WRITTEN BY TODD McCARTHY
“No matter what’s happening in the industry people are going to keep making films,” opined JOHN COOPER optimistically as he revealed the line up for his first year as director of the SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL.
The world’s main event for independent American cinema, which unfolds JANUARY 21 – 31 in Park City, Utah, will feature a few changes on the old formula.
SUNDANCE is still riding high from having launched two of 2009’s big indie titles: PRECIOUS and AN EDUCATION.
JOHN COOPER, along with his new #2, veteran programmer TREVOR GROTH, suspects that there might be some pictures this year with similar potential.
Perhaps even more reassuringly, the festival’s presenting sponsors – ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, THE SUNDANCE CHANNEL, HP and HONDA – all remained on board at a time when other fests have scrambled to keep or replace important backers.
The festival benefits from the extensive support network enjoyed by its umbrella organization THE SUNDANCE INSTITUTE, providing a fiscal foundation that has been minimally affected by the April departure of the institute’s executive director KEN BRECHER, who has yet to be replaced. Ticket sales are running apace with previous years, according to JOHN COOPER.
As to differences festivalgoers will notice upon arriving in the mountains next month, the first will be the lack of a traditional opening night.
Attributing the idea to SUNDANCE founder ROBERT REDFORD himself, JOHN COOPER explained, “We don’t do red carpet and we don’t have government officials and executives who demand this sort of thing. So we decided we didn’t need that kind of opening night.”
Instead, SUNDANCE will jump start its competition on the first Thursday evening with screenings of one dramatic and one documentary competing title, as well as with a program of shorts.
A Salt Lake City gala will take place as usual with a screening of AARON SCHNEIDER’S GET LOW, starring ROBERT DUVALL and BILL MURRAY, which debuted at Toronto last September.
The fest’s SPECTRUM section (known previously as AMERICAN SPECTRUM and once perceived as a consolation category for films that didn’t quite make the competition cut) has now been reconceived as SPOTLIGHT. TREVOR GROTH defined it as “a place for films we love” – faves from previous fests or pictures otherwise unqualified for competition slots that perhaps need a boost to find their way to the marketplace.
JOHN COOPER talked about the new category NEXT, which will consist of eight features of an adamantly independent nature that “will show audiences what no budget really looks like. We wanted to make sure we had a platform for them so they wouldn’t get lost.”
TREVOR GROTH elaborated that, since NEXT will lean toward narrative films, “Now we can be a little more rigorous about what goes into FRONTIER,” the section devoted to avant garde and more unconventional work.
All of the American dramatic and documentary competition entries will be seen in their world premieres.
JOHN COOPER said that in an effort to “put up a lightning rod about independent cinema,” SUNDANCE USA will physically bring what’s happening at the festival to other regions of the country.
On the fest’s second Thursday, JANUARY 28, eight filmmakers – four from PREMIERES, two with competitive titles and two from SPOTLIGHT – will travel to art houses in LOS ANGELES, SAN FRANCISCO, BROOKLYN, BOSTON, NASHVILLE, ANN ARBOUR, MICHIGAN, MADISON, WISCONSIN and CHICAGO to share their work with audiences there.
SUNDANCE officials acknowledge that the effort is “an experiment” designed “to take some of the energy at the festival to connect where there’s an awareness of the spirit of independent cinema.”
SELECTIONS FROM THE 2010 SUNDANCE COMPETITION LINE UP:
STARRING RYAN GOSLING & MICHELLE WILLIAMS
A portrait of a marriage and the evolution of a relationship over time.
THE DRY LAND
AMERICA FERRERA, WILMER VALDERRAMA, ETHAN SUPLEE & MELISSA LEO
A returning U.S. soldier tries to reconcile his experiences overseas with his life in Texas.
WRITTEN/DIRECTED BY JOSH RADNOR
STARRING JOSH RADNOR & MALIN AKERMAN
Six New Yorkers negotiate love, friendship and gratitude when they’re too old to be precocious but not yet fully adults.
JOSEPH GORDON LEVITT, NATALIE PORTMAN, PIPER LAURIE & JOHN CARROLL LYNCH
A mysterious, anarchical trickster enters the lives of a family dealing with a painful loss.
A young Hasidic man in the throes of money, power and opportunity becomes an international Ecstasy smuggler.
THE IMPERIALISTS ARE STILL ALIVE!
ELODIE BOUCHEZ, JOSE MARIA DE TAVIRA & KAROLINA MULLER
A French Manhattanite continues her work as an artist in the wake of the sudden abduction of her childhood sweetheart and a blooming love affair.
GAYNOR HOWE, MICHAEL PICCIRILLI & FRANK HOYT TAYLOR
All about the amorous awakening of a lonely librarian with a beguiling cinema projectionist in Death Valley.
SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS
DIRECTED BY MARK RUFFALO
STARRING MARK RUFFALO, ORLANDO BLOOM, JULIETTE LEWIS, LAURA LINNEY & JOHN CARROLL LYNCH
A newly paralyzed DJ gets more than he bargained for when he seeks out the world of faith healing.
EMBETH DAVIDTZ, EDIE FALCO, ELIAS KOTEAS, KATHRYN ERBE & DANAI GURIRA
A quiet suburban town becomes intense emotional terrain for three residents on one strange day.
WELCOME TO THE RILEYS
JAMES GANDOLFINI, KRISTEN STEWART & MELISSA LEO
A damaged man seeks salvation by caring for a wayward young woman during a business trip to New Orleans.
A look at the life of the assassinated former Pakistani prime minister.
JEAN MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD
All about the celebrated 80s artist.
JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK
A forthright glimpse into the life and lighthearted process of the veteran comedian.
SMASH HIS CAMERA
It uses the story of notorious paparazzo Ron Galella to examine issues such as the right to privacy, freedom of the press and celebrity worship.
12TH & DELAWARE
A look at how the abortion battle continues in unexpected ways in an unassuming corner of the U.S.
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
ANIMAL KINGDOM (AUSTRALIA)
GUY PEARCE, LUKE FORD, JACKI WEAVER & JAMES FRECHEVILLE
A 17 year old boy, in the wake of his mother’s death, is thrust precariously between a criminal family and a detective who hopes to save him.
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
HIS & HERS (IRELAND)
Seventy Irish women offer insights into the relationships between women and men.
KICK IN IRAN (GERMANY)
Concerns the struggles of the first female Taekwondo fighter from Iran to qualify for the Olympic Games.
SINS OF MY FATHER (ARGENTINA/COLOMBIA)
Delves into the life and times of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar through the eyes of his son, who fled the country to lead his own life.