about an Ohio town's fervor for its high school football team, and Joel Hopkins' Jump Tomorrow, based on his acclaimed short Jorge that screened in the 1999 Sundance Film Fest.
GRAND JURY AWARDS AT SUNDANCE GO TO PROVOCATIVE FILMS BASED ON TRUE STORIES
The Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Film went to The Believer, a film based on the true story of a Jewish neo-Nazi. The Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Film went to Southern Comfort, the story of a transsexual cowboy dying of ovarian cancer.
Here is a list of all the winners:
Grand Jury Prizes
Documentary: Southern Comfort, directed and produced by Kate Davis.
Documentary: (tie) Dogtown and Z-Boys, directed by Stacy Peralta and produced by Agi Orsi and Scoutâs Honor, directed and produced by Tom Shepard.
Documentary: Stacy Peralta for Dogtown and Z-Boys
Excellence in Cinematography Awards
Documentary: Albert Maysles for Laleeâs Kin: The Legacy of Cotton
Freedom of Expression Award
Given to a documentary film that informs and educates the public on issues of social or political concern, the award went to Scoutâs Honor, directed and produced by Tom Shepard.
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award
Christopher Nolan for Memento
Special Jury Prizes
Documentary: Children Undergroun, directed and produced by Edet Belzberg
Latin American Cinema Awards
Special Jury Mention:
Short Filmmaking Award
Gina, An Actress, Age 29, directed by Paul Harrill.
SUNDANCE SELECTS MEMENTO AS BEST SCREENPLAY
The film opens on a Polaroid photo of a dead body. As credits roll the photo slowly dissolves into blankness, setting up the backwards telling of this thriller. How did the protagonist (Guy Pearce of L.A. Confidential) arrive at this moment? By beginning at the outcome, the end of the story can only be reached when the beginning is finally revealed, via a series of earlier and earlier scenes. This structure makes for some nice surprises, as we learn motives after seeing results and arriving at false conclusions. The ploy for this structure is that the character, who seeks revenge on his wife's rapist/killer, has the singular disadvantage of losing all short-term memory since that incident. In a constant state of identity crisis, with no way of remembering who the good guys and bad guys are, he devises unique means of constantly reminding and updating himself - some more fool-proof than others.
The film, which also stars Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) and Joe Pantoliano (Bound), opens in New York and Los Angeles on March 9.
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