Near the halfway mark, this year’s edition of Sundance has been a more restrained affair than usual but has still produced some quality movies and even a bit of dealmaking.
Senator grabbed headlines on Saturday night by paying seven figures (reportedly no more than $5 million) along with homevid partner Sony for “Brooklyn’s Finest.” Senator prexy Mark Urman praised the Antoine Fuqua-directed cop drama starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke but also called it a “work in progress.”
Ditto for the festival itself, which has unfolded against a backdrop that is both familiar (throbbing parties, tented gifting suites) and foreign (available hotel rooms, less sponsorship noise). A general sense that there is life beyond the Wasatch Mountains has been noticeable, especially given the state of the economy and Tuesday’s presidential inauguration.
Several films have nevertheless managed to create some buzz, but as of late Sunday no deals besides that for “Brooklyn’s Finest” had completely closed. Among the already-screened titles of special note are “Spread,” starring Ashton Kutcher in Warren Beatty “Shampoo” mode; “Humpday,” a quirky buddy comedy; “Push,” a bold adaptation of the popular Sapphire book with Mariah Carey and Mo’Nique; “The Greatest,” a three-hanky drama with Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon; and R.J. Cutler’s Anna Wintour doc “The September Issue.”
Also set to screen Sunday night were two hotly anticipated pics, the Jim Carrey-Ewan McGregor gay comedy “I Love You Philip Morris” and “Big Fan,” a drama helmed by “Wrestler” scribe Robert Siegel.
Many regulars sense that a lot of deal activity could come after the unspooling of “Philip Morris,” which is perhaps the biggest curiosity generator of Sundance’s 25th edition given its apparently explicit depictions of sex between the two leads. “The logjam will break after that, once people know how the film plays,” said one buyer. Agreed another, “People are going to be buying, but just not spending crazily.”
“Spread” reps said a deal was likely to close late Sunday. Negotiations with several parties for rights to “Humpday,” a well-received film about two straight male friends who decide to make a porno movie, went through the night Saturday and continued Sunday. Those close to “The Greatest” said a deal was likely by Monday.
The “Push” preem at the Racquet Club on Friday night drew a rousing response, with cast members and helmer-producer Lee Daniels (“Monster’s Ball”) receiving several standing ovations. It is a boldly filmed story about a 16-year-old girl’s near-biblical suffering at the hands of abusive parents and her climb toward a brighter future.
Most viewers felt it was likely that some company would take a chance on “Push,” especially because of its many hooks for black auds. Still, its edgy themes — incest, obesity, poverty and birth defects among them — would require careful handling, making a quick pact unlikely.
The financial crisis and indie shakeout of 2008 have left a major imprint here, meaning the sponsorship noise and overall pulse of activity has diminished a bit.
Hotel bookings in Park City are off 12% this year vs. 2008, and stories are everywhere about the remarkable degree of leverage attendees have compared with other times. One name director said the owner of a condo off Main Street proactively called him to lower his nightly rate to close to $100 in exchange for his pledge not to cancel.
Two of the four presenting sponsors, Adobe and Volkswagen, dropped out before the fest, but Honda stepped into the void. Still, promos, such as a counter-intuitive concert by “American Idol” alum David Archuleta, in part to help plug a new brand of absinthe, are having less of an impact on Main Street than in past years.
On paper, the actual number of gifting suites has soared this year, but the offerings are more meager. The flatscreen TVs and GPS devices of the past have given way to moisturizers, makeup and clothes.
Building on last year’s theme, charity and all things green remain big gifting themes, allowing celebs to be photographed with brimming gift bags but less opportunity for guilt.
One odd entry to the gifting derby this year is Nickelodeon, making its first official trip to Sundance to plug the 10th anni of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” The net has an undersea gift lounge with an $80,000 SpongeBob pendant, to be auctioned off for charity.
Protests from Proposition 8 have not materialized, as some expected before the festival. It hardly seemed accidental, though, that Robert Redford appeared at Saturday’s opening night of the Queer Lounge.
The “Brooklyn’s Finest” pact, which was accompanied by a commitment to spend a healthy eight-figure sum on marketing, didn’t energize the fest overall the way past pickups have. In part that’s because Senator is a newer, unproven distrib and the buy was designed to make a statement, along with the Senator-produced Sundance debut “The Informers.”
Urman said Senator would release “Brooklyn’s Finest” in the fourth quarter of next year to position it as an awards contender. Certain elements of the movie, from editing to music, will need to be revisited by Fuqua, Urman said, but the filmmaker came to Sundance knowing the pic wasn’t 100% finished.
Other interested buyers never made serious offers, insiders said, as historically big-spending companies like Fox Searchlight and Focus are exercising a touch more caution this year, at least so far.
(Michael Jones, Sharon Swart and Anne Thompson contributed to this report.)