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David Poland

By David Poland

Observations On Sundance 2012

Today is Getaway Day for Sundance. It started in earnest on Tuesday, but by the end of today (Wed), the town of Park City will look a lot more like Park City and the city infrastructure that is created each year to manage 10,000+ visitors over a 5 day period will begin to seem excessive.

Every category of festival attendant falls in numbers, by half or more, today. Buyers, filmmakers, talent, journalists, publicists… everything but the great staff and volunteer staff of the fest.

The journey to today has been interesting. The noise around the festival was much reduced this year. There were still dinners and concerts and parties (oh my!). But even over the crazy first weekend, there seemed to be literally half the number of people on Main Street, clamoring for parties and celebrity sightings, than last year or any year in the last 6 or 7. The SWAG houses were here… but in much smaller numbers as well.

What there was, ironically, were more branded spaces by media than in the past. So while there used to be just an EW photo studio, there seemed to be 4 or 5 on Main Street. While there used to be 3 or 4 people from the New York Times in town, this year, there seemed to be a dozen. indieWIRE’s footprint in town was significantly greater than its output of content. And there was even more video going on than last year, which was really the year of the video boom up here. (This was our 5th year producing video during the festival.)

There was a ton of hype going on before the festival about how great a year this was going to be for sales. It hasn’t panned out that way. I have no doubt that in the end there will be a lot of these films rolling out to the same group of veteran and newcoming distributors as we saw here last year and in Toronto in September. And you can’t even say there won’t be some crazy buys, as no one saw Searchlight paying over $6 million to get a movie about a guy in a bed… even if it wins an Oscar for John Hawkes next year at this time. (No doubt they loved the film… but didn’t they look at the grosses for The Sea Inside and Whose Life Is It Anyway?)

There have been some buys – including Lionsgate/Roadside trying to re-create the magic of Margin Call with Arbitrage, which strikes me as comedic – but it’s not been a ferocious market… not even with a bunch of newcomers jumping in a’ la TIFF. (The most interesting newcomer is LD Distribution, aka Mickey Lidell and David Dinerstein, which picked up Black Rock, a challenging sell, but potential big-return thriller with three hot chicks fighting 3 disturbed Iraq veterans to the death.)

The big critical darling has been Beasts of the Southern Wild. The most commercial film so far is Bachelorette. The group “found footage” horror film, V/H/S is a born classic for its core audience. There are a load of great docs, many of which are exposing extreme stories of power inequity in very creative ways… though there is no clear rock star this year so far.

I, for one, am looking forward to the next few days of movies first and machinery second. And away we go…

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19 Responses to “Observations On Sundance 2012”

  1. LYT says:

    Isn’t it going till Sunday? everybody leaving now feels like the typical LA thing of leaving parties too early.

  2. sanj says:

    DP – how fast will you add the sundance dp/30’s ?

    i think i watched most of 2011 sundance ones …

    also free Sarah Polley and put her dp30 up …

  3. Paul D/Stella says:

    As per usual it sounds like there were some real gems. I’m really excited about Compliance and V/H/S.

  4. Don R. Lewis says:

    V/H/S just sold to Magnolia

  5. torpid bunny says:

    Compliance sounds like a tremendous premise, a perfect horror scenario with massive implications. But would I want to see it? The furor around it is interesting and shows for me that there is some real oh shit this is happening stuff in there. The idea that it is exploitative is perhaps plausible but seems more like a comforting self-righteousness than an honest assessment of what appears to be a perfectly told real crime story. That said, I’m not sure I want to see 100-120 minutes of perfectly rendered human hostility, just because it’s perfectly rendered.

  6. Don R. Lewis says:

    You basically just nailed what was going through my mind as I watched that film. I knew the story pretty well and agreed with your point- I didn’t need to see it. BUT…COMPLIANCE is very much a horror film and as much as I hate the term “torture porn,” it does rather apply here. Those same qualms can be made about ANY horror film though so yeah, if you don’t want to see it, no one will convince you and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who doesn’t want to witness it. At the end of the day, the film is a reflection not only of “power” and obedience but also will have differing effects on each person who sees it which to me, is a powerful film.

  7. Jason says:

    This blog…it’s FRIDAY, and nothing new to lead? Come on, man…Getaway Day was days ago.

  8. anghus says:

    sundance seemed rather tame this year.

  9. LexG says:

    Not just the Hot Blog, but it’s ironic that Sundance seems to shut down interest and activity on EVERY blog; Every web critic and real critic descending on Sundance on SOMEBODY’s dime, ostensibly to seek out all these new movies and land interviews… But the actual READERS aren’t privy to any of these movies and won’t see them for SIX MONTHS, so nobody reads or responds to any of the coverage; While all these guys are stroking themselves on Twitter about their SCOOPS! and DEALS! and SUNDANCE EXCLUSIVES, nobody out here in the real world cares or reads any of the coverage; Even someone like Wells who gets 50 comments if he makes a post about his SHOES or some FAT WOMAN gets absolutely ZERO COMMENTS on every single thread about Sundance.

    I’m sure there’s plenty of interesting flicks, but to an outsider it just sounds like a sea of Duplass movies and beardo actors patting themselves on the back, and 99% of this stuff is NEVER heard from again, or comes and goes within a week (HOMEWORK/ART OF GETTING BY.)

  10. Joe Leydon says:

    LexG: Since you like ’em young, what do you think of Kara Mynor?

  11. sanj says:

    i watched several sundance 2012 videos from hitfix mostly under 10 minutes – they post videos faster than DP does.

    so by the time DP does post the dp/30’s …. i won’t be shocked or whatever when the actors say the same things
    they said to the the hitfix dude.

    hard to tell which seems more important 50 videos from hitfix under 10 minutes or 25 dp/30’s …

  12. Hallick says:

    “Not just the Hot Blog, but it’s ironic that Sundance seems to shut down interest and activity on EVERY blog; Every web critic and real critic descending on Sundance on SOMEBODY’s dime, ostensibly to seek out all these new movies and land interviews… But the actual READERS aren’t privy to any of these movies and won’t see them for SIX MONTHS, so nobody reads or responds to any of the coverage; While all these guys are stroking themselves on Twitter about their SCOOPS! and DEALS! and SUNDANCE EXCLUSIVES, nobody out here in the real world cares or reads any of the coverage; Even someone like Wells who gets 50 comments if he makes a post about his SHOES or some FAT WOMAN gets absolutely ZERO COMMENTS on every single thread about Sundance.”

    It might have something to do with the fact that 95% of the reporting that comes out of Sundance is basically, “Man! I’m so fucking busy I don’t have time to write about this incredible movie I just saw right now, but I will later, promise!, Well, the festival’s just about over, I’m totally exhausted, it’s such a blur, hopefully I can write more about that incredible movie when somebody releases it eight months from now when I’ll have completely moved on emotionally to the Toronto Film Festival and only refer to the film in passing as if I’ve been talking about it for most of the year since I’ve pretty much digesting everything I have to feel about it but never quite got around to writing something. Bummer! Catch ya next year Park City!”

  13. sanj says:

    Hallick – that’s exactly what happened to martha marcy may marlene – DP did a dp/30 at sundance and then 8 months later another dp/30 …

    Liz Olsen has another movie at sundance this year …
    wondering if she’ll get another dp/30 ..

    DP should try to get the Olsen twins .

  14. Don R. Lewis says:

    I know you were being sarcastic, but that was pretty damn spot-on! But it IS a brutally exhausting festival. The altitude is rough on most people as is the snow/slush and cold. I’d guess 80-85% of people either come into the fest sick with a cold that gets worse or leave with one because you’re on crowded buses and in packed lines and theaters all day long. Plus, if you do parties…. more germs, yelling, exhaustion.

    Almost every writer I know is doing 3-4 movies a day from 9am-10pm and some even do 5. I roomed with a guy who saw 34 movies in 6 days and was turning in reviews. Speaking of rooming…

    I slept in freeking BUNK BEDS below and beside 3 people I’ve never even met. One dude I didn’t even see until we were both checking out of the condo. It’s just a long, rough trip. I’m sure most of you are rolling your eyes and thinking “oh yeah! So tough to be at SUNDANCE!” But the people doing the work aren’t the ones up on Main Street waiting for Tracey Morgan to wake up.

  15. David Poland says:

    Truth is… a festival, done properly, is not meant for “blogging.” The need to have endlessly vomited out opinion without consideration or real thought by overtired, hyper-busy people is not how to do it.

    When I started doing my daily column from Telluride, about 13 years ago, I was burning the candle at both ends… and alone in doing so. And it was a bit idiotic. I was proud of my youthful energy, but the films, filmmakers, and even I as a writer, deserved better.

    The DP/30 thing is a fair example. It is cool to have content coming out within hours of it happening. But what is it serving, aside from ego?

    I am wrestling with it. And it needs some serious wrestling. Those of us who choose to maintain enough perspective to think it is worth considering must move in a thoughtful direction and not just go over the cliff with our colleagues.

    Meanwhile, you can read a bunch of reviews from Kim Voynar, who is staying focused on seeing and reviewing movies.

  16. Hallick says:

    I’m not one of those people sitting back with their arms folded thinking “Shut the hell up about your runny nose and your shitty condos! You’re being paid to see movies at Sundance!”. I’ve done marathon sessions at festivals in San Francisco and Mill Valley and I get that just squeezing in time to grab a decent meal can be a grail quest unto itself. I’m not looking for 20,000 words on each individual movie, but looking for a few paragraphs about the films every day or two doesn’t seem all that objectionable an expectation.

  17. sanj says:

    >The DP/30 thing is a fair example. It is cool to have >content coming out within hours of it happening. But what >is it serving, aside from ego?

    the worldwide audience – don’t you have people around the world waiting for these to go up ?

    plus actors using social media to prmote their films – can only get you more viewers who haven’t heard of you before ..

    plus your up against new tv shows – watch 1 hour drama
    or 2 dp/30’s …

    also DP – i watched miss representation …only cause you mentioned it in a dp/30 interview.

  18. Don R. Lewis says:

    Just to toot our own horns…Film Threat is going to review about 90% of the films at Sundance and the reviews are almost all done and posted there 😉

    As DP alluded to, there were 2 (“Compliance” and “Room 237”) films that required more thought from me than just spewing out a review from the lobby of a hotel. Those are forthcoming but there’s a ton of stuff on FT already.

  19. Joe Leydon says:

    Have to sympathize with David here. World-class festivals — Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, Berlin and a few others – can be unbelievably brutalizing in ways non-journalists will find difficult to understand (and, yes, almost impossible to sympathize with.) Put it like this: If you are attending screenings AND doing interviews AND filing throughout the event — even if you’re just filing daily wraps — that means you’re devoting at least four hours (including travel time and time spent in line) to every film you cover. At least, that’s how it averaged out for me back when I was covering festivals for a daily newspaper. Add doing the occasional full-length review and/or video interviews to the mix, and I’ll wager that number goes up to five hours. Every time you say yes to one thing, that usually means you’re saying no to 3 to 4 other things. And even while you’re watching a movie you really enjoy, or getting great quotes from someone you’re interviewing, there always is the nagging suspicion in the back of your head that at that very moment, somewhere else at the festival, they’re screening The Next Big Thing, and you’re missing it.

The Hot Blog

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon