Sundance founder Robert Redford loves this year's documentaries, but the fictional entries are just as fresh from the headlines.
Sundance founder/eminence gris Robert Redford recently voiced the opinion that several hard-edged documentaries screening at the festival (such as Chasing Ice and Detropia) “represent what’s going on in our country.”
Courtesy Sundance Institute
But other movies with strong echoes of present day reality—films that were similarly born out of news headlines—can be found outside Sundance’s non-fiction entries. Exhibit A: the brutish dramatic thriller Simon Killer that premiered Friday in Park City to enthusiastic crowd response. The movie owes its genesis to a high-profile subject of interest who’s been in the news in recent days: a suspected international serial killer who preys on young women.
Directed by Antonio Campos (who came to Sundance last year as producer of Martha Marcy May Marlene), Simon Killer follows disaffected recent college grad Simon (portrayed by Brady Corbet) as he drifts around Paris, attempting to lick his wounds after an acrimonious break-up with a longtime girlfriend. Simon is a lost soul, a man-child operating in wounded bird-mode with a barely-there grasp of French, when he shacks up with Victoria, a hooker with a proverbial heart of gold. And from there, the film takes a nose dive into neo-noir with Simon going sucked into a vortex of blackmail and deceit that both physically and emotionally batters the women around him.
Movie acquisition agents aren’t playing around this year: two of Sundance’s buzziest documentaries bought on the festival’s second day.
Heading into this year’s Sundance, movie pundits had a field day debating just how hot and heavy—or tepid and disappointing—the bidding would be at the festival, independent filmdom’s foremost North American marketplace. While 2011’s fest provided one of the most frenzied acquisition spectacles in a decade (with most of the wheeling and dealing taking place during the event’s initial Sunday-to-Wednesday logjam), not everyone arrived in Park City, Utah, optimistic of a repeat performance.
But on Friday, two of 2012’s buzziest documentaries had their North American distribution rights scooped up in an early indication that studio acquisitions agents aren’t playing around this year.
Sony Pictures Classics struck first blood, buying North American rights to Searching for Sugar Man, Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul’s directorial debut. Following the rise, seeming demise, and reemergence of an obscure but influential Mexican-American folk singer named Rodriguez, the movie premiered Thursday to tears, cheers, and a standing ovation from festival attendees.
First things first: at 75, actor, director, and Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford is as virile and dashing as ever.
Named after his character from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Sundance was known as the U.S./Utah Film Festival when he founded it in 1978. In 1981, the festival moved to Park City, and in 1984, it was renamed the Sundance Film Festival. It soon became the premier showcase for independent film.
2011 was a banner year for the Sundance Film Festival, introducing many awards-bait films into the fold, and one unique box office hit. There were, however, also some incredibly hyped films acquired at Sundance that, whether it be faulty marketing, a poor release strategy, or general disinterest, failed to connect with audiences. Here are the five winners (MARGIN CALL) and losers (LIKE CRAZY) among the films that were purchased at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. We’ve already seen one sale at Sundance 2012 (Sony Pictures Classics just picked up SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN), so it will be interesting to see if there were any lessons learned from this lot.
The director’s gripping film, ‘Queen of Versailles,’ chronicles how the shaky economy causes the implosion of the American dream for a billionaire Florida family—but the family patriarch is suing for defamation.
Meet the Siegels—pneumatic blonde former swimsuit model Jackie, 43, and her no-guff septuagenarian husband David, aka “the king of timeshares.”
At the outset of director Lauren Greenfield’s gripping documentary, The Queen of Versailles—one of several films that kicked off the 2012 Sundance Film Festival on Thursday night in lieu of a stand-alone premiere this year—they’re just like any family of Floridian billionaires you might meet. With an unwieldy brood of eight kids, the Siegels live in a garish mansion the size of a shopping mall, and travel everywhere by private jet, limo or yacht, a yelping pack of snow-white Pomeranians in tow.
Jackie and her children, Orlando, Florida in The Queen of Versailles. (Lauren Greenfield / INSTITUTE)
As the cameras begin to roll on this family circus, Jackie and David have set out to build the biggest house in America, a 90,000-square-foot palace loosely modeled on French King Louis XIV’s 17th century estate, Versailles. One with its own baseball and tennis stadiums, stained-glass clerestory and balcony built expressly for the future use of an in-house symphony orchestra.
Tom Bernard on what to watch.
Ever since he co-founded Sony Pictures Classics, an autonomous division of Sony Pictures that specializes in independent films, back in 1991, SPC co-president Tom Bernard—along with co-president Michael Barker—has been a regular fixture at the Sundance Film Festival.
Over the past twenty years, his company has acquired 36 titles at Sundance, including WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE; JUNEBUG, which helped launch the career of Amy Adams; the British crime drama LAYER CAKE, which introduced the world to Daniel Craig; and the bildungsroman AN EDUCATION, which racked up three Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Carey Mulligan).
