Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Getting ready to leave

The time has come to pack up and leave Sundance 2010. At the last party I went to, a nice, small gathering at a private condo thrown by the Zipline company (a new marketing, publicity and distribution company that has set new models here in Sundance with films such as Bass Akward), we all got to have real conversations with people rather than yell at each other's ears, as we do in some of the big, crowded and loud parties. Conversations were about war movies (Restrepo, The Dry Land), about new trends of distribution (Do It Yourself, youtube, itune, amazon...etc) and about the end of the era of large studios...It was a good way to bring Sundance to an end.

In the past few days I have seen many films, including Welcome to the Rileys with Melissa Leo, James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart. The cast was great and the story intimate and tight. It was good to see Melissa shine again. I also finally got to see Leon Gast's film Smash His Camera - terrific film, masterfully done! I loved it. I saw it at a P&I screening and was pleased to see that the audience, made of industry and press, stayed with the film throughout, laughing at the right moments, gasping at the right moments, and sticking around until the last frame and the last credit. Leon has become quite the hit here in Sundance. I missed the BMI Roundtable as I had to go to a screening, but I heard that out of all the many directors and composers on that roundtable, Leon was the biggest hit. People came to me afterwards and thanked me for introducing them to him (as I've been doing here and there when I was at the same event here with Leon).

At the BMI dinner Tuesday night at Zoom, a great event where everyone has to get up after each course and move to another arbitrarily pre-assigned table so that you always set with different people at each course, I sat down first with Leon and his wife Geri along with Bob Gruen, the manager of Alice Cooper and others, but quickly moved to other tables to sit with totally different people, getting the chance to meet those I otherwise would have never talked to. It was great.

I also got to see Heidi Ewing and Rache Grady's documentary 12th & Delaware. Amazing film. The craftsmanship is superb and the story they tell, a tale of two clinics on the same corner, one performing abortions, the other a pro life center that tries to change the young women's mind before they go ahead with an abortion, is strong, tight, disturbing and moving at the same time. I applaud both filmmakers for creating such a sensitive and strong film.

Sitting one day at the Filmmakers Lodge in Sundance I got into a conversation with The Dry Land writer / director Ryan Pierce Williams and producer Heather Rae (Frozen River, The Dry Land) and talked about the process of shooting the film in Texas and New Mexico (they loved shooting there), about working with the actors, about how much Ryan loved working with editor Sabine Hoffman and how much he appreciated her dedication and emotional investment in the film... I plan on interviewing Ryan when we're all back in NY and hope to show the film sometime prior to its release.

Heading out of Sundance now. Will try to recap things in a day or two. Until then, stay warm!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Still in Sundance. Just heard a filmmkaer sitting next to me saying that this week has been the most stressful ever...Oh boy. Once again I am reminded that Sundance can be hard to manage. Its so big, so many things are going on, so many people try to achieve so much, it certainly can get stressful. For me one the main challenges is to manage my time as I constantly get pulled in conflicting directions. Shall I go to the movie on my schedule or shall I go to that party? Shall I move my meeting, risking cancelling it all together, or shall I keep the meeting and forgo the screening everyone says is a must see? Shall I forgo everything for a couple of hours and go to my hotel room and disappear and re-energize, or shall I just continue to go go go? Normally I just go go go.

I was glad to have seen Mother & Child yesterday, starring Hudson Valley part time resident Naomi Watts, who was excellent in it. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia (son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez) the film is a beautifully crafted tappestry of relationships and motherhood told in gentle strokes through three interweaving stories. I think it will do well in the box office once it hits the theaters.

Another film I caught yesterday was Gasland, a documentary about "fracking". Very interesting, disturbing and well done, I hope to bring it to the Hudson Valley before long.

I was also happy to see The Imperialists Are Still Alive, a dramatic narrative that takes on an innovative approach all of its own in terms of style and subject. A brave work by a team of women writer / director and producer. I look forward to see what those two will do next.

Somewhere in the middle of the day yesterday I got to interview Davis Guggenheim, the director of the Sundance hit Waiting for Superman, a comprehensive exploration of our ailing educationa system. Davis, who did An Incovenience Truth a couple of years ago and with it delved into a social action campaign that made an impact on our lives, plans to develop similar campaign for Superman with the goal to impact the public education in the US. If anyone can do it, Davis can, and I wish him luck!

Today I'm interviewing the Duplass Brothers as well as the director of Bass Ackwards, looking forward to both. Couple of meetings, a few parties and the tradional BMI Sundance dinner (where I'm told in the middle of the meal everyone is asked to get up and change seats so that they are forced to start talking to new people), as well as film screenings will fill my day. And oh yea, forgot to mention; its snowing again! What a surprise...thankfully I'm going to remain indoors at Headquarters for the next couple of hours as after that its going to be out into the snow for the day.

Until next time. See you at the movies.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday party Sunday...

It was fun to cap off the day with Lyle Lovett at The Dry Land party Sunday night. The place was jam packed, including America Ferrera, Scott Ritter, Donovan Leitch, Melissa Leo, Josh Radnor and an endless amount of people who packed the room. Lyle played a great set. Talking to America at the party I was moved to see her dedication to the film (The Dry Land) and how much she championed it since it was only an idea germinating in the filmmaker's mind. It was also great to see Melissa Leo letting loose and dancing on the floor. Melissa has been having a great year and has many reasons to celebrate, I was happy to see her do that.

Prior to that there were so many other parties. The HBO party up at the Canyons was, as always, a swanky event situated a gorgeous ski resort with great food, excellent industry participation and good time. Adrian Grenier who is here with his documentary Teenage Paparazzo was there, along with Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) who is on the Documentary jury and many filmmakers and industry.

There was also the Fuji party at another ski resort, filled with a battery of massage therapists (I got a great massage!) and oxygen bar (I tried that as well...) and once again lots of great food and drinks.

Leon Gast's gallery reception, featuring Ron Galella's work, was held earlier in the day. Thelma Adams (US Weekly), David D'Arcy (Screen International), and of course Leon and his subject, Ron Galella and many more mingled about, viewing Galella's work and discussing the film and the various films everyone has seen so far at Sundance. Called The Picasso of Paparazzi in the Entertainment Weekly's review of Smash His Camera earlier on Sunday, Ron, Leon and the team had a reason to celebrate.

Special events with senator Barbara Boxer surrounding the documentary Climate Refugees were held at the same time at another venue on main street, attracting a lot of attention as people clamored to hear what Barbara Boxer had to say regarding global warming and climate related issues. The documentary, executive produced by WFF's advisory board member Stephen Nemeth is screening at Sundance. Very good film that should be seen by many.

In between parties of course there were movies to be seen (well, its really vice versa...). I was happy to see Cyrus on Sunday, the new film by Mark and Jay Duplass, who used to attend WFF ever since their first film The Puffy Chair. It was amazing to witness how much these talented brothers have grown. The film, starring John C. Reily and Marissa Tomei was charming, intimate, unique and compelling.

Then of course was the world premiere of The Dry Land, the film thatfriend and WFFs' advisory board member Sabine Hoffman edited, and friend and Hudson Valley resident Melissa Leo co-stars in. Very strong film, starring and executive produced by America Ferrera, with an amazing performance by lead actor and new comer Ryan O'Nan. The film focuses on the struggles of an American soldier as he tries to reconcile his traumatic experiences in war with his life back home. It was great to see how well received the film was. Wising it lots of luck! Wising all the Sundance films that are associated with us. Here is to all of you!

Saturday in Sundance

The first Saturday in Sundance. By now almost everyone is here. The snow is still coming down and the streets and walkways are covered with snow and slush and everything that has to do with, well, a lot of snow...The celebrities have flocked to the snowy ski resort as well, attending screenings, parties, panels, various special events and even just hanging in the streets. The list is endless (and I'm not one to drop names...), but imagine if you will Kristen Stewart, James Franco, Marisa Tomei, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Moore, Lyle Lovett, and Paris Hilton all in one room... and that is just a tiny snippet.

