Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sundance awards

I'm checking as Variety and Indiewire announce the Sundance Awards winners one by one (online).  Amazing how many WFF's connections there are!  

World Cinema Audience Award for Documentary and World Cinema Jury Prize fro Documentary - MAN ON WIRE (about Philippe Petit who lives up in Ashoken, and the film was shot in part in Ashoken)

Honorable Mentions in Short Filmmaking - include AQUARIUM (award winner at 2007 WFF)

Audience Award for Documentary - FIELDS OF FUEL (exec - produced by Stephen Nemeth, WFF's Advisory Board Member)

Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Cast - Sam Rockwell (WFF alumn), Anjelica Huston, Kelly MacDonald, Brad Henke, for CHOKE

Directing Award for Documentary - Nanette Burstein for AMERICAN TEEN (Produced by WFF's sponsors A&E Indie Films)

Grand Prize for Documentary - TROUBLE THE WATER (co-publicist Judy Arthur, WFF's Advisory Board Member

Grand Jury Prize for Drama - FROZEN RIVER (starring WFF's close friend Melissa Leo; shot in Upstate NY)>  Quentin Tarrantino, after screaming "Cinema Baby! This film rocks my ass!", gave the Grand Jury Prize for Drama to the film, directed by Courtney Hunt.


Back in the Woods

Leaving Utah Thursday morning was a bit frantic, as I could not find my drivers license and had to go through intense security check at the airport, but finally I got through.  After that it was all pretty great.  Waiting to board the plain I hung out with Peter Saraf (producer of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and SUNSHINE CLEANING, the latter just screened at Sundance) and Studio exec Mark Urman, head of THINKFilm, who has two documentaries in the run for the Oscar - A TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE and WAR/DANCE, which screened at Woodstock.  We had a lovely conversation about films, Sundance, and the state of cinema today.

On the plain I sat next to two young men, one is a song writer/ musician, friends with Levon Helm and many other Woodstock musicians, and the other an entertainment lawyer and brother of Annabella Sciora, who attended WFF a couple of times in the past.  We talked off and on throughout the whole flight, which made the time enjoyable and go by fast. 

Coming back to Woodstock was a welcome change.  I did not realize how incredibly tired I was until I hit my pillow the first night.  Sundance takes so much out of you.  Talking to my friend Danielle DiGiacomo from Indiepix the following day, we both compared notes on how tired we were - she almost falling asleep in a meeting, I almost falling asleep on the phone...Yes, its been exhausting, a whirlwind of work, but basically it was all great.  We also compared notes on how "warm" NY is for us now - no need for long johns, or even gloves... not after 8 degree weather...

As I await to hear the results of the Awards tonight (I'm rooting for Melissa Leo for best actress and for Frozen River for best dramatic narrative), I continue to get a flood of e-mails from Sundance friends, all of whom are making their lists of their favorite films.

One close industry member suggested these to me as potential Woodstock films (all great films, I've seen them):
THE BETRAYED by Ellen Kuras (who is a WFF alumn)
ORDER OF MYTHS by Margaret Brown
FROZEN RIVER (of course...)
BALLAST (everyone loved it, film critics and industry alike)
MOMMA'S MAN (a surprise hit in Sundance)
SUGAR (by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who did HALF NELSON)

I have to meet with various sale reps in the coming weeks and see how to pursue some of these, and other Sundance films.  Will go to the city later next week, and so, the programming process will start.  Not to mention that film submission are started to come in, which is always very exciting!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Almost time to say Good Bye

So, its the middle of my last day in Sundance. A bit sad, to be leaving everyone and everything, but also excited about going back home. Already set up a bunch of follow up meetings in NYC after my return, so its all to be continued.

One of the main subject of conversation here is that nothing, yet, really stands out as a runaway hit, the new LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Everyone is always in search of a film that will blow them away, myself included, but so far, that is not really happening.

However, there is a good number of pretty good films. Some of which actually sold for record sum, such as HAMLET 2 which was bought by Focus Features for 10 million... Focus, who distribute ATONMENET this year, among other films, definitely know what they are doing, so I'm sure the film will be a success.

I talk here to the various sale reps about the films I think would be good for Woodstock. Those conversations will continue throughout the year of course, as we put together our lineup for the 9th annual event in October. I know it will be absolutely great!

