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Helmers meet press at Sundance Fest

An innovation at this year’s Sundance Film Fest was a pair of meet-the-press panels composed of participating filmmakers in the competitive drama and documentary sections. “We want to provide people covering the festival the means to put faces to the films they’ve seen,” said festival director Geoff Gilmore.

The doc directors and producers emerged as having little in common other than an ongoing struggle to secure theatrical distribution. Randy Holland, who made “The Fire This Time” on the history of racial tension in L.A.’s black community, said he’s pursuing a theatrical route simply because PBS outlet KCET turned it down flat.

It was generally felt that there was increasing, albeit specialized, interest in docs from indie distribs and exhibs. “I believe that the technology and the ability to tell stories dramatically is the reason why nonfiction films are reaching wider audiences,” observed Gregg Bordowitz, who made the AIDS-themed “Fast Trip, Long Drop.”

The dramatic participants appeared to have a more cohesive perspective, despite the widely diverse subject matter of their films. The consensus was clearly that the films collectively represented an alternative viewing experience.

“The opportunity to make something personal is intoxicating,” noted filmmaker Richard Glatzer, who made the comically bent “Grief.”

Most panelists made films for less than $ 100,000. “Success to me is paying off investors, having the opportunity to work again and being able to pay my crew next time,” confessed “River of Grass” writer/director Kelly Reichardt.

Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier of “Clerks”– emerging as the court jesters of the ’94 edition — said Sundance was very important to them for its free food and hats.

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