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WHAT'S THIS GOT TO DO WITH SUNDANCE?
by Susan Royal

Let me begin by saying Sundance is still hands-down the most important film festival in North America and is utterly indispensable to the independent filmmaking community. But the festival is facing a new challenge which could undermine its mission.

I've been attending Sundance since before it was called Sundance (since the early '80s.) I've seen a lot of changes which have mostly been positive - i.e. the implementation of the shuttle system and the vastly improved screening facilities. Sundance has survived and indeed thrived despite its growing pains - i.e. the emphasis on acquisitions, the influx of agents who rudely talk on their cell phones during screenings and paparazzi allowed inside the movie theaters. For all these years, even with the overcrowding of Main Street, Sundance was still about the films and discovering new voices in independent filmmaking. But this was the first year I attended in which the very essence of Sundance was threatened by "The Scene" of Sundance. Exactly what do Britney Spears and J-Lo have to do with independent filmmaking?

What they brought to this year's festival was the worst gridlock I've ever seen there. On the first Saturday of the festival it took 50 minutes to get from the Library to Eccles due to fans and lookyloos clogging Park Avenue. It was reminiscent of the Croisette at the Cannes Film Festival on a weekend when fans from all over France descend on the town in hopes of spotting a star. At least Cannes expects this and adds special gendarme to re-route the added traffic. But who knew this would happen to Park City?

If Sundance now has to prepare for a regular invasion of fans on the weekends, the city should consider imposing a special celebrity tax upon the publicity-hungry who are drawn to the spotlight of Sundance, but have no connection to or real business being at the Festival. Seriously, I don't know what the Festival organizers can do to control the non-festival activities and non-festival throngs which are negatively impacting the Sundance experience, but I hope somebody can come up with a handle on this before next year.

That said, lots of things were right about this year's Sundance. To begin with the weather was the best I'd ever seen there. The new headquarters proved to be better-situated at the Park City Marriott [though mysteriously minus its great hospitality suite] as did the Music Café in its new cozy venue. The already-successful House of Docs was expanded to become the Filmmaker Lodge/House of Docs - home to lots of networking and panel discussions. It was also home to much talk about war with Iraq.

But most importantly, this year's films were strong. And the juries seemed to be in sync with the audiences this year (not always the case) as some of the most popular films were also recipients of awards at the final ceremony. Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent received the dramatic audience award as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Prize. Flesh and Blood won the documentary audience award and the documentary directing award for Jonathan Karsh. American Splendor took the dramatic grand jury prize and Capturing the Friedmans won the documentary grand jury prize. Another crowd favorite was honored - Catherine Hardwicke took home the dramatic directing prize for thirteen which she co-wrote with the 13-year-old daughter of her ex-boyfriend.

SUNDANCE 2003 WINNERS

DRAMATIC FILMS

Grand Jury Prize American Splendor, directed by Shari Springeer Berman and Robert Pulcini, produced by Ted Hope

Audience Award The Station Agent, directed by Tom McCarthy, produced by Mary Jane Skalski, Robert May and Kathryn Tucker

Directing Award Catherine Hardwicke for thirteen

Cinematography Award Derek Cianfrance for Quattro Noza

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award Tom McCarthy for The Station Agent

Special Jury Prize for Outstanding Performance Patricia Clarkson and Charles Busch

Special Jury Prize for Artistic Merit and Emotional Truth All the Real Girls, directed by David Gordon Green and What Alice Found, directed by A. Dean Bell

Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize Dopamine, directed by Mark Decena

DOCUMENTARY FILMS

Grand Jury Prize Capturing the Friedmans, directed by Andrew Jarecki, produced by Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling

Audience Award My Flesh and Blood, directed by Jonathan Karsh, produced by Jennifer Chaiken

Directing Award Jonathan Karsh for My Flesh and Blood

Cinematography Award Dana Kupper, Gordon Quinn and Peter Gilbert for Stevie

Freedom of Expression Award What I Want My Words To Do To You, directed by Judith Katz, Madeleine Gavin and Gary Sunshine, produced by Judith Katz

Special Jury Prizes The Murder of Emmett Till, directed by Stanley Nelson and A Certain Kind of Death, directed by Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock

SHORTS

Jury Prize Terminal Bar, directed by Stefan Nadelman

WORLD CINEMA

Audience Award Whale Rider, directed by Niki Caro

ONLINE FILM FESTIVAL

Viewers Award for Animation Broken Saints, directed by Brooke Burgess

Viewers Award for Short Subject One, directed by Stewart Hendler

For more info, go to www.sundance.org


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