Rookie helmers dish H’wood

At a press conference for the finalists in the Mercedes Benz dramatic competiton, the highlight of the freewheeling discusion was whether or not these rookie filmmakers should or should not embrace the studio system. But perhaps the most telling detail of the confab was that all the filmakers present had no distributor for their films, with exception of Richard Glatzer, who helmed “Grief” (Strand).

So for the moment the conversation was moot.

But that may all change soon. Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” is being romanced by two rival indies. Alan Jacob’s “Nina Takes a Lover” is also close as is David O. Russell’s “Spanking the Monkey,” which is being chased by two distributors. Peter McCarthy’s “Floundering” also may leave Park City with distribution.

What it means to be an independent when it seems a massive convergence of the independent world and that of the major studios is happening fueled the filmmakers’ discussion.

Festival director Geoff Gilmore summed up the debate by saying, “The idea of what constitutes a studio film and what constitutes an independent film is an increasingly gray area. The idea of working for the studios can mean a lot of different things. Making a film for Disney is one thing, but what about Miramax or a co-production with Miramax and European financing? The diversification of the majors makes talking about independent cinema increasingly complex.”

Some of the filmakers felt the studios were a neccessary evil. Patrick Sheane Duncan, director of “The Pornographer” described how he personally wrote more traditional fare for the studios in order to underwrite his independent work.

Other directors spoke of Hollywood with greater trepidation. “Floundering’s” Peter McCarthy, who has produced features for Alex Cox (“Repo Man”) and Keenan Ivory Wayans, likened studio involvement to having too many “cooks in the kitchen.”

Many of the young directors admitted that for them the creative dilemma was “Can I sell this?” vs. “Is this the kind of movie I want to see?””Spanking the Monkey’s” David Russell summed up the way most of his peers view the studios: “Some would like to jump into the studio system, some would like to stay marginal and radical.

“I would like to follow a tough balancing act like the Coen Brothers or the early Jonathan Demme, which is where you make films that have a lot of integrity but also find a market and a loyal following.”

At present, “Suture,””Fresh,””Spanking the Monkey” and “Go Fish” are considered favorites for the audience award. “Clerks” is gaining momentum after an initial flurry of rave reviews.

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