Monday, January 31, 2011

Final Few Thoughts

Now that I'm back home and finally recovered from the Sundance frenzy I think back about the films, the people, the atmosphere. .. the highs and the lows, the successes and failures. Many are saying that this year was one of the best Sundance they have seen in awhile, and I certainly concur. The films were diverse and provocative, the filmmakers were exciting, the panels were strong and thoughtful and the overall lineup was high in quality and fresh in its approach.

But before talking more specifics about Sundance I'd like to point out something about Slamdance, a smaller more independent film festival that takes place right there in Park City during the Sundance Film Festival. Slamdance is held in one location only, all the way on the top of Main Street, with 2 screening rooms, one venue for panels, and of course, venues for parties. It is young at heart, low in budget and edgy in its approach. This year the programmers took some new risks and programmed a few films that have already screened at other festivals, which was a first for Slamdance. Among those films was Stranger Things, a small and wonderful indie film that world premiered at the Woodstock Film Festival this past fall and ended up winning the Lee Marvin Award for Best Feature Narrative. Well, lo and behold, this little film also won the Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance! I'm so thrilled for the two young directors, Ron Eyal and Eleanor Burke. Its a great validation of their talent and their work and hopefully will help propel them towards continued work and continued success. So here is to you Ron and Eleanor, and here is to you Slamdance programmers for spotting talent and taking a film that has already screened elsewhere! Your decision paid off!

Back to Sundance. This year is going to be known as one of the best for acquisitions. 27 films sold before I left Sundance with a few more days left for additional acquisitions to take place. And without a doubt more acquisitions will occur after everyone has gone home and the frenzy calmed down.

Many of the films we're associated with have been acquired by distributors. From Carly Hugo's Hot Coffee which was bought by HBO to Martha Marcy May Marlene which was bought by Fox Searchlight; and from Pariah (produced by Joey Carey, son of long time Woodstocker Tobe Carey) which was bought by Focus Features to Morgan Spurlock The Best Movie Ever Sold which was bought by Sony Picture Classics and Salvation Boulevard written by Woodstocker Larry Beinhardt which was sold to IFC and Sony. Buyers felt confident this year, noting the quality of the filmmaking and the level of acceptance of quality independent films by the wide audience. Just look at this year's nominees for Academy Awards. Many of them world premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, including The Kids Are All Right and Winter's Bone.

Awards night has also recognized some of the more outstanding films at Sundance this year, including films by WFF alums and friends, such as Martha Marcy May Marlene, Buck, Kinyarwanda, If a Tree Falls and Black Power Mixtapes 1967-1975. Congrats to all.

On the way back home from Sundance I met a documentary filmmaker and journalist who attended Sundance for the first time. She attended without a film, but rather in order to have a meeting with potential funders who, if the meeting was successful, would fund her film in full. Coming back to NY on the plane with me she was very happy as the meeting was a big success and the deal was sealed. I was reminded that there are many reasons for people to make the trip to snow Park City each January. Some are premiering their films, others are buying or programming those films, and others are there to meet those who will help them start a new film. Those are only a few of the reasons that people fly to Park City from all corners of the country and the world each year, there are countless more. Each year these type of people will make that trip, and each year I wish them all great success and hope that some of them will make a stop also at the Woodstock Film Festival a few month later, and / or shoot their next film in the Hudson Valley. Until then - do good work everyone and see you at the movies.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Getting Ready to Leave Sundance

Its the last night. In a few hours it will be time to leave Park City behind. Been here for a whole week, Thursday to Thursday. When you're in Sundance you forget sometimes that there is a whole wide world out there, a world filled with many things that have nothing to do with film... State of the Union happened while we were here; revolution in Egypt... but while here all I do, think, sleep, talk is film film film...

Saw many good movies (and some not so great...) and talked to endless amount of people, but only weeks and months after Sundance will I know how fruitful its all been as there will be much follow up from now on.

This morning's film was about the market crash, possibly the first film about the subject. Margin Call, starring Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany is a strong and eerie film about the sudden collapse of a financial company and all the corruption, implications and devastation that went along with it.

Another film, a doc, about corporate abuse and the legal system was Hot Coffee, a strong and moving film that is also quite educational, I saw quite a few things there that I was not entirely aware of before.

By contrast another movie I saw today, Pariah, a narrative about sexual identity of a black lesbian teenager and the conflicts and relationship between her family was rough, raw and strong.

Rounded it up was The Convincer starring Greg Kinnear, a fun and quirky journey of a insurance sales agent taken over by grid, with a surprising ending.

But the best part of the day was the night's BMI's Snow Ball. The evening featured a series of performances by different artists, with an rousing finale by Robert Randolph and the Family Band. That was GREAT.

And now its time to say good bye. Once I get back to snowy Woodstock I'll go over the past week and see if I can come up with a wise recap. Until then, see you at the movies.

Sundance tid bits

Tomorrow we're going back to Woodstock. Thinking back, I remember fondly a few moments here and there. Like my conversation at the Higher Ground party with Vera Farmiga, along with her two sisters, including Taissa Farmiga who plays beautifully the young Vera in the film. The conversation was philosophical, discussing the essence of the film - a brave journey of self discovery within the closely knit community of evangelical christians.

Or the dinner at Claude and Brice Dal Farray, producers of Higher Ground. A fabulous home made dinner in their gorgeous condo in the midst of all the whirlwind here in Sundance was the perfect break from the never ending frenzy of activities here.

Or the chance encounter with Robert Randolph, the incredible musician, while at the famous BMI dinner here. This dinner is known for its musical chairs, where by after each course everyone is given a random number and gets up and moves to another table, thus changing completely the people they are seating with. Its a great dinner and a wonderful opportunity to meet people.

Among the never ending frenzy here in Park City of running around from venue to venue, brief moments like these provided much appreciated respite.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


It seems as if we have been here forever. Even those I have never seen before are now familiar faces, going to the same movies, hanging at the same parties... after days at Sundance the film community here of thousands of filmmakers had become a family...and soon it will be time to go...

At this point I have seen a good number of films and have heard a lot about many more. As always, much of the buzz revolves around the documentaries. Buck, The Last Mountain, Sing Your Song, When a Tree Falls, Front Page, Project Nim, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold... the list goes on and on. Those that I did not get the chance to see here I'll make sure to see soon after.

In the meantime the narratives are also strong and diverse, with many finding homes with distributors almost as soon as they have world premiered here. Some of the acquisitions I'm excited about include My Idiot Brother, Martha Marci May Marlene, Homework, Margin Call and more. Other films that have gotten great reactions and will hopefully get acquired soon include Higher Ground and Salvation Boulevard.

Its interesting how many films this year deal with religion, cults and individual's relationship with those cults. I can count at least 4 - Salvation Boulevard, Higher Ground, Martha Marcy and Red State. I wonder what it says about the state of independent filmmaking today, and more importantly, about our society today. Usually current trends of filmmaking are a reflection of the current state of our society...

When Kevin Smith's Red State premiered a couple of days ago there were demonstrators outside the Eccles theater who lined up hours before show time; some against the film and its subject, others for it and for the protection of freedom of speech (and those were high school kids! It was great to see them!). Smith announced right after the screening that he will distribute Red State himself (sending some angry distributors out of the room while generating cheers from many of the filmmakers in the 1300 seat theater…). With that Smith joined the independent filmmaker's growing trend of self distribution. And so according to what he said the film will have its first screening in NYC's Radio Music Hall this coming March.

Of course, there wouldn't be Sundance without the endless amount of parties and dinners - some are great ones, and some that aren't the best... but its always this way. There are always some parties where so many of those you have been wanting to talk to are there, and the food and drinks are great; and other parties where you're not sure what you are doing there and you leave quickly...Among my favorite parties so far have been HBO, Cinetic, Higher Ground...I look forward to BMI's dinner, NY's party and couple more.

Until next time

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Another day in Park City, another marathon of screenings and extra curiculum activities. First thing in the morning I headed out to Headquarters (mind you I get up at 5 am in the morning, so heading to headquarters at 8 am is not first thing really, but rather the first thing I do when I go out...) to secure new tickets for public screenings at the press office. Managed to get tickets to Kevin Smith's new film Red State, a film that EVERYONE here is dying to see, and Salvation Boulevard. Soon after I headed to the Eccles to see the 9 am premiere of Tom MacCarthy's (who did Station Agent and The Visitor) new film Win Win. I saw the premieres of his previous films in Sundance, and was looking forward to seeing this one as he's such a wonderful director. Thankfully I was not disappointed. The film was fun, warm, quirky, smart and extremely well crafted and acted. The cast was excellent and I especially enjoyed Alex Shaffer, a new comer who reminded me of Paul Dano a bit. I have no doubt that this young man will go far.