Chris Crocker hit the viral jackpot with ‘Leave Britney Alone!’ Now the star of a documentary, he talks to Adam Auriemma about bullies, porn—and YouTube’s new “Disney Channel” vibe.
The first video ever uploaded to YouTube is 19 seconds long. In it, Jawed Karim, a co-founder of the site, stands in front of an elephant exhibit at the San Diego Zoo. “The cool thing about these guys is they have really, really, really long trunks,” Karim says. He pauses. “And that’s pretty much all there is to say.”
Not quite. That was a simpler time, before Chris Crocker came along. In 2007, the gay Tennessee native uploaded a histrionic screed against Britney Spears haters— “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!”—that blew up the video-sharing site for the first time, racking up millions of hits overnight. But the dialogue about the then 19-year-old Crocker quickly turned nasty. CNN, Fox News, and late-night hosts caught on, mercilessly mocking his androgynous looks and obscene sobs. He was the original Rebecca Black, except rather than a slick music video, the world was making fun of the shaky recording of a kid in his bedroom.
Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch
Crocker was put through the pop-culture wringer, with much of the attention focused on his looks; his experiments with hair extensions and make-up bordered on drag. Now he’s the subject of a new documentary, aptly titled Me @ the Zoo, premiering at Sundance on Saturday. (HBO has already snapped up U.S. broadcast rights.) He’s also barely recognizable, sporting a buzz cut and 30 extra pounds of muscle. Crocker calls it a gradual transformation and says it has nothing to do with the feedback: “I don’t give in to the pressures of society.”
From the indie 'Bachelorette' featuring Kirsten Dunst to several poignant documentaries, Marlow Stern picks the films audiences and potential buyers should get excited about at Sundance 2012.
It’s that time of year! The biggest celebration of indie film, the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, runs Jan. 19-29 in Park City, Utah. Since Robert Redford began the fest in 1984, it’s been the premier showcase for up-and-coming filmmakers and actors, with directors like the Coen Brothers (Blood Simple, ’84) and stars like Ryan Gosling (The Believer, ’01) having been discovered there. In recent years, film like Precious, An Education, Winter’s Bone, and Project Nim have made their world premiere at Sundance before reaching wider audiences and receiving heaps of awards recognition.
This year is looking very promising as well. From the raunchy comedy Bachelorette, featuring Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher, to poignant documentaries on everything from the war on drugs to rape in the military, here are the films audiences and potential buyers should get excited about at Sundance 2012. Check back here for more updates on the festival.
The film festival was packed with fantastic documentaries. So why did so many leave Park City without distribution deals?
One thing that has been nagging us as we consider this year’s Sundance, now that we have time to gather a bit of perspective, is this: for all the talk of movie deals; and all the hooplah made over more commercial-minded films like My Idiot Brother, which, though a very good film, and a very fun film, is not by no measure a great film; why was there so little discussion about the documentary entries at the festival? A category, which in our humble estimation, was exceedingly superior to the feature film category.
An image from Andrew Rossi’s Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times (SundanceChannel.com)
The L.A. Times’ Kenneth Turan seems to agree, and in his latest column points out the perversity of how “hardly any (documentaries) were acquired for theatrical release,” despite the fact that “the quality was sky high.”
Saturday night’s awards ceremony shone the spotlight on a handful of those sky-high quality docs: How To Die In Oregon, and Hell and Back Again, which took home Grand Jury prizes; and Senna and Buck, the two audience award winners.
A stunned Drake Doremus accepted Sundance's Grand Jury Prize for 'Like Crazy.'
And the winner is… Drake Doremus’ LIKE CRAZY, which was just awarded the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s awards ceremony.
The film arrived at Sundance with tremendous buzz—Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan was particularly laudatory—and went on to be rapturously received. It was quickly picked up for distribution by Paramount Pictures and Indian Paintbrush for $4 million, a sale that kicked off a week-long flurry of deals and acquisitions, the likes of which haven’t been seen in Park City since the 1990’s.
To read the rest of Nicole's post on Sundance Channel, click here.
Sundance's youngest breakout is a 12-year-old sensation.
For a number of young ladies, this year’s Sundance was a kind of coming-out party, during which they were declared the latest “It” girls to prance through Park City. Among them: Elizabeth “Lizzie” Olsen, Brit Marling, and now, as the festival begins to wind down, Isabelle Fuhrman, the star of Salvation Boulevard, George Ratliff’s adaptation of Larry Beinhart’s comic novel about a mega-church community. The film, which was just picked up for distribution by IFC Films and Sony Pictures, also stars Pierce Brosnan and Marisa Tomei.
