Sundance 2009: It's a wrap!

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After 10 days, 64 feature films in competition, and untold tons of free stuff, the 2009 Sundance Film Festival has reached its final reel. It’s time to take stock of what the 25th celebration of independent film in the not-quite-so-humble-anymore ski town of Park City, Utah has wrought upon the world of entertainment.

By one measure, not much. The buzz heading into the festival was that, thanks to the shrinking economy and the folding of several studio indie divisions over the past 12 months, this year’s Sundance would be more “quiet,” or “low key,” or “boring” than in years past. And indeed, the sheer number of festival lollygaggers packing their way onto Park City’s Main St. was noticeably lower from the start. “This year it seems like it a little bit more calmed down,” said Jason Ritter, star of the (literally) twisted love story Peter and Vandy, attending his third Sundance since 2005. “It just seems like people are more interested in the movies than the free stuff and the parties…which is just great.” Ritter’s costar Jess Weixler (who won the Sundance jury prize for best actress for the 2007 festival hit Teeth) put it more bluntly: “The tool factor is way lower [this year].” (Also aiding the more easy-going vibe: The sun-dappled weather never dipped below 40 degrees during the day, a welcome rarity for any festival veteran.)

By another measure, however, this year’s Sundance was quite
successful. At least ten movies debuting at the fest found some kind of
distribution, including the violent cop drama Brooklyn’s Finest (which went for a reported $3 million to newly formed Senator Entertainment, with DVD rights going to Sony Pictures); An Education, a coming-of-age drama adapted by novelist Nick Hornby and starring Peter Sarsgaard and festival find Carey Mulligan, which was bought by Sony Pictures Classics for a reported $3 million; and Spread, starring Ashton Kutcher
as a modern “kept man,” which new-kid-on-the-block Anchor Bay Films
reportedly snapped up for $3.5 million, seemingly the highest purchase
price of the fest.

Several films that came to Sundance with distribution
already locked up made a splash while premiering at the festival.
Rudo y Cursi, a comedy about pro Mexican soccer players bought by Sony Classics before the festival, won over audiences in no small part due to the delightful reunion of Y tu mama también stars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna. Twlight‘s Kristen Stewart made a strong impression in Miramax’s Adventureland,
a 1980s-flavored coming-of-age tale set at a second-rate amusement park
that’s due to hit theaters March 27. But perhaps the biggest ker-sploosh was made by Fox Searchlight’s 500 Days of Summer (pictured).
Out in theaters July 24, the playfully unorthodox romantic comedy won a
standing ovation at its debut screening. “Sundance to me has always
been a land of milk and honey,” costar Joseph Gordon-Levitt
told EW.com in an on camera interview. “To come here, and have
something that I’ve done be so well received…it meant the world to me.”

Alas, there were a healthy handful of high-profile films that
entered and left Park City without distribution. Biggest among them:
The highly anticipated Jim Carrey/Ewan McGregor gay/prison romance I Love You Phillip Morris,
which divided audiences with its sharp tonal shifts and (to some) fuzzy
attitude toward same-sex loving. Other films to leave empty-handed:
The meta-drama Cold Souls, starring Paul Giamatti as “Paul Giamatti”; The Greatest, about a family tragedy with Susan Sarandon and Pierce Brosnan; and the meta-documentary-cum-romance Paper Heart, following Michael Cera’s inamorata Charlyne Yi and her quest to discover what love really is.

The festival’s big winner, Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire — which took home the Grand Jury prize, the Audience Award, and a Special Jury Prize for costar Mo’Nique
— also hadn’t found distribution by the festival’s end. That isn’t a
huge surprise given the film’s difficult subject matter, namely
crushing inner-city poverty and child sexual abuse, but director Lee
Daniels wasn’t too concerned. “I’m sure that my agents will be mad at
me because…I don’t want to make money,” he told EW.com after the
awards ceremony last night, still overwhelmed with emotion. “I mean, I
do need to make money, but I don’t care to make money, you know what I
mean? I just
 wanna f—ing tell my truth, and that’s all that matters.”
(Additional reporting by Whitney Pastorek)

Several films that came to Sundance with distributionalready locked up made a splash while premiering at the festival.Rudo y Cursi, a comedy about pro Mexican soccer players bought by Sony Classics before the festival, won over audiences in no small part due to the delightful reunion of Y tu mama también stars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna. Twlight‘s Kristen Stewart made a strong impression in Miramax’s Adventureland,a 1980s-flavored coming-of-age tale set at a second-rate amusement parkthat’s due to hit theaters March 27. But perhaps the biggest ker-sploosh was made by Fox Searchlight’s 500 Days of Summer (pictured).Out in theaters July 24, the playfully unorthodox romantic comedy won astanding ovation at its debut screening. "Sundance to me has alwaysbeen a land of milk and honey," costar Joseph Gordon-Levitttold EW.com in an on camera interview. "To come here, and havesomething that I’ve done be so well received…it meant the world to me."

Alas, there were a healthy handful of high-profile films thatentered and left Park City without distribution. Biggest among them:The highly anticipated Jim Carrey/Ewan McGregor gay/prison romance I Love You Phillip Morris,which divided audiences with its sharp tonal shifts and (to some) fuzzyattitude toward same-sex loving. Other films to leave empty-handed:The meta-drama Cold Souls, starring Paul Giamatti as "Paul Giamatti"; The Greatest, about a family tragedy with Susan Sarandon and Pierce Brosnan; and the meta-documentary-cum-romance Paper Heart, following Michael Cera’s inamorata Charlyne Yi and her quest to discover what love really is.

The festival’s big winner, Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire — which took home the Grand Jury prize, the Audience Award, and a Special Jury Prize for costar Mo’Nique— also hadn’t found distribution by the festival’s end. That isn’t ahuge surprise given the film’s difficult subject matter, namelycrushing inner-city poverty and child sexual abuse, but director LeeDaniels wasn’t too concerned. "I’m sure that my agents will be mad atme because…I don’t want to make money," he told EW.com after theawards ceremony last night, still overwhelmed with emotion. "I mean, Ido need to make money, but I don’t care to make money, you know what Imean? I just
 wanna f—ing tell my truth, and that’s all that matters."(Additional reporting by Whitney Pastorek)

Comments (5 total) Add your comment
  • Ann E. Mouse

    “thanks to the shrinking economy and the folding of several studio indie divisions over the past 12 months, this year’s Sundance would be more “quiet,” or “low key,” or “boring” than in years past.”
    Really? You’re really going with that as the story? I guess as far as the MSM is concerned there are still no gays in hollywood, so then of course those are the only possible reasons.

  • ah

    Actually Ann the Mouse
    Sundance found it’s roots again, and the economy eliminated the promotional fluff, which is a good thing.
    Funny how Jim Carrey saw irony in his gay film being shown in conservative Utah.
    Well, his film found no distribution,
    Maybe the Gays influence in America is self inflated.
    Ya just ain’t all that.
    Live your lives, you’ll be left alone, now leave America and it’s institutions alone.
    ah

  • Pintobean

    Congrats to Push and funny grrrl Mo’nique.
    If we follow Ann the Mouse’s logic, then we’ll stop making movies and reaching out to others. Living our lives means communicating to others and sharing how we feel – sometimes thru a film. Her comments are akin to censorship. And that makes me feel sad. I’ll pray for you Ann – I’ll pray that you get whatever it is that you feel you are lacking, so that you’ll feel content and live your own life and teach others how to live with respect and integrity.

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