STILL The Movies, Stupid... xPart
all the Sundance anxiety?
am always a little shocked when I read a bevy of stories from very intelligent
writers that seem to reflect last year's story instead of this year's story. This
year, Sundance has suffered the long-simmering residual from last year's hype
orgy in the hills.
like the perfect theatrical movie storm of 2004 (The Passion Of The Christ/Shrek
2/Spider-Man 2), last year was Sundance's ultimate year for drooling hype
in Park City. Main Street was an endless blizzard of unrelated events, celebrity,
and marketing. This year... not so much.
not saying that there weren't plenty of whores on every corner of Main Street
for those who wished to indulge in irrelevancy. But to this set of eyes, it seemed
that the ferocity was cut pretty much in half from last year. Really... half.
There were the parties at Harry O's... but the throngs outside were neither as
large, loud, or angry as in years past. There were empty spaces taken up by the
likes of Motorola, Cadillac and Volkswagon... but the windows were either set
up with displays or obscured so there was no visual assault of the goings on inside.
Even Starbucks added more than it detracted this year, its music series now maturing
into something very popular and well loved.
response, of course, is now that there wasn't enough sparkle... that the swag
wasn't very good this year... that the parties were a bit flat. To misquote Hee
Haw, "If it weren't for bad news, we'd make up no news at all... woe,
despair and agony on me."
production of the festival appeared from my seats to be the best ever as well.
Press screenings were announced earlier than ever, the screening rooms were well
laid out, and for titles that drew a lot of interest, multiple screenings were
set up. The DVD and video lending library was well organized and the volunteers
were both smart and very friendly. The press spaces were also well organized and
gave journos plenty of places in each of the key areas of the fest in town to
hang out and get work done.
was the occasional projection glitch, but with this many screenings that is to
be expected. And in each case, the problem was quickly fixed and not really disruptive
to the screenings.
suffered, as always, up here. Too many movies, too few names, and by the time
some of the smaller films were discovered, the talent was gone or there were not
enough added screenings to accommodate demand. At the Park City Marriot, fest
headquarters, there were some onerous financial demands made on the publicists
who hold court on the pool level, much as the Intercontinental maximized their
revenues as a host hotel in Toronto. Still, it seemed that everyone muddled through
and a lot of work got done.
yes... and the movies...
serious focus really should be on the movies. The bitching about the movies goes
back to Toronto, back through Cannes, and all the way back to last year's Sundance.
The "independent film movement" has changed. For one (major) thing,
it is no longer a movement. Like the civil rights movement, feminism, and low-slung
jeans, movements can only last so long before they succeed in their initial goal
and, when they try to adapt, there is far too much belly fat being thrown in our
faces. That evolutionary wall does not mean that the movement is no longer wanted
or necessary. But it's hard to keep getting sympathy when the wide perception
is that you have already won.
film has won so big in the last five years that it has essentially destroyed itself.
The alleged box office slump of 2005 was far worse in the Indie/Dependent world
(at least through the first 8 months of the year.... I haven't run numbers in
a while) than in any other part of the business... even if you take The Passion
of The Christ out of the equation. A significant part of that was the Miramax
shutdown and the Fox Searchlight nap. But still, foreign films were almost non-existent
in the first part of the year and docs underperformed relentlessly (with a few
the issue is bigger than that. For years, those of us who care have been arguing
over what constitutes an indie film. And the answer has varied. But in the last
couple of years, it has changed in a more profound, less debatable way. Miramax,
for all intents and purposes, got out of the indie business. Fox Searchlight took
over both the marketing and film selection leadership that Miramax abandoned.
Focus established a more filmmaker-driven model, but showed itself willing to
spend more than any Dependant - other than Miramax - ever had, the most expensive
example being Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with 21 Grams
following behind. Bob Berney was driven to give up Newmarket for the corporate
shield of Time-Warner when he couldn't get the money he and Mr. Gibson were owed
for The Passion of The Christ. Lions Gate out-Dimensioned Dimension with
grosser, younger, nastier horror porn combined with Tom Ortenberg's happy
preoccupation with chasing Oscar.
Sony Classics really stayed the course of looking to make the best of bargains
of quality that could be strong on DVD at the least and surprise hits at best.
Ironically, their big hit and Oscar hopeful of 2005/6 is Capote... which
they never would have made themselves. They inherited it from the exiting United
Artists (and, to be fair, have made the most of it in one of their best awards
pushes in their history). But UA is no longer there... nor is their retro model...
which produced Hotel Rwanda and Capote, among many other strong-profile
quality films before they disappeared into the ether.
Classics was betwixt and between, not as successful as Sony Classics in the poverty
model of operations - though Barker and Bernard have always had more support from
Sony in their run than Vitale/Dinerstein had in their situation - and now, with
the hire of John Lesher, hopes to move towards the Searchlight or Focus
model... just as Focus and Searchlight move into more expensive, more expansive
which with a couple of exceptions was, in the last two years, in more direct competition
with Searchlight and Focus than with the majors, is gone, sucked into Paramount
in a talent grab. The business model was just too tough. And now the Weinsteins
are going to have to face that same nightmare. If they have two or three smashes
that generate hundreds of millions in profits in the next three years, they will
be fine. If they do not, they will sell off their library and become the Saul
Zaentz' (they would hope) of the following decade.
getting back to Sundance...
are these filmmakers making movies for? The two sales here of over $5 million
are both films that did not need the festival to be sold, only really here to
theoretically raise their price tags in the fever pitch of the snow blindness.
After that, there is a parade of interesting, quality-debated, small films with
little for marketers to hook into, that will sell for under $4 million, mostly
for under $2 million. And by that standard, one has to consider this the most
successful Sundance in many years.
like Picturehouse, Sam Goldwyn/Roadside, the newly reconfigured First Look, IFC,
ThinkFilm, all need product and they need it badly. Two years ago, a movie like
Stay or Stephanie Daley were not getting distribution. Now films
like these will get distribution from people who want and need them to succeed.
And they will get some real loving care, a circumstance which few small films
in the Dependent system could claim in recent years.
the dream remains Fox Searchlight and Napoleon Dynamite and Garden State
and Open Water. The prayer for Sundance, critics, and studios alike
remains In The Bedroom.
run at the movies tomorrow...