Each year thousands come to the mountain town of Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival.
Some are here to see films, some to get rejected from overcrowded parties, and others to score goody bags.
Many come to divine the future of independent film from the parade of new talent and films. Perhaps more than other festivals, Sundance prides itself on fresh talent. Of the 121 feature-length films presented this year, 55 come from first-time film-makers.
So what is new this year' Director of programming John Cooper recognises a conspicuous lightness in tone and material.
In a time when the war in Iraq, global warming and a softening dollar cloud the national sky, almost no narrative films take on weighty political issues directly.
'Nobody is making dark movies for dark's sake,' explains Cooper. 'Film-makers realise there needs to be a twist to get people into the cinema.'
Indeed, several films this year have leveraged traditional entertainment elements to make their point - whether it is science fiction to deal with immigration in Sleep Dealer or fast-action adventure to dramatise the issue of gender and class in Frozen River.
Cassian Elwes of William Morris, who will once again be representing several new films this year, notices that while films have changed their tune, budgets remain the same.
'What film-makers are understanding,' explains Elwes, 'is that they don't have to make depressing movies; they can make entertaining films on low budgets as well.'
Indeed, the whimsy and playfulness of independent films such as Adventures Of Power, The Wackness or The Last Word still register, despite their budget.
Ironically, although fewer independent films have been picked up at
the festival in recent years, 2008 could be a banner year for
The ongoing writers' strike and upcoming directors and actors contract renegotiations are leaving studios and their specialised arms with some major holes in their schedules in the next 18 months, not to mention networks and cable broadcasters.
The fact that these films haven't been enormously successful may not dissuade the content-hungry distributors, although producers are more
realistic these days about scoring the mega-deals of the past.
Little Miss Sunshine producer Peter Saraf,, who returns this year with another sunshine film, Sunshine Cleaning, acknowledges he is unlikely to repeat his earlier experience.
'I've taken a lot of movies to the festival,' explains Saraf, 'but I've never been in an experience like that, being in the middle of a bidding war. It was like something out of a Peter Biskind book.'
Yet for all the predictions and dire warnings, Sundance remains first and foremost a celebration of the film-maker. As such, Screen has profiled 12 of them, each new and talented in his or her way. For one brief moment, each has a chance to embody the future of US cinema.
The recognition of the artist is one of things that screenwriter Howard A Rodman, who is at the festival with two projects, August and Savage Grace, loves so much.
'The only films that have my name on them,' recounts Rodman, 'are the ones that came to Sundance. The others, I either wish I'd never made, contributed to anonymously, or never saw.'
SUNDANCE CLASS OF 2007
Screen's comprehensive chart, which lists the films that had their world premieres at Sundance and were then acquired for US distribution during or after the festival, is a stark reminder of how a Park City spending spree can be a dangerous game.
Most successful of all was Fox Searchlight, which hit lucky with its pick-ups Waitress ($5m for worldwide rights) and Once ($1m for domestic rights) but flopped with its $4m acquisition Joshua.
Other distributors stumbled - Warner Independent paid $4m for North America, UK and Germany on Clubland, renamed it Introducing The Dwights and grossed just $379,000 in domestic; ThinkFilm paid more than $2m for documentary In The Shadow Of The Moon which has taken $1.1m; First Look paid $3m for King Of California which has taken just $270,000; The Weinstein Company teamed with First Look to pay $3.5m for Dedication which took just $92,000 in its August US run; and Sony Classics paid $1m for My Kid Could Paint That which has taken $216, 484.
Meanwhile some of the biggest acquisitions have yet to be released. Paramount Vantage took Son Of Rambow off the table for $7.5m and have set a May 2 release date in 2008; How She Move, for which Vantage paid more than $3m, is set for January 25.
At time of going to press, The Weinstein Company's $4m acquisition Grace Is Gone had only just opened, while the $5m Searchlight/TWC joint acquisition La Misma Luna is set for a domestic opening on March 21.
|FILMS ACQUIRED AT OR AFTER SUNDANCE 2007|
|Film (Sundance section) distributor||release date||to date|
|1 Waitress (Spectrum) Fox Searchlight||May 2||$19.1m|
|2 Once (World Competition: Dramatic) Fox Searchlight||May 16||$9.4m*|
|3 No End In Sight (Competition: Documentary) Magnolia Pictures||July 27||$1.4m|
|4 In The Shadow Of The Moon (Competition: Documentary) ThinkFilm||Sept 7||$1.1m|
|5 Broken English (Competition: Dramatic) Magnolia Pictures||June 22||$960,000|
|6 The Ten (Spectrum) ThinkFilm||Aug 3||$769,000|
|7 Joshua (Competition: Dramatic) Fox Searchlight||July 6||$450,000|
|8 Interview (Spectrum) Sony Classics||July 13||$416,000|
|9 The Savages (Premieres) Fox Searchlight||Nov 28||$383,000*|
|10 Clubland aka Introducing The Dwights (Premieres) Warner Independent Pics||July 4||$379,000|
|11 Crazy Love (Competition: Documentary) Magnolia Pictures||June 1||$300,000|
|12 King Of California (Premieres) First Look Pictures||Sept 14||$270,000|
|13 For The Bible Tells Me So (Competition: Documentary) So First Run Features||Oct 5||$255,800*|
|14 Starting Out In The Evening (Competition: Dramatic) Roadside Attractions||Nov 23||$246,000*|
|15 Eagle Vs Shark (World Competition: Dramatic) Miramax Films||June 15||$221,000|
|16 Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (World Competition: Documentary) IFC||Nov 2||$240,482*|
|17 My Kid Could Paint That (Competition: Documentary) Sony Classics||Oct 5||$216,484*|
|18 The Devil Came On Horseback (Spectrum) International Film Circuit||July 25||$132,000|
|19 Send A Bullet (Manda Bala) (Competition: Documentary) City Light||Aug 31||$122,000|
|20 Dedication (Spectrum) The Weinstein Company||Aug 24||$92,000|
|21 Zoo (Competition: Dramatic) ThinkFilm||April 25||$69,000|
|22 The Nines (Premieres) Newmarket||Aug 31||$63,000|
|23 Finishing The Game (Midnight) IFC||Oct 5||$52,000|
|24 War/Dance (Competition: Documentary) ThinkFilm||Nov 9||$49,000|
|25 The Good Night (Premieres) Yari Film Group||Oct 5||$22,400|
|26 The Great World Of Sound (Spectrