Launching Films And Careers

The Sundance Film Festival has, over its 10-year history, established a hot Hollywood reputation as a launching pad for both independent films and young directors.

Steven Soderbergh is probably the quintessential Sundance star, getting his big break after “Sex, Lies And Videotape” captured the Audience Award in 1989. The film became the object of a high-priced bidding war among distributors, and Soderbergh was deluged with offers.

Other well-known films and directors have emerged from the Utah incubator over the years. Charles Burnett’s “To Sleep With Anger,” which garnered rave reviews and landed on numerous 10-best lists last year, won 1990’s Special Jury Award.

Burnett, in fact, is a regular in Park City, bringing “Killer Of Sheep” to the festival in 1982 and “My Brother’s Wedding” in 1984. “My Brother’s Wedding” in 1984. Last year “Killer Of Sheep” was added to the Library of Congress’ registry of treasured American films, an honor it shares with only 49 titles, including “Citizen Kane” and “The Godfather.”

Joel and Ethan Coen also received a big career boost from Sundance, bringing “Blood Simple” to the festival in 1985 and leaving with the Grand Jury Prize. That same year, Jim Jarmusch was on hand with “Stranger Than Paradise.”

John Sayles is another familiar face in Park City. Both “Return Of The Secaucus Seven” and “Brother From Another Planet” took awards in the festival’s dramatic competition. He’s back again in 1991 – out of competition – premiering “World Of Hope.”

Career boost for thesps

Actors both unknown and on the comeback trail can also credit Sundance with jumpstarting or reviving their careers. The sensual talents of Laura Dern were first revealed in Joyce Chopra’s “Smooth Talk,” a Grand Prize winner in ’86, and veteran Dennis Hopper was lionized after his performance in “River’s Edge” a year later.

Other films which the festival helped christen in those early days include Richard Pearce’s “Heartland,” Victor Nunez’ “Gal Young Un” (Nunez later brought “A Flash Of Green” to the festival), Robert Young’s “The Ballad Of Gregorio Cortez” (with Edward James Olmos) and Wayne Wang’s “Chan Is Missing.”

The festival had a benchmark year in 1989, when three films – “Sex, Lies,” Nancy Savoca’s “True Love” and Jonathan Wacks’ “Powwow Highway” – found wide release after premiering in Park City.

And the tradition continued in 1990, with “To Sleep With Anger,” Norman Rene’s affecting AIDS drama “Longtime Companion” and – the surprise of the festival – Reginald and Warrington Hudlin’s “House Party.”

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