The Akron Movie Examiner is back in Ohio now after almost five days in Park City, Utah. Sundance is now in its last days, but the festival will continue until this Sunday, January 31, with many more world premieres, filmmaker panels, exclusive events, and awards presentations.
Harkening back to the independent roots of the festival, this year’s theme is the prefix “re-,” plugging ideas like realize, rebel, recharge, and remember. The short film introductions before each screening advocate cinematic revolution and really overstate the independent spirit on which the film festival was founded. One introduction is particularly self-reflexive and acts as a scrapbook recalling ideas, pictures, and film clips from the last 25 years of the festival. Contrary to the festival buzz words, the Sundance Film Festival is overrun nowadays with agents and moneymen. Small, independent films still see some play/coverage, but the focus is largely placed on the Hollywood premieres, which generate star sightings, press coverage, and ultimately the almighty dollar.
For example, there were many such premieres at the Eccles Theater over the past week. The theater boasts the largest seat count of any at the festival; 1,270 seats. It would seem the perfect venue for waitlisters – normal folk who wait in cold, huddled lines for the opportunity to buy a coveted ticket. However, so many hotshots come for these premieres flashing their pricy credentials at the door that hardly any waitlisters are let into these types of events. In fact, no waitlisters were let into several of the bigger premieres, leaving fans literally out in the cold. HOWL with James Franco, Hesher with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Natalie Portman, The Runaways with Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, and The Killer Inside Me with Casey Affleck and Jessica Alba make up some of the star-studded titles premiering at Sundance this year. Press and fans turned out in droves to snag a photo, conversation, or even a smile. The Akron Movie Examiner was outside Eccles for the premiere of Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me. Fans waited hours to catch a glimpse of one of the stars from the film. Kate Hudson skipped out on the festival, while Jessica Alba entered through a back entrance to avoid their admirers. Fans were left cold and disappointing, but all of the seats were filled at $15 a pop.
Even without Kate Hudson at this year’s festival, there were plenty of star sightings to appease fans on the street and celebrity bloggers alike. Ben Affleck drew large crowds while walking down Main Street after the premiere of his new film The Company Men. Jason Segel and Bob Saget were there to support their friend/HIMYM costar Josh Radnor, who has his directorial debut in the festival. Other big stars were out to promote their films – Adrien Brody, Ryan Gosling, Katie Holmes, and Ryan Reynolds have been photographed around Park City.
Despite the fanfare, many of the actors and filmmakers at the Sundance Film Festival are virtual unknowns with little more than a passion for filmmaking and good intentions. These people comprise the casts and crews for independent films that screen in categories like Next and Spotlight. Waitlisting these films is much easier and far less disappointing. As well, the actors and filmmakers are almost always willing to take pictures and talk with fans after screenings. Because of this relaxed and friendly atmosphere, attending these smaller films is the way to go for the Average Joe visiting the Sundance Film Festival. The films may not look as nice and the actors may not be stars, but there is an authenticity and friendliness rarely seen at the bigger premieres. Films from the Next category getting a lot of buzz this year include Armless, Homewrecker, and The Taqwacores, of which a review will be posted by early next week. Standouts gaining attention and praise in the Spotlight category are Australian musical adaptation Bran Nue Dae, tech-age documentary Catfish, and Adrien Grenier’s personal documentary Teenage Paparazzo.
Several films have already been purchased for distribution, including the Ryan Reynolds thriller Buried, Gaspar Noé’s drug-fueld Enter the Void, and the documentary Waiting for Superman from An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim. Judging from this cinematic hodgepodge, 2010 will be an exciting year for independent films.
Stay tuned for more Sundance-related articles, including reviews of films to look out for in the near future.