Eyes of the world

More foreign pix gain traction on slopes of Park City fest

Like a hipster snowboarder deciding to take up alpine skiing, Sundance is becoming ever more global in its programming and guest list.

Not only is the fest’s World Cinema lineup now a mirror image of the American dramatic and documentary competitions (with 16 titles in each section), but overseas pics now populate all other fest categories as well, including Spectrum, Frontier and Midnight.

Remember, though, it’s still called the Sundance Film Festival, not the Sundance International Film Festival, meaning American indies likely will continue to dominate in terms of publicity and acquisitions at the fest.

Yet even a seat on Sundance’s sidelines could prove a welcome opportunity for foreign filmmakers, considering the powerful attention avalanche that helps pics get distribution at the fest.

“The exposure will be great. And the energy is very, very different at Sundance,” says Mexican helmer Carlos Bolado, whose “Solo Dios sabe” is making its debut in the World Dramatic competition section. It’s the first time Bolado will have a film at the fest, though he has attended once before.

Bolado’s sexy romance/road pic — spanning three countries (U.S., Mexico and Brazil) and toplining Diego Luna (“Y tu mama tambien”) and Alice Braga (“City of God”) — is among several foreign titles heading into the fest with early buzz.

Foreign visitors

Sundance’s efforts to erase borders haven’t gone unnoticed by foreign industryites. They’ll be showing up in larger numbers this year, even if it’s a small cadre compared with the crowds rushing to Berlin next month or Cannes in May.

Paris-based sales company Celluloid Dreams has dispatched agents to Utah in other years, but this will be the first time that topper Hengameh Panahi attends, according to fest topper Geoffrey Gilmore. Also coming for the first time is Flach Pyramide Intl. general manager Eric Lagesse, also from France. Plus, both Fortissimo Film Sales toppers, Michael J. Werner and Wouter Barendrecht, will be making the trek to Utah, another first.

“The world has become much more interreleated when it comes to the film business,” Gilmore says.

Bolado’s pic is repped by sales agent Roseanne Korenberg at Traction Media. “From my point of view, as a seller, it’s one more major festival that recognizes international films. It’s incredibly helpful,” says Korenberg, who has traditionally taken Latin American films her firm is so fond of repping to Toronto and Cannes.

Buzz titles

Along with “Solo Dios sabe,” other foreign films likely to be eyed by buyers at the fest include “Son of Man,” a modern-day retelling of the Jesus story from helmer Mark Dornford-May; Georgian writer-director Gela Babluani’s stylish French shocker “13 Tzameti”; and Max Makowski’s Singaporean crime puzzle “One Last Dance.”

“There are a lot of films which three or four years ago wouldn’t have considered (submitting to) Sundance because of the perceived sense that it’s only a festival for American independents,” says Dornford-May, a British opera director who also directed 2005 Berlin fest winner “U Carmen.”

Fest programmer Caroline Libresco adds that some of the most important emerging foreign auteurs will be competing at the fest with their latest projects, including Brazilian director Andrucha Waddington (“The House of Sand”), Danish director Christoffer Boe (“Allegro”), Fabian Bielinksy (“The Aura”) and Zhang Yuan (“Red Flowers”).

And don’t forget, it was last year at Sundance that Warner Independent Pictures and National Geographic snapped up French docu “The March of the Penguins,” which went on to become one of the few indie breakouts at the U.S. box office in 2005.

Other foreign titles nabbing distribution deals last year included Brit pic “On a Clear Day,” which went to Focus Features. And Mexican pic “Duck Season,” from Fernando Eimbcke — who attended Sundance to pick up his Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch honor — sold to Warner Independent soon after the fest.

Among the 2006 Sundance class, foreign docus enjoying buzz include Brian Hill’s “Songbirds,” from the U.K., and Heidi Specogna’s German/Swiss film “The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez.”

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