Sundance's programmers share their tastes and give advice on finding hidden gems at this year's fest
A 16-year Sundance vet, Gilmore came to the fest from the UCLA Film Archives. Since 2002, he has been sole director of thefestival and, short of Redford, his is its most recognizable face.
TASTE: “It’s about contradictions. About being eclectic and wide-ranging. I like both genre and art. I embrace the innovative and experimental in all its various incarnations. I respond to the cerebral and to the sentimental, to ideas and to emotion.”
THIS YEAR: “Really hidden gems are discovered in the areas of the festival often bypassed by many observers. Go to films in Frontier, pick a genre film out of Midnight and expand your horizons. See an international doc that, if you don’t see here, you’ll never get another chance.”
Director Of Programming
Arriving at Sundance in 1989 as a summer labs volunteer after 10 years in New York theater, “Coop” has been on the programming staff since 1990, starting with shorts. He also served as programming director for Outfest in Los Angeles (1995-98). “Most of what I know about the industry I learned working the door at Orso restaurant during the ’80s. Those who ate there then know what I am talking about.”
TASTE: “I tend to like great acting. I love when directors and screenwriters take their character into the grey zone, as I call it: the zone of unclear moral or emotional dilemma, where actors really have to work. Give me a Tilda Swinton, Laura Linney, Patty Clarkson or any Gyllenhaal. But I am also a sadistic programmer: I love the films that divide an audience; excite and confuse at the same time. Nothing makes me happier than a heated discussion between two strangers on the shuttle about a particular film. And there is hardly a documentary we show that I don’t cry sometime during my first viewing.”
PIC HIGHS: “I am very proud of the directors that came (to Sundance) with shorts, then went on to great things — Alexander Payne (” The Passion of Martin,” 1991), P.T. Anderson (“Cigarettes & Coffee,” 1993), David O. Russell (“Bingo Inferno,” 1987; “Hairway to the Stars,” 1990), Nicole Holofcener (“Angry,” 1992); this year it’s Jason Reitman (“Operation,” 1998). ”
THIS YEAR: “I have high hopes that the audiences at this year’s fest will be up for anything and not just chasing the hit. I tell everyone if they leave the mountain not seeing a documentary, they have failed. There is also the judging a book by its cover analogy. ‘All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise’ (Shari Cookson, Spectrum) may look lighthearted, which it is, but it packs a real emotional and political message.”
Groth has been on the programming staff since 1993, after working in the Salt Lake City Sundance office and serving as a volunteer at the festival while in U. of Utah film school. For the past four years he’s also worked as director of programming for CineVegas.
TASTE: “I definitely respond to films that are like nothing I have ever seen before. To be completely shocked by something on the bigscreen is a tremendous rush. More specifically, I tend to drift towards the bizarre, in both style and content … but having an appreciation for all genres is a must for a programmer due to the countless hours spent watching films of all shapes and sizes from all over the world.”
PIC HIGHS: “Watching a five-hour rough cut of ‘Hoop Dreams’ (Steve James, 1994) and being blown away by it but not knowing what we could do with it at that length or if mass audiences would ever go to see it. It was awesome to then watch not only the festival fall in love with it, but to also see it go on to be a huge success in the marketplace.”
THIS YEAR: “Going to a Shorts program is great way to get a taste of the broad range of films in the festival — all in 90 minutes. ‘Bugcrush’ in Shorts Program 1 is a 30-minute film that is as intense and well crafted as any feature. Our World films are also a place to find some hidden gems. ‘One Last Dance’ from Singapore is a fascinating film which showcases the filmmaking talents of an American director working in a foreign language and with an international crew.”
Going into her eighth festival, Frilot joined the team in fall 1998. Frilot is a filmmaker and prior to Sundance produced public television for WNET, was a director of programming at Outfest and at Mix (New York’s gay and lesbian experimental film fest). She also co-founded the Mix Brasil and Mix Mexico festivals.
TASTE: “I find that I respond to a very wide variety of visual styles and subjects if the films possess a cohesive quality. But what really gets my juices flowing are films that articulate a completely fresh or uncommon perspective, films that take creative risks while maintaining their clarity, and films that are 1,000% passionate and committed to what they are trying to do.”
THIS YEAR: “‘Subject Two’ is a clever little film in Midnight that you won’t want to miss. ‘Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon’ (Spectrum) is a brilliant documentary that is like watching America’s social and political landscape inside a test tube, ‘Beyond Beats and Rhymes’ (Spectrum) is the smartest doc on hip-hop I’ve ever seen, and ‘Old Joy’ (Frontier) is simply exquisite filmmaking.”
Libresco has been with the festival for five years, following a stint in programming and communications at ITVS. Before that, she was a senior publicist at the San Francisco Film Festival, associate director of the S.F. Jewish Film Festival and a development officer at UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Films she’s produced include “Fanci’s Persuasion,” “Barrier Device” and “Sunset Story.”
TASTE: “I respond to character-driven stories that dig into the nuances of relationships and social forces and that respect the audience’s intelligence enough to let us connect the dots ourselves. If I leave a film with an idea I’m burning to discuss or a sense of emotional catharsis, I’m in heaven.”
PIC HIGHS: “We fell in love with ‘March of the Penguins’ last year and had a strong hunch it would quickly be scooped up by a major distributor. We took playful bets, as we sometimes do, about how much it would earn at the box office. I ventured $10 million — a sum, which, at the time, seemed outrageously high for a foreign documentary.”
THIS YEAR: “While the press fixate on star-driven films, Sundance is actually chockful of work by undiscovered talent. I would encourage people to sample at least one film from each section of the festival. Don’t miss the top-notch World Cinema documentary and narrative competitions including ‘The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez,’ ‘Viva Zapatero!,’ ‘MadeinUSA’ and ‘Son of Man.’ ”
N. BIRD RUNNINGWATER
Native American Initiatives Programmer
Runningwater is born of the Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache peoples and was reared on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. At Sundance, he is responsible for nurturing the dramatic film projects of Native American and indigenous filmmakers as well as general fest programming. Prior to Sundance, he was executive director of Fund of the Four Directions, which focused on revitalizing indigenous languages and ways of life.
TASTE: “I respond to a lot of films, but I particularly appreciate American films with subtitles, films with women as central characters, films with quiet observational aesthetics and films entrenched in culture.”
THIS YEAR: “Eat at the Sundance resort, be sure to see ‘The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros’ in World Cinema Competition.”