But being in Sundance is all about the movies. You watch, talk, think, pitch, listens, discovers and dissects movies. In the theaters, on the shuttle buses, at the parties, on the streets. Everywhere. And everyone seems to be excited to be in the midst of it all. Its Sundance after all, where new worlds are discovered.

My day started with the screening of one of the most talked about surprise hits in Sundance,a small documentary about the age of Facebook, titled Catfish. Loved it. Charming, funny, compelling, intense at times and totally fresh, this film takes you on a journey with the filmmakers and their subject as he goes through an intense Facebook relationship that twists and turns like any great thriller. Going in I saw the whole team from the IFC Films. I wonder if by now they have already bought it...

Next I headed to the Eccles for the world premiere of Debra Granik's Winter Bone. I remember sitting in that theater a few years ago, watching her feature directorial debut and the world premiere of Down to the Bones, a film that was shot in the Hudson Valley and discovered Vera Farmiga... As the Sundance programmer introduced Debra she recalled that as well...Debra is an eloquent and serious filmmaker who is very generous towards her cast and crew. As she talked about their process of collaboration you could see that their camaraderie and mutual appreciation was deep and true.

A couple more films on Saturday, Davis Guggenheim's Waiting For Superman and Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Jack Goes Boating filled the rest of the day for me, leaving room for a few parties in the afternoon and late into the night. I look forward to interviewing Davis Guggenheim later on about Waiting for Superman, an important film about our education system. And I hope to bring Jack Goes Boating to Woodstock for a special screening! Hoffman is sooooooo great. We all know what an amazing and versatile actor he is, but now he proved to be also a deep and talented director.

In between and after movies I managed to go to a few parties, some at restaurants on Main Street, others at condos. Meeting so many filmmakers and industry members, from marketing directors, casting directors, financiers, producers, entertainment attorneys and on and on, the conversation always turns to the Woodstock Film Festival and I'm always happily surprised to hear the great reputation that the festival has, so far reaching and so good. These words are always music to my ears and I'm happy to invite those who have never been but would love to come to do so. Having new faces, new movers and shakers from the film world in Woodstock and the Hudson Valley is good for everyone; good for the economy, good for future film production in our area, good for the community and good for the newcomers. So expect many exciting new faces in Woodstock this fall. It will be great.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

First full day in Sundance has come and gone

The first full day at Sundance has come and gone, and what a snowy one it has been. I think the snow has started coming down early in the morning and went on and on all day. Everywhere you went you were knee deep in snow, slush and the occasional puddles. Luckily most of us were sensible enough to wear good snow boots so wadding in the snow was not that much of a problem other than slowing everything down.

Standing at Headquarters Friday morning sipping hot tea before heading out I ran into Michael Moore who seemed completely unfazed by the weather as he got ready to go to a screening. I headed out shortly after and made it to my first movie of the day.

Get Low is a film about a an elderly hermit who has been nursing a secret too painful for words for over 40 years. The film is set in the 30's and is remarkably beautiful to look at. The hermit, Felix Bush, portrayed exquisitely by Robert Duval, finally gets ready to unveil his secret, assisted throughout by the local funeral home owner played by Bill Murray. The two give great performances.

Next I headed to Eccles to see Happythankyoumoreplease, a film with a local connection to the Hudson Valley as Woodstocker Jade Healy was the production designer on the film (and she did a great job!). Written, directed and starring by the talented Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) the film was definitely a crowd pleaser, receiving a standing ovation at the end from the sold out audience. Funny, witty, alternately heart warming and heart breaking this was an overall feel good movie for the hip generation. Set in NYC East Village the film features a cast of "hipsters" as they all work on their respective relationship and on themselves. Talented cast, smart writing, plenty of witty humor and a good number of emotional situation that could tug at your heart should make this film an enjoyable experience for a wide audience.