Just 12-years-old, Fuhrman was until now best-known as the haunting face staring down from posters for the 2009 horror film Orphan. (You remember: the pale white face; the ribboned pig tails; the death stare.)
To read the rest of Nicole's post on Sundance Channel, click here.
'Pariah,' 'Little Birds,' 'Circumstance,' and the festival's emerging theme of teenage girls' struggle.
If there’s one thing this year’s festival has seen lot of of, it’s teenage girls grappling with being teenage girls. There is Alike (Adepero Oduye), the coming-of-age lesbian in Dee Rees’ gritty, Bronx tale, Pariah. There is Iranian teen Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri), rebelling against her parents’ traditionalism and experimenting with her new-found sexuality in Maryam Keshavarz’s Circumstance. And in Circumstance, written and directed by first timer Elgin James, two 15-year-olds—played by Juno Temple and Kay Panabaker—set out for Los Angeles, where they get an early taste of life’s hard knocks.
What is it about the growing pains of young women, as opposed to young men, that’s attracting up-and-coming filmmakers?
In an interview at the Sundance Channel HQ, James said that Little Birds was inspired by his own story, but that he decided to focus the narrative on girls, because, “I didn’t think that, for one, 15-year-old boys would be very interesting, as much as 15 year-old girls, who are more complex.”
To read the rest of Nicole's post on Sundance Channel, click here
Is this year's Sundance sales frenzy a direct result of last year's little-movie-that-could?
As the number of movie deals at Sundance continues to add up–there have been about 30 so far–and the indie film world rejoices that the hard times are over, there’s one film that’s been hovering in the ether in Park City. It’s crept up on blogs, and in conversation, as it did yesterday with Rena Ronson, an agent at UTA (which has pretty much owned the deal-making scene here), and Christian Vesper, SVP of Acquisitions for IFC and Sundance Channel.
Winter's Bone (Sebastian Mlynarski)
The film is Winter's Bone. And the way it’s being discussed is in the context of “The Winter's Bone Effect.” The assumption behind this statement is that this year’s sales frenzy is a direct result of Debra Granik’s little-movie-that-could, Winter's Bone, which was one of the big break-out hits last year. After taking home the Grand Jury prize, the film–a film about a young girl in the Ozarks searching for her father–went on to make nearly $8 million at the worldwide box office (it cost $2 million to make), and was just nominated for a whopping four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence, last year’s Sundance “It” girl), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes).
This intimate movie about Chaz Bono's female-to-male transition has already been picked up by Oprah Winfrey to launch OWN's documentary club.
Midway into the Q&A last night for Becoming Chaz, the documentary about how Chastity Bono—i.e., Sonny and Cher’s onetime cherubic Goldilocks—went from being a she to a he, co-director Randy Barbato’s cellphone rang.
“Wait, this is Chaz,” he said, stepping aside from the mic to take the call.
“We’re in a Q&A right now. Do you want to just say ‘hi’?,” he said, into the phone. He then held it up to the microphone.
“Hello?” came Chaz’s distinct voice, which is several octaves lower these days.
“Say ‘hi,’” Barbato instructed.
“Who, me? Oh. Cool. Hi guys, I hope you enjoyed it.”
Randy Barbato, Chaz Bono and Fenton Bailey (SundanceChannel.com)
This genial, low-key nature is seen throughout Becoming Chaz, one of the most daring and exposing films at the festival this year. The project was actually Chaz’s idea; he came to Barbato and Fenton Bailey (Party Monster, The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and asked them if they’d be interested in documenting his journey into transgenderism. Once filming began, he let them capture the most intimate details of the process, from his breast-removal surgery to his girlfriend Jennifer’s bimonthly duty of shooting hormones into his rear end—when she informs him that he’s starting to grow hair back there, Chaz rejoices, as he does whenever he sees his feminine qualities start to fade away. That liberation is at the heart of the movie, both in as it pertains to Chaz and to transgenders around the world, which is perhaps why Oprah Winfrey selected the film to kick off her new documentary club on OWN. But nothing about the film feels didactic, mainly because Bono himself is so easy-going and authentic—there is no evidence whatsoever that he was raised by one of the most fabulous divas on the planet.
Speaking of which, yes, Cher sits down for a candid interview, though is clearly uncomfortable with the Chaz experiment and continues to refer to him as “she.” (She does a little better when she goes on Letterman.)
The Sonny side of the family is far more cool about the whole thing. As one of Chaz’s step-sisters says: “We’re Bonos.”
(And in deal-making news, Sony Pictures Classics picked up The Guard, the Irish cop comedy with Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson; The Weinstein Company bought the Tobey Maguire black comedy The Details, for a whopping $7 million, making it the biggest deal of the festival; and Fox Searchlight has picked up Mike Cahill's Another Earth for north of $1 million.)