Walking back to headquarters following the screening the snow was coming down, gently at first, then heavier and heavier, and pretty soon I was covered with the white stuff. Strange how it does not bother me here the way it does in NY...There is something about being in a ski resort that allows me to enjoy the cold and snow rather than suffer from it...

Hanging at Headquarters here, as well as the various other filmmakers and industry gathering venues throughout town is always fruitful as you are bound to run into old and new colleagues on every corner and at any given time. Its always good to reconnect as it is to make new contacts, and here in Sundance its easy to do both.

One of today's good afternoon parties was the NYU party. Great drinks, great food and good industry presence. Later on at the Sundance Channel event I was glad to see Jonathan Sehring, head of IFC Entertainment and a former honorary recpipient of our Trailblazer Award.

Later on I was able to catch the film Tryannosaur, a terrific British film, dark, intimate, emotionally charged and extremely well acted.

Soon after I headed back to the Eccles to see the premiere of My Idiot Brother, a charming family comedy that was truly entertaining endearing and should do very well in the box office. But first I hope it will do well with the buyers here, we'll soon know.

Back in Main Street my colleagues and I hit the parties again, always with the goal to promote WFF and HVFC and the Hudson Valley in general. And so we stayed out there until we could do no more, our eyes were closing and our bodies began to freeze as the temperature outside dipped well below freezing. And so we ended up going back to the hotel. Hopefully I'll be able to catch a couple of hours of sleep now as tomorrow, Sunday, is going to be the busiest day!

Good night for now.


What is the difference between a documentary about Harry Belafonte and a fictionalized film about a recovery from life in a cult? EVERYTHING.

Sing My Song, co-produced by Sage Scully who produced Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune which screened in the 2010 Woodstock Film Festival is an inspiring documentary about the life and time of Harry Belafonte. Passionate and proactive in American Civil Rights movement for decades as well as social justice throughout the world, Belafonte's spirit comes to life on the screen, empowering and inspiring, and hopefully moving the younger generation of potential activists to step up. This tireless pursuit of justice and equality, coupled by footage from some of Hollywood's earlier and more colorfully wonderful footage, makes the film a joy to behold and an inspiration to experience.

Following Sing My Song I went to see Martha Marcy May Marlene, a film that was shot in Upstate NY. There has been growing buzz about the film here and since we know so many people in the film I was anxious to see it. And boy, was I glad I did. First of all, Elizabeth Olsen's performance was AMAZING. It made me think of the year when I saw Vera Farmiga in Debra Granik's Down to the Bone. For Vera this performance was her breakthrough and turning point, and my sense is that the same will happen for Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy. The film itself was crafted beautifully, with excellent cast, thoughtful cinematography, great, eerie sound track and carefully nuanced pace that takes you along a spiraling journey that is both frightening and insightful. Its a dark film though, we'll see who it will be acquired by.

In between films there are always parties of course. Yesterday there was US Weekly's party celebrating the publication of our good friend Thelma Adam's book Playdate, IFP's 7 Faces to Watch Party, Israel's Consulate Party, Various films parties, and on and on.

With the weather continuing to be nice (coming from NY, things are always relative...), today promises to be super busy everywhere as the first weekend of Sundance begins. Lots of premieres are afoot and lots of parties are ahead. I'm off to headquarters to get some more tickets for public screening and then off to hit the theaters once again.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Day One

While the flight from Newark to Dallas (our first part of our connecting flight to Utah) was literally empty, with each one of my co-travelers having a 3 seat row to herself (they slept, I worked...can't sleep on planes...), the flight from Dallas to Salt Lake was overbooked. But there almost everyone was heading to Sundance. First person I ran into was Elizabeth Olsen,one of the stars of Peace Love & Misunderstanding which shot in Woodstock this past summer. She was heading to Sundance with two films, including Martha Marcy May Marlene. It was so nice to see her there, in different setting. I remember how nice she was when she was shooting in Woodstock (I did background work on some of her scenes and was struck then by how friendly, nice and talented she was), and I look forward to seeing her today, Friday, in Martha Marcy. She was laughing at the stark difference between these two films, one so sweet, funny and warm, and the other so dark... both are supposed to be very good.

