Dear Sundance Diary: Times Are Grim, But the Hype is Here
Park City was eerily peaceful early this morning with nobody around and last night’s dusting of snow on the ground. Soon enough – by this afternoon, or this evening, or certainly tonight – that will all change as filmmakers, press and industry folks roll in and the dreaded promoters (“leveragers,” Sundance founder Robert Redford called them in his inaugural address today) pimp out this snowy mountain town like a toddler in a tiara. Appropriately, Redford pointed to the current hardships for filmmakers, and the world at large. “Times are hard and grim,” he acknowledged, later offering optimism. “Independent film is healthy. That doesn’t mean it’s easy.”
As the Sundance Film Festival grew beyond its humble origins, so too did the hype in and around town. Navigating the festival is an exercise in navigating hype. Pick up a hot tip on a buzz film while shuttling around town; pick up free crap you know you’ll never need from swag marketers hungry for exposure. Either way it’s a circus, and the energy is palpable: No one wants to miss anything, but there’s always something (or many somethings) that you necessarily must.
Redford addressing Sundance’s hype problem is nothing new – he’s been battling Sundance’s other rep for years, and with mixed feelings about the exposure swag houses and celebrity sightings and exclusive parties bring.
“Success has two sides to it,” he admitted during the opening day press conference. “For example, hype… I’m not going to condone that, and I’m not going to criticize it, because some of that is good for the filmmakers as long as they can keep their head about it.” But really, can you blame those struggling first-time indie filmmakers for stopping off for free snow boots and sunglasses when they haven’t seen, and maybe never will see, a dime for their passion projects?
On the other hand, even established filmmakers need hype. Spike Lee and Stephen Frears are both here this year with new films seeking distribution (Lee’s Red Hook Summer and Frears’ Lay the Favorite). Oscar-winning fest veteran James Marsh (Man on Wire, Project Nim) is back, this time with the narrative feature Shadow Dancer, a drama-thriller starring Andrea Riseborough and Clive Owen. They’ll be jockeying for that coveted intangible – buzz – throughout the next ten days, up against a vast variety of films equally desperate, if not more, for the spotlight.
So here’s a selection of what’s caught my eye at the outset: The host of films from returning recent Sundance darlings, including Elizabeth Olsen in Liberal Arts, her Martha Marcy May Marlene crew with Simon Killer, Brit Marling in Arbitrage, and John Hawkes in The Surrogate; the influx of hip-hop related offerings, like the girl MC narrative Filly Brown, Ice-T’s rap documentary Something from Nothing, the short Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke – a twist on La Jetee starring Uncle Luke of 2 Live Crew, of course – and LUV, starring rapper-turned-actor Common; docs like Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War and the Peter Jackson-supported West of Memphis; and genre offerings including the horror anthology V/H/S, Compliance, co-starring Innkeepers standout Pat Healy, Katie Aselton’s Black Rock, and Gareth Evans’ excellent Indonesian martial arts pic The Raid (which I’ve already seen and would gladly see again and can’t recommend highly enough).
Check back daily as I file Sundance diaries from here in Park City, where I aim to track the trends and the buzz and yes, the hype. Follow and tweet questions to me at @Movieline and @jenyamato, and help me search for the answers to the biggest questions of Sundance 2012. Like, who’s got a +1 to the Drake show?
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[Photo credit: Getty Images]