MCN Columnists
Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

On Predicting Sundance Bests

Predicting film festival bests isn’t my game. But I am hopeful for surprises like a couple years back when, toward the end of Sundance, Robert Koehler is urgently telling me to run, don’t think, go directly to an end-of-festival presser for Man On Wire. (Thank you, Bob.) I’d gotten the same pleasure from being at the very first press showing of Once and then gabbling to anyone I hoped would listen. Go! Discover! In the week’s run up to Sundance 2011, I’ve liked posts by programmers and reviewers and filmmakers that aren’t about impressing a 140-character opinion in one sharp tweet of the cheeks. For instance, Toronto’s Cameron Bailey (@cameron_tiff) hits the ground happy: “Sunshine, snow, SUVs, excessive cheer. Hello Park City!” A keen reminder to get out of doors and read those tweets while waiting for the shuttle to get to headquarters for that badge…

This afternoon, Movieline solicited from attendees three films they wouldn’t dream of leaving Sundance without seeing, and sleep-deprived that I am already, fished out three sincere replies. Top of mind is the premiere I’m seeing in six hours about three miles out to the far edge of town at the Temple Theater, Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz‘s The Interrupters. James is a consummate observer and collaborator, and his work with nonfiction ace Kotlowitz holds promise. Its 161-minute running time suggests the Kartemquin crew is going for the same kind of observational, longitudinal work looking at superficially troubled communities, such as Hoop Dreams, to name but one fine film James has made. Braden King‘s earlier work, including Dutch Harbor, builds off rhythmic accretion, a sense of the land, a drenching sonic texture. Why not make a movie like HERE, about a geolocator gone astray in Armenia? (Plus, it’s shot by Lol Crawley, whose credits include Ballast.) Two years ago, one of the co-directors of The Redemption Of General Butt Naked [pictured, top] told me the story at a Sundance event in 2008. My reaction was physical: I leapt up and looked around the room for people to introduce her to, someone who might know someone who could get this amazing story brought to completion. The title is provocative, but the tale, well, if it matches what I heard…

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Tsangari: With my next film, White Knuckles, it comes with a budget — it’s going to be a huge new world for me. As always when I enter into a new thing, don’t you wonder how it’s going to be and how much of yourself you are going to have to sacrifice? The ballet of all of this. I’m already imaging the choreography — not of the camera, but the choreography of actually bringing it to life. It is as fascinating as the shooting itself. I find the producing as exciting as the directing. The one informs the other. There is this producer-director hat that I constantly wear. I’ve been thinking about these early auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges—all of these guys basically were hired by the studio, and I doubt they had final cut, and somehow they had films that now we can say they had their signatures.  There are different ways of being creative within the parameters and limitations of production. The only thing you cannot negotiate is stupidity.
Filmmaker: And unfortunately, there is an abundance of that in the world.
Tsangari: This is the only big risk: stupidity. Everything else is completely worked out in the end.
~ Chevalier‘s Rachel Athina Tsangari

“The middle-range movies that I was doing have largely either stopped being made, or they’ve moved to television, now that television is a go-to medium for directors who can’t get work in theatricals, because there are so few theatricals being made. But also with the new miniseries concept, you can tell a long story in detail without having to cram it all into 90 minutes. You don’t have to cut the characters and take out the secondary people. You can actually put them all on a big canvas. And it is a big canvas, because people have bigger screens now, so there’s no aesthetic difference between the way you shoot a movie and the way you shoot a TV show.

“Which is all for the good. But what’s happened in the interim is that theatrical movies being a spectacle business are now either giant blockbuster movies that run three hours—even superhero movies run three hours, they used to run like 58 minutes!—and the others, which are dysfunctional family independent movies or the slob comedy or the kiddie movie, and those are all low-budget. So the middle ground of movies that were about things, they’re just gone. Or else they’re on HBO. Like the Bryan Cranston LBJ movie, which years ago would’ve been made for theaters.

“You’ve got people like Paul Schrader and Walter Hill who can’t get their movies theatrically distributed because there’s no market for it. So they end up going to VOD, and VOD is a model from which no one makes any money, because most of the time, as soon as they get on the site, they’re pirated. So the whole model of the system right now is completely broken. And whether or not anybody’s going to try to fix, or if it even can be fixed, I don’t know. But it’s certainly not the same business that I got into in the ’70s.”
~ Joe Dante

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