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Sundance


The 2021 Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 28 - Feb.3, in Park City, Utah

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Nerves On Edge As Sundance FF Opens in 48 Hours

 Robert DeNiro, John Turturro and Stanley Tucci in WHAT JUST HAPPENEDRobert DeNiro, John Turturro and Stanley Tucci in WHAT JUST HAPPENED

Tuesday, January 15----------The jangle of nerves and breathless anticipation are reaching a fever pitch, as film professionals from around the globe prepare to descend on the tiny ski resort of Park City, home to the Sundance Film Festival. A town of 10,000 that swells to nearly 50,000 during the Festival period, the tension is mounting as filmmakers, film sellers and film buyers all come together in a frenzy of pitching, screening, critical reaction and, of course, the desire for a film sale. Which of this year's crop will match the buzz of the current JUNO or last season's  LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE?

For filmmakers and their reps, Sundance is high noon. Just think about it.....the Festival receives over 3000 submissions from around the world, with slots available for about 120 feature films in total (in all its sections). I'm not a math major, but that's less than 5% of all the submissions. So, once you get the announcement in November that you are in, then the pressure really starts. Those with unfinished films have to come up with post-production monies in a hurry. Publicists and film agents must sign agreements with nervous and edgy filmmakers to have a slate that is buzz-worthy. Festival programmers and film critics must create a screening strategy that allows them to see the maximum number of films during the typical 6 day stay (impossible to sample everything). And then there's the strategic planning of how to get into the parties and exclusive VIP events, where schmooziing is de rigeur and one's next invaluable contact is only a martini away.

For this year's session, 50 first-time filmmakers are having their debut at the event, with fewer than 20 of the feature films set to screen having US distribution in place. That means that about 100 new feature films are arriving at the festival with available U.S. rights. With the on-going WGA strike creating a vacuum of available titles for distributors and what has generally been the poor performance of many documentaries and low budget indies at the box office this past year, this Sundance could be the busiest one in years when it comes to acquisition pickups (even though many films picked up at last year's Sundance were certainly underperformers at the box office). Some films, because of their higher profile casts, seem assured of making that essential Sundance deal. A case in point is WHAT JUST HAPPENED, the latest film from Barry Levinson (Oscar winner for RAIN MAN), which boasts a stellar cast that includes Robert DeNiro, Bruce Willis, Sean Penn, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Robin Wright Penn and Catherine Keener. With that lineup, how can the film lose, unless it is pronounced an out-and-out stinker.

Many of the films available for sale are being handled by a shrinking number of sellers/reps, including Cinetic Media, CAA, UTA, William Morris Independent and Submarine. Cinetic Media, headed by veteran schmoozer John Sloss, is bringing a record 19 projects to Sundance (don't expect Mr. Sloss to get much shut-eye in the next two weeks). Among the films that Sloss and company are hawking in Park City are: Nanette Burstein's "American Teen" , Christopher Bell's "Bigger, Stronger, Faster," Sean Ellis' "The Broken," Chris Waitt's "A Complete History of My Sexual Failures," Bernard Shakey's "CSNY: Deja Vu," Terry Kinney's "Dimished Capacity," Amy Redford's "The Guitar," Patrick Creadon's "I.O.U.S.A.," Ricardo de Montreuil's "Mancora," Azazel Jacobs' "Momma's Man," Ellen Kuras & Thavisouk Phrasavath's "Nerakhoon" (The Betrayal), Margaret Brown's "The Order of Myths," Randall Cole's "Real Time," Trygve Allister Diesen & Lucky McKee's "Red"(with Submarine), Marina Zenovich's "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" (with Submarine), Christine Jeff's "Sunshine Cleaning," Brad Anderson's "Transsiberian," Carl Deal & Tia Lessin's "Trouble The Water," and Barry Levinson's "What Just Happened".

While the high profile films in this year's roster will be the first to announce major deals, it remains to be seen what happens to the bulk of the Festival's program: no-budget, no star American indie films and a rash of international titles. Although these underdogs can miraculously turn out to be specialty gems that eventually do connect with audiences (see such recent Sundance faves as HALF NELSON, ONCE, WAITRESS, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE), the Sundance asking prices are invariably off the charts, and many buyers will prefer to wait until after all the initial hooplah has passed (unless they feel that they must compete in a bidding war on the spot).

There's not much chance to sleep and plenty of reasons for nerves to fray, all in the sub-zero temperature high above sea level that is Park City in mid January. And for many, who braved the odds of simply getting into the Festival, they will descend from the mountaintop without the dream offer that they so hope for. Sundance is not everything, but it is still a game for nerves of steel.

Sandy Mandelberger, Sundance FF Editor

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Ambiance from Park City Sundance film Festival January 19-29, 2012.

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