Sundance: Glitz, Goodies — and Film
ALISON STEWART, host:
So in about 48 hours, the Sundance Film Festival kicks off in Park City, Utah. Forty-five thousand people are expected to overrun this former mining-town-turned-ski area over the next 10 days or so. Three of those people will be members of THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT staff.
We're taking the show on the road, to Utah, to do a little reporting on the festival that has gone through some growing pains since 1991, when it received it current title, although it existed in other forms as far back as 1978. But in recent years, Park City has come to feel a little more like Hollywood East than the little independent film festival town.
Reviewing the line-up of some 120 films set to screen over 10 days, it seems to be a little bit of a hybrid this year with 20 minute shorts sharing the same space as full-length features with recognizable names. Like the film, "Be Kind Rewind," a Jack Black-Mos Def movie about two video store clerks finding fame and fortune, recreating hit movies in their own way.
(Soundbite of movie, "Be Kind Rewind")
Mr. JACK BLACK (Actor): (As Jerry) Drop your weapon.
Mr. MOS DEF (Actor): (As Mike) You drop your weapon. I'm a scientific genius.
Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) This calls for Robocop.
Mr. DEF: (As Mike) This calls for Robocop to get shot.
(Soundbite of shouting)
Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) Intruder alert. Intruder alert.
Mr. DEF: (As Mike) I know that you did it to yourself, Robocop.
Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) Robocop, Robocop to the rescue.
Unidentified Man: (As character) (Unintelligible).
Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) I am made of steel.
(Soundbite of laughing)
STEWART: Have you seen that trailer in the theaters, Rachel?
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: I haven't actually.
STEWART: Oh, when Jack Black is singing his own version of the "Ghostbusters" theme…
MARTIN: I love Jack Black.
STEWART: …it's hilarious.
David Poland is film critic for Movie City News in the Hot Blog. He's on the hand to give us a little preview of the Sundance Film Festival.
Mr. DAVID POLAND (Film Critic, Movie City News): Hey there. How are you doing?
STEWART: I'm doing great. Let's just roll this all the way back to what is the goal of the festival for an average filmmaker?
Mr. POLAND: For filmmakers?
Mr. POLAND: Mostly to get seen and to get sold. It's the two big things about Sundance.
STEWART: Makes sense. Seen by whom and sold to whom?
Mr. POLAND: Well, it's an odd thing because the festival is so huge. It's about 10,000 people kind of jumped into Park City, Utah, which is this tiny town for this, actually for about six days because the festival is 10 days long but only about six days actually exists for most of the Hollywood. And the idea is to get, you know, if your film is not going to get sold, you basically wanted to get seen by film critics, people who may appreciate it.
But a lot of the films - hundred films this year actually over 120 are coming without distribution at America and want to get sold by somebody. If it's worth - even if it's a million-dollar deal, or half-a-million dollar, or DVD deal, at least, have the chance to get the film outside of the box because usually about 70 percent of the films probably will never be seen outside of festivals once they've landed in Sundance.
STEWART: So these miracle stories do happen where a film goes to Sundance and all of the sudden studios decide I need to have that film and distribute it?
Mr. POLAND: Well, it happens. It's usually - people have a pretty good idea before they get there. There's usually a film that - films will go there with an idea that that's going to be, quote/unquote, "the film" and sometimes that will follow the wayside, and then they hand a film that nobody really sees coming, like "Quinceanera" from a few years ago…
STEWART: Oh, yeah.
Mr. POLAND: …will get distribution at the last minute because it got an award and then turned out to be a success financially. That's - though a lot rarer than the other. Then you have films like, of course, "Little Miss Sunshine" from…
Mr. POLAND: …a couple years ago where it came in to the festival as a film that everybody wanted to buy and was sold for a lot of money and then was very successful. So you have wide variety things. But as I say, the vast majority of films will never make - inside of a regular movie theater in their entire lives.
STEWART: Is there a film that has that sort of interest around it like "Little Miss Sunshine" or "Quinceanera" or "Waitress" from last year?
Mr. POLAND: No.
STEWART: No. Really?
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: That's wide open.
Mr. POLAND: No is the magic answer. Well, you know, "Waitress" is a classic example where, you know, sadly, the death of the filmmaker Adrienne Shelly got a lot more attention to the film going into the festival than it might have otherwise has. As it turned out, the people at FOX Searchlight genuinely adored that film. You know, they bought four or five films last year and that was the film that they most loved, I think, coming out of the festival, even though it was, you know, and they mainstreamed it and they rushed it out in the theaters three or four months after the festival and really got behind it. So that was kind of a happy story in a weird way, a terrible story behind the film but it got a New York Times story even before it got to Sundance. Very unusual.
STEWART: Yeah. Well, let me play you clip from a film that's premiering, and I'll ask you question on the side. It's a movie that's full of no names. It's called "Birds of America." It's directed by Craig Lucas. It stars Matthew Perry, you know him from "Friends;" Lauren Graham from "Gilmore Girls;" Hillary Swank, I got an Oscar or two; and Ben Foster. I think he was most recently in "3:10 to Yuma." He was really good at that film.
Let's listen to a clip from "Birds of America."
(Soundbite of movie, "Birds of America")
Ms. HILLARY SWANK (Actress): (As Laura) How's Jay?
Mr. MATTHEW PERRY (Actor): (As Morrie) Mmm, better than ever.
Ms. SWANK: (As Laura) Oh, hi. Hi. Welcome home.
Ms. LAUREN GRAHAM: (As character) Hi.
Ms. SWANK: (As Laura) It's so nice to see you.
Mr. BEN FOSTER: (As Jay) Really?
Ms. SWANK: (As Laura) Oh, yeah, really. Hey, you want to meet my little guy? Here, here. Say hi.
Mr. FOSTER: (As Jay) Is she okay?
Ms. SWANK: (As Laura) Yeah, he's all right.
Mr. FOSTER: (As Jay) I mean, his head is misshapen.
Ms. GRAHAM: (As character) Jay.
Ms. SWANK: (As Laura) Oh.
Mr. FOSTER: (As Jay) He has a condition.
Mr. PERRY: (As Morrie) Okay.
(Unintelligible), you know.
Ms. SWANK: (As Laura) Morrie, (unintelligible).
Ms. GRAHAM: (As character) A little accident and we think there might be some brain, you know.
Ms. SWANK: (As Laura) Oh.
Mr. FOSTER: (As Jay) What the hell are you doing? Are you trying to sabotage me?
STEWART: Yeah, the character Ben Foster plays is a little bit of Mr. Inappropriate.
STEWART: You know, this seems like a studio picture. You have a well-known cast...
Mr. POLAND: Yup.
STEWART: So why is a movie like this at Sundance?
Mr. POLAND: Well, you know, it - from the - if there was…
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: There are no words.
MARTIN: There are no words.
Mr. POLAND: It's so painful. I've got to actually talk to these people next week. But, you know, when those films show up at Sundance, it's usually out of a bit of desperation. It's usually because there are some reasons why the film, even though it has commercial elements, hasn't already got distribution or a place at the table and you kind of always wonder what it's doing there.
There's a Barry Levinson movie coming to the festival, the Cinetech(ph), which is kind of a powerhouse sales company has. And, you know, I love Barry Levinson. I have loved him for years. You hope the film is brilliant. You hope the film is going to be everything you dream it's going to be. But when you see the - there is a Barry Levinson movie with Robert De Niro…
Mr. POLAND: …playing the festival, you go, what the heck is this thing doing at Sundance? You know, unless it's already got distribution and it's already got a plan. And they're just promoting the movie, which is what "Be Kind Rewind" is doing. You know, the…
MARTIN: But, David…
Mr. POLAND: …(unintelligible) has a date. But you kind of wonder why it's there and you start to worry that it's going to be not quite as good as you hoped.
MARTIN: Doesn't it, though - isn't there some kind of, you know, this cache about being in Sundance? Is that part of a different marketing strategy?
Mr. POLAND: I think there is cache on your show. I mean, there is cache in the New York Times.
STEWART: Well thanks.
Mr. POLAND: I mean, there's cache - I mean, that's the thing - is that, ultimately, they are selling to us, in a way - the media. And there is very little sense that anybody outside of that - anybody who actually pays for a ticket to go to see a movie cares much about the Sundance laurel or anything else. They're really interested in the marketing so - in the same way, you have to go out and sell any movie.
"Little Miss Sunshine" was sold as a commercial movie. It didn't matter that it came out of Sundance - didn't win anything at Sundance. So there is really little going for a movie for having been to Sundance outside of how the media kind of presents it.
STEWART: We're speaking with David Poland. He writes for Movie City News and The Hot Blog. We're getting little preview to Sundance Film Festival.
Okay, we talked about the Hollywood and the commercial aspect of it. But there's 120 movies at this festival. What other kind of films are available for people to see?
Mr. POLAND: Well, there are a lot of documentaries. I mean, that's the thing at most film festivals and especially at Sundance, the best product is often the documentary stuff. It doesn't necessarily sell because, again, they're looking for commercial hook - the big one being that you're Michael Moore or of you're Morgan Spurlock that you had McDonald's to sell "Super Size Me" again.
They are always looking for the documentaries that have some sort of hook - and that's become less and less significant in the last couple of years commercially. But that doesn't the mean the films aren't really, really good. So people will be looking at - there's a documentary, for instance, about Roman Polanski…
Mr. POLAND: …who is always a fascinating character to look at - a brilliant filmmaker and a guy who obviously has been on the run for 20 years or longer - 40 years now. So that's the kind of thing will be fascinating for critics to take a look at. There is "Phoebe in Wonderland," which is a movie with Elle Fanning - last year, of course, famously with the Dakota Fanning rape movie as it was endlessly called "Hounddog," which was extremely controversial. It was one of those movies going into the festival everybody was talking about. This one has a performance by her sister that apparently is magnificent. So we're looking, you know, forward - looking for that.
STEWART: I'm also interested in the a documentary about Army recruitment. I think that's really…
Mr. POLAND: Yeah.
Mr. POLAND: There are a lot of fascinating documentaries. There's a documentary with Morgan - there is a Morgan Spurlock documentary about him looking for Osama bin Laden, where he actually goes undercover with, you know, with al-Qaida beard. Of course, his is red.
Mr. POLAND: But he does the whole thing and goes undercover in the Middle East looking for Osama bin Laden. There's a comedy with Amy Adams called "Sunshine Cleaning" - that should be, you know - we all hope is really, really good. And, of course, there are a lot of - there is always a lot of actors-turned-filmmakers at the festival. So…
STEWART: Oh, yeah. There's a movie I'm sort of interested in "Choke" by the guy…
Mr. POLAND: Yeah.
STEWART: …who wrote…
STEWART: "…Fight Club." And the guy who is directing it is an actor on "The Old Adventures of the New Christine" or "The New…
Mr. POLAND: Right.
STEWART: …Adventures of the Old Christine."
Mr. POLAND: Clark Gregg actually became very hot at Sundance a few years ago in drag. He did a movie where he played somebody's transsexual mother.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. POLAND: And that was his thing. But there are other filmmakers who are also - who are turning over a new leaf over there. And you always hope that you're going to get a breakout story, which we did with "In the Bedroom" a few years ago…
STEWART: Oh, what a good movie.
Mr. POLAND: …which was a great movie and also kind of came from nowhere. And, in fact, even that movie - it was bought by Harvey Weinstein. There was a whole fight over changing the movie. They didn't change the movie very much. And ultimately, that became the Oscar movie even though it wasn't really the Weinstein - that, well, back then, Miramax's first choice to be their Oscar movie that year. But the movie was so good that it kind of grabbed the space.
STEWART: Well, David Poland of Movie City News and The Hot Blog, thanks for giving us the preview. You got me all excited. I'm ready to go to Sundance.
MARTIN: Got your furry boots all ready, David?
Mr. POLAND: It's going to be under 25 degrees the entire time so get your very furry boots on.
STEWART: I got my long johns. They are ready to roll. All right, David.
MARTIN: We're going.
Mr. POLAND: Okay.
STEWART: See you.
Mr. POLAND: See you in the snow.
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