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Cable cash

The low-down on projects unspooling at Sundance

With 500 channels and nothing on, it’s no wonder cable nets have made it a habit to send their acquisitions execs to Park City in January to find product to air, while they kept their best stuff to premiere at home.

Not so any more. Cablers are now just as eager to show their wares and hawk them for theatrical distribution at Sundance. This year, Lifetime is in the game, and Discovery joined as a sponsor with documentary projects on the horizon. The Sundance Channel is in full acquisition swing for its traveling film series, but is also contemplating bigger projects. HBO and IFC are back as both producers and distributors.

Here, we give you the low-down on cablers with projects unspooling at Sundance.

Key execs: HBO Films: Colin Callender, prexy; Keri Putnam, senior VP; Maud Nadler, VP, independent productions. HBO Documentaries: Sheila Nevins, executive VP; Lisa Heller and Nancy Abrahams, VPs, original programming
2004 films: Films at Sundance with HBO backing include: Dramatic Competition entry “Maria Full of Grace”; Andrew Jarecki’s short “Just a Clown”; period drama “Iron Jawed Angels” in Premieres; Jim McKay’s “Everyday People” in American Spectrum; and Competion docs “Heir to an Execution” and “Born Into Brothels.”
Fest mandate: Despite HBO’s entrenchment at Sundance, the strategy constantly changes on both the dramatic and documentary sides. “It’s fluid. It would be hard to say we have an agenda going in,” says Heller.
Sundance history: HBO has had key films in the documentary competition nearly every year, usually coming away with key awards. More recently, HBO has started to snag dramatic competition slots as well. Last year, “American Splendor” won the top dramatic prize. All narrative films are now eligible for theatrical distribution, a switch HBO made after the success of 2002 Sundance audience prize-winner “Real Women Have Curves.” HBO still uses the festival as a shopping market to pick up films, particularly docs, such as last year’s “Capturing the Friedmans.”

Key execs: Jonathan Sehring, prexy; Caroline Kaplan, senior VP, production and development; Sarah Lash, director, acquisitions; Holly Becker, director, production
2004 films: IFC’s low-budget digital division has InDigEnt pic “November” in dramatic competition; Toronto pickup “The Saddest Music in the World,” a satire by Canadian Guy Maddin, is in the Premieres section; and IFC network-produced doc “In the Company of Women,” about actresses surviving Hollywood, is a special screening.
Fest mandate: “Sundance is the natural place for us to premiere films to the industry and public, and a great place to network with other producers, see work from new talent, and get together with our colleagues,” says Sehring.
Sundance history: IFC first took shorts to the festival, then docs created for the channel, the first being “The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera” and “Mr. Death.” IFC-produced pics have been shown at Sundance. When IFC Films bowed in 2000, festival was used as a launch pad for domestic distribution. It also started to acquire rights to other films, such as “The Business of Strangers.” Most of the InDigEnt output has sold to other theatrical distribs. “Tadpole,” brought a big payday when it sold to Miramax in 2001, as did “Pieces of April” at last year’s fest. “Personal Velocity” and “Girlfight” were critical darlings.

Key execs: Carol Black, CEO; Meredith Wagner, executive VP of public affairs; Allison Wallach, VP of programming
2004 films: “Until the Violence Stops,” directed by Abby Epstein, follows Eve Ensler-inspired “V-Day” events in five cities. Lifetime bought the broadcast rights to the doc, which looks at the grassroots campaign to stop violence against women, after an initial Los Angeles screening.
Fest mandate: “We have a long track record of doing advocacy for women,” says Wagner. “We see making films as an amazing opportunity to draw more attention to women’s issues.”
Sundance history: First time at Sundance with a film in the lineup. Most of Lifetime’s movies have remained in the made-for-TV realm, but they might expand the scope if the right project comes along. Wagner cites “We Were the Mulvaneys” and “Homeless to Harvard” as two recent made-for-Lifetime films that could have bumped up to theatrical level.

Key execs: Robert Greenblatt, entertainment prexy; Anne Foley, executive VP
2004 films: “The Best Thief in the World,” in the dramatic competition, comes with a stamp of approval from the Sundance labs and Robert Redford as a producer. American Spectrum drama, “Speak,” fits into Showtime’s No Boundaries marketing theme. Salt Lake City opening night film, Chris Eyre’s “Edge of America,” is part of Showtime’s effort to reach out to under-served communities with the story of an African American coach of a Native American women’s basketball team. Mario Van Peebles’ “Baadasssss!,” in Premieres, is part of the Showtime Independents scheme.
Fest mandate: “Showtime has always had a presence at Sundance,” says Greenblatt. “This year it just coincided with our decision to be in this lower-budget theatrical business with Showtime Independents.”
Sundance history: Viacom provides Showtime a constant festival link as the video distributor for the Sundance Channel, as well as providing alliances with MTV, VH1. “Gods and Monsters” was the first film with Showtime money to make a significant impact at the fest. Since then, the channel has premiered several made-for-Showtime features and bought broadcast rights to several other pics at the fest, such 2001 grand jury prize winner “The Believer.”

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