Hearing of some of the mishaps that have happened to many here, including loss of cell phones (I believe 12 cell phones disappeared at one single party alone, none of which, I bet, had Paris Hilton's number on them, but I'm sure there were plenty of numbers for directors, producers, and other important folks), I'm glad that the only bad thing that happened to me so far was the loss of two pair of gloves... Rest has been pretty good, despite the cold and the running around all day.

Well, I have a couple more movies today, coupld of parties, and one important meeting, and then - off to the East Coast. So better go downstairs (at the Yarrow) to see Melissa Leo for a few minutes, and then to Main Street for another filmmakers/press reception.

Gotta go.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

One more day

Its Tuesday night. There is only one full day left for me here. On one hand I wish I could stay a couple more days, as there is so much more that can be done, but on the other hand, I'm dying to go home...

After 6 parties on Monday, Tuesday was mostly movies. 6 movies to be exact. After checking the Oscar nominations (huge congratulations to DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, I'M NOT THERE, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, WAR/DANCE, SALIM BABA and FREEHELD!), and going to headquarters to get my daily ticket for a public screening, I headed to the Yarrow for a P&I screening of FIELDS OF FUEL. A good film, an important film, focuing on bio diesel solutions, told from the point of view of one bio diesel pioneers and activist. Then it was off to TOWELHEAD, then Morgan Spurlock's humourus and probing documentary WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN (let me give you a clue, he did not find him...). Getting into the theater they were giving out these great Osama Bin Laden milk cartons with M&Ms inside; I got two, one of each of my sons... I saw Morgan on the street later on and talked to him, he was great. I invited him to Woodstock, of course... From there I went to see MAN ON A WIRE, a wonderful documentary about world renowned tight rope walker Philippe Petit. I loved it. I saw it at a public screening, and was glad to see a good number of potential buyers in the audience. Hopefully we'll show it in Woodstock sometime. Then it was back to back narratives, CHOKE, which was bought by Fox Searchlight, and SUGAR, which is still up for grabs. A film critic friend told me it was her favorite movie in Sundance!

In between I managed to go to Main Street for the Sundance Channel party and the Film Aid International gathering. But even though I had a ton of other party invites for today, including one that starts at 1 am (I could actually still go there if I wanted too... not...), I decided to keep today simple, without too many parties. When you hang out on Main Street you basically go from one event to another, whether its a party or various gathering or just lounges, each with complimentary wine, liquor and food, so, while its great, it could be a bit much.

At this point many of the industry folks are getting tired, seeing movies and working non stop from morning to night, and many of them will be leaving tomorrow (and say they can't wait to do so...).

Also, the news of Heath Ledger's passing, which spread like wild fire throughout Sundance, filling everyone with a deep sense of sadness, added a sombre taste to the day.

I'm very tired now, and tomorrow, again, is a long day. I look forward to my breakfast plans with the producing team of BIRDS OF AMERICA, and then an afternoon meeting with the Netflix folks. Of course, there will still be movies in store, and parties. At night there is the NY Film Commission party, which is a huge one, starting at 10 pm. We'll see if I will make it, as I need to get up very early the following morning and head to the airport.

Until next time.

Hanging out at Netflix

Running out to see the documentary BODY OF WAR at the press&industry screening, then MAN ON A WIRE about tight rope walker Philippe Petit, but still thinking how nice, friendly, and genuine Ted Sarandos, CEO of Netlix, to whom we gave our honorary Trailblazer Award this past year, is. Hanging out at his party yesterday was such a pleasure, in part because Ted was so sweet (and he'll definitely come back to Woodstock!), and in part because the crowd, many are new faces (to me) from LA, were all very nice and interested in Woodstock. It was wonderful.

Also, at the Variety party, filled with celebs, from Patti Smith to Jodie Foster, and top industry members, it was nice to run into Woodstock alumns Jonathan Blistein and Ross Partridge, among many.

Today though, is dedicated to movies - hope to see many good ones!

Monday, January 21, 2008

So Melissa Leo and I were hanging out at the Picturehouse party. So many people were impressed with her work, its fantastic. There is a great review of her work in Variey -

"The movie, though, belongs to Leo, a thesp of considerable flinty character and honesty who brings all of her reserves to bear on a big, complex role. Unafraid to show herself weathered by the cold, harsh elements and never working to make auds love her, Leo builds the kind of perf that invites concentration, and then high respect".