Later it was time to get ready for our Woodstock Film Festival party at the Yarrow. I was happy to welcome directors, producers and other industry folks from throughout the country to our gathering and watch them as they networked and had a good time. Thanks to 120dBfilms for sponsoring the party!

And thanks to all who came - Cynthia Kane of the San Francisco based ITVS, Stephen Nemeth of the LA based Rhino Films (here in Sundance with the film Climate Refugees), Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing who are world premiering the doc 12th & Delaware in Sundance, Jonathan Gray and his partners, Jason Kliot and Joana Vicnete, Peter Saraf (here with Jack Goes Boating and Lucky), Louiville KY based producer Gill Holland, producer Amy Hobby (here at Slamdance with the new Steven Soderbergh film), Variety film critic John Anderson, Woodstocker Leon Gast and his team (here with Leon's new doc Smash His Camera) and so many more...

Here is to all of you. See you again out in the snow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

First film

Just a quick note about the documentary Restrepo which I saw last night at the Eccles. It was the film's world premiere. Directed by a couple of veteran journalists from Vanity Fair who lived with and documented their subjects for a whole year. The film brought you up close and personal with a platoon at the deadliest valley in Afghanistan. You lived through their constant, terrifying and at times deadly fights with the often unseen enemy, you got to know their fears and their dreams, you were swept away into their special camaraderie, you learned to respect their skills and their tenacity, and you asked yourself why, why, why are they there...

The house was full (it seats 1,300), with people like Michael Moore in the audience...and everyone stayed for the Q&A. Sundance new festival director John Cooper remarked that this was the biggest audience Sundance has had for a documentary...

Co-executive produced by National Geographic I know the film will have television broadcast. We'll see if it will have theatrical release as well. I wish the film luck.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

First day

Its Sundance once again. Getting off the plane in Salt Lake is already a scene as planes arrive at the same time from all corners of the country carrying filmmakers and industry, and they are all getting their luggage at the same time...crazy. I was lucky to run into Jason Kliot, film producer with Open City, who is one of the jurors at the festival this year. As a jury member Jason is assigned a driver who will stick with him throughout the whole festival, starting at the airport where he came to pick him up. Jason is a great guy, and true to his kind nature he offered me a ride to my hotel in Park City. And so we ended up driving through the snowy mountainous road from Salt Lake to Park City in style. Thank you Jason.

Arriving at Headquarters in the Mariott, the place was buzzing with folks getting in, registering, setting up meetings, and buzzing about the new films. Everywhere you go you run into people you know, a great gathering place. One of the first people I ran into was the wonderful David Strathairn who is in Howl, one of tonight's opening night films. That film has the biggest buzz in town so far, can't wait to see it.

Another film everyone has been talking about is Davis Guggenheim's (An Inconvenient Truth) Waiting for Superman which was just acquired by Paramount, the first big acquisition in Sundance. I'm interviewing Davis on Monday for a video segment, very excited about that. Will make sure to see the film first of course.

After the Mariott and after sitting down with Stewart with whom I'll be doing the video interviews, I headed off to the main Supermarket here to stock up on some basic healthy foods - fruits, vegetables, juice...and of course, I kept on running into colleagues there as well. As I was standing there between the milk and the yogurts chatting with Sandy Dubowski, an old filmmaker friend, another one joined us, joking that this is THE place to meet friends...and he was right...

Soon I'm going to see Restrepo though, a film documenting one year, one platoon, in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan. Should be very strong. We're interviewing the filmmakers in a couple of days also.

Tomorrow promises to be a very busy day. Lots of movies; the Woodstock Film Festival party, other parties. Will try to catch some sleep later on as after that the Sundance marathon will be in full force.

Until next time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Getting Ready

Two days before take off. Things are beginning to get crazy. Why do all the invites come in so late? I have so many conflicts in my schedule its ridiculous. Can someone see a movie, go to a party and conduct an interview all at the same time? I don't think so...

Some of the buzz films right now are Howl, Welcome to the Rileys and Happythankyoumoreplease, all with connections to the Hudson Valley, all films I'm going to see. Looking forward to it.