Others we talked to on the plane were friends of Larry Fessenden who were in his film Bitter Feast which we showed in Woodstock last year, they are in a short film here this year; a couple of film financiers and music promoters from Florida (would be nice to connect them with Woodstock), a filmmaker from India with a feature in Slamdance, and that is just what I can remember off was a fun flight, though super crowded.

Getting into headquarters in Park City later than day I ran into a ton of industry friends from all over the country, which is always a good way to start another Sundance. I was happy to get both my industry and press credentials in record time, and was off to main street with my colleagues to have dinner with friends on the sparkly and festive Main street, including the wonderful WFF's long time sponsor Doreen Ringer Ross of BMI, producer Anne Walker - McBay, director Alex Holdridge and others. I expect this to have been my last and only real meal while here, so it was a good way to start Sundance this year.

Now, Friday morning, I'm off to see a couple of Press & Industry screenings and then to the premiere of Martha Marcy., followed by a slew of parties and more screenings. Will see how much I can cram into the next 20 hours before I try to catch another couple of hours of sleep.

Until next time., regards from beautiful Park City, this week's capital of independent film!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Ever since the Woodstock Film Festival was launched in the fall of 2000 the January trip to snowy Park City, Utah has become my annual tradition. Sundance is the launching pad for many emerging and established filmmakers world wide and marks the starting line for a new and exciting crop of films for the given year. Many of these films, seen for the first time by thousands of key taste makers, will go on to garner multitude of coveted awards throughout the year and will be regarded as some of the most evocative, creative and innovative films of that year. The sense of discovery, sitting in the darkened theater, surrounded by all the key distributors and industry members, and seeing an exciting film for the very first time is unparalleled. It is that discovery of an unexpected gem that will later make its way to hundreds and thousands of screens and move millions of hearts that is truly most special. Past films such as Winters Bone, Precious and Memento come to mind.

I’ve traveled to Sundance alone and I have traveled with company. I stayed alone in a hotel room and I stayed with a large group in a condo. Naturally its easier to travel with colleagues, and this year I’m fortunate to travel with both Ilene Marder, our Communication Director and board member, and Heidi Johnson, our Office Manager and Operations Director, as well as friend and colleague actress Reagan Leonard. And I am to meet up with colleagues Katie Cokinos and Anne Walker - McBay of Richard Linklater’s Slacker (which is screening at Sundance’s Collector’s Circle program this year). This should make the trip easier and more fun and I hope we’ll all accomplish a lot and enjoy doing it.

After many preparations, research of the films shown at the festival, connecting with a litany of people from all corners of the country and the world, rsvping to many party invites, setting up some press interviews (for Huffington Post video along with journalist Stewart Nusbaumer) and mapping out the parties and screening schedules, sending off the invite to our Breakfast Party at the NY Lounge in Sundance, and packing lots of warm clothes, I’m finally ready and on my way.

Many films in Sundance and Slamdance have connection to the Woodstock Film Festival and / or Hudson Valley Film Commission which is very exciting. So included in all the films I need to see as I seek out exciting new content for WFF’s year round programming or the upcoming Film Festival this September there will be many films with connections to us.

Some of the highlights include Higher Ground which was shot in the Hudson Valley, directed by and starring the wonderful Vera Farmiga (very excited about going to the premiere Sunday at the Eccles). The comedy My Idiot Brother produced by WFF’s advisory board member and good friend Peter Saraf; Martha Marcy Mary Marlene produced by WFF’s advisory board member and good friend Tedd Hope with sound design by Woodstocker Coll Anderson; Salvation Boulevard based on the novel by Woodstocker Larry Beinhardt and much more. I look forward to seeing them all with the hope of bringing many of them to the Hudson Valley.

And so with jam packed schedule of activities all planned (though I know it will all change once I get there…all good plans do…), the goal to promote the Hudson Valley in general and WFF and HVFC in specific, and the hope to bring films, filmmakers, press, sponsorship and new industry connections, I’m prepared to give up sleep for the next week and embark on yet another snowy Sundance.