Hanging out at the party and talking with her to Bob Berney of Picturehouse, Henry Deas of Variety, and various reporter from The New Yorker to Screen International, it was great to see her experiencing success.

Melissa, who, as an actress, gets to go to all the VIP gifting lounges, was telling me how she took her co-star, Misty, a native american actress, to the gifting lounge for the first time, even though Misty has been to Sundance many times before with native american films. Melissa was very happy to be the one to take Misty to that.

Before the party I saw three movies - FLOW; FOR LOVE OF WATER, which was great, PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND, which I liked but my friend Karen Durbin of Elle did not, and BIRDS OF AMERICA, co produced by Woodstockers Holli and Ed Gersh, which was very nice.

So, off to Variety party, which features Variety 10 directors to watch. Always a very elegant party, one of my favorite at Sundance.

Until next time.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

So its snowing... again... Just got back from a party at Snow Park Lodge on the mountains, where Hollywood Reporter, along with Fuji, Iron Mountain and others celebrated Indie Mogel Bob Berney of Picturehouse. Two separate rooms full with massage therapists - more than 40 all together, were some of the highlights. But most importantly, it was just good to see so many great filmmakers and industry members all in one place, having a great time.

Movies today were okay as well, especially SUNSHINE CLEANING, which, in some ways, reminded me of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, complete with Alan Arkin and his grandson... The movie is a huge hit with the audiences here, I went to a public screening at the Eccels and could sense the excitement from the audience, who was laughing and cheering and applauding. Would be great if we could show it as a special screening in Woodstock.

Well, gotta try and get some rest, as tomorrow is another long day. Actuslly in some ways its the longest day as there are 6 parties back to back, including Netflix, Variety, Picturehouse, Cinetic... and of course, movies, meetings... Until next time.

Movies and more movies

I think I'm getting the hang of going from venue to venue - from Headquarters at the Marriot in the morning, to  the Yarrow Hotel where two screening rooms are dedicated to press & industry screenings, which start daily from 8:30 am - 10:30 pm;  to Eccles, the biggest public screening venue, sitting 1300,  to main street where so many of the parties and filmmakers lounges and all sort of special events are happening morning till night.  The shuttle system here is really great, except when things get so crowded over the weekend and main street is just overwhelmed with folks looking to spot celebs such as 50 cents, who I just saw walking casually on Main towards one of the venues, or Jack Black...

The other night I left the Magnolia Pictures party just as Morgan Spurlock was coming in. Darn. That party was quite wild, with fog machine that filled up the whole condo where the party was taking place, causing the fire alarm to go off and the firemen and police to show up minutes later...  and Karakoe all night long, with film professionals letting loose...As I said, I left just as things were really heating up...

Saturday I ended up seeing 4 movies. Blind Date, by Stanley Tucci and starring himself and Patricia Clarkson was my 8:30 am. Very intense film, and they were both amazing in it.  I remember when Patty was in Woodstock, she was telling me about the film, thinking it might be goo for us.  I'm glad I got to see it.  

Rest of the day included THE GUITAR, written and produced by our friend Amos Poe, directed by Amy Redford, daughter of Robert Redford.  Then it was off to THE WACKNESS, which I saw with our friend Karen Durbin, film critic of Elle Magazine.  We both loved it, she was thrilled she got to see it as she will definitely cover it for Elle. And finally it was ORDER OF MYTH, a very nice doc I saw at the end of the day, along with many industry friends from NY, London, and even Rome...  I was happy to see the director of the London Film Festival there; she and I met in London a couple of years ago, talking about the possibility of collaboration between Woodstock and London, so it was nice to reconnect.

Anyway,  today is Sunday, and again, many screenings in store, along with some meetings, parties, and some surprises I'm sure.

Until next time.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

day one

So the first day started at 4 a.m., when my cell phone rang to tell me my flight was delayed ... great. That meant I was up at 4 a. m. — working.

Newark airport was filled with Sundance-bound travelers. Film critics from Esquire, Time Out, US Weekly ... filmmakers, distributors — and some skiers, of course, too.

After a two-hour delay, we finally took off, to arrive five hours later in Salt Lake City, Utah. And as I was being called to my shuttle from Salt Lake to Park City, a young filmmaker approached me and said: "Are you Meira Blaustein from Woodstock? Thank you so much for blogging about us!"
It turned out it was Seth from "The Linguists," about whom I wrote the day before. He and his colleagues have already read it. We all took the shuttle together; they were so excited about getting into Sundance for the first time!

Arriving in Park City, there were more familiar faces; from actress Melissa Leo to IFP exec director Michelle Byrd; from film critics David D'Arcy and Thelma Adams, to filmmakers Tanaz Eshaghian. As my friend (and former assistant) Rachel Katz and I happened upon a small reception on main street, we were greeted by James Schamus, president of Focus Features and writer/producer of most of Ang Lee's films, as well as actor Colin Farrell!
That was fun. We had a glass of wine and talked.

Getting my press pass and industry pass was crazy. Headquarters at the Marriot was a zoo. Everyone was there. I even heard that the Olsen twins are here, they have been spotted getting their luggage at the airport. And - watch out, Paris Hilton is here!!! Omigod...

Colin Farrell appears on stage before the screening of his film "In Bruges" at the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 17. The film was the opening night movie for the festival. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Well, I'm tired. Its been a very long day. The altitude is getting to me a bit, and the cold and snow everywhere slow things down.
Gotta get organized and then - some sleep would help.
Tomorrow is a big day. Until next time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

ancient languages

People walk passed the historic Aztec Theater on Main Street in Park City, Utah, Thursday morning, Jan. 17. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

I noticed one of the docs making its debut at Sundance this year is "The Linguists," a 70- minute-long film about scientists consumed with documenting languages on the verge of extinction. The film travels to places such as Siberia, India, Bolivia, confronting the forces silencing languages — institutionalized racism and violent economic unrest. The journey takes them deep into the heart of cultures, knowledge and communities at stake.

I have to say that as an Israeli who grew up on ancient languages and had an early interest in them, I really look forward to seeing this film.

Since the filmmakers recently relocated from New York City to Garrison, Putnam County, and one of them lives in Red Hook with his wife and young daughter, and since I happened to get an invitation to their Sundance party, I got in touch with them, just to say hi.

According to Seth Kramer, who has been producing, writing and directing award-winning docs for more than a decade, life in the Hudson Valley, away from the frenzy of competition in NYC and engulfed in fresh air and natural beauty, is conducive to a better ability to focus on the work and to the production of better movies.

The filmmakers are traveling to Sundance with their families, I hope to meet everyone at the party for the film, they sound so nice. They are all so excited, as this is their first film in Sundance. Hopes are high, and is the anxiety, of course.
I look forward to meeting them.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Here Comes Sundance

Every January the anticipation for the Sundance Film Festival heats up for everyone in the independent film world.  Filmmakers, distributors, publicists, journalists, producer reps, entertainment attorneys, festival programmers and directors, actors, all are beginning to focus their work on one things and one place - Sundance in Park City Utah.

The publicists distribute their slates. The film reps distribute theirs. Filmmakers send out invites to their premiere. Industry members send out congratulations to the accepted filmmakers. Companies send out invites to their parties.  And everyone contacts everyone, trying to exchange party invites, cell phone numbers, last meet couches to crash on, and meetings at every possible spot, indoors or outdoors.

My father, who is from Israel and does everything he can to keep away from the cold, is puzzled: "Why are you going to Utah now"? he asks. "Why would anyone hold the most important film festival in the country in the dead of winter in one of the coldest and snowiest parts of United States?  Do you really have to go there Meira?"  And I tell him that yes, indeed I absolutely do have to go there.  Not that I don't wish it was on a nice warm beach somewhere, believe me, I do, but weather is not what we all flock to Sundance for. No, the reason so many of us in the independent film world make the annual pilgrimage to Sundance, is because so many of the brand new, most exciting and innovative films from the country and the world will make their world premiere there, and along with al those great films, over 40,000 influential members of the independent film world will converge. 

Part of my homework between the beginning of January until the day I take off is to contact as many potential sponsors, media, industry executives and filmmakers, who will be attending the event, and set up meetings.  I've already sent ahead a package filled with hundreds of Woodstock Film Festival Call for Entry postcards, brochures, and other promotional material, which I will distribute all over Sundance next week. I also mapped out what films I MUST see and what films I hope to see.  Now I have to continue hooking up with people and setting up meetings.  And of course, pack up my boots and socks, hats and gloves... because it really is soooooooo cold out there. Brrrrr... But I still have a few days.  Taking off Jan 17th, early in the morning - in time to arrive for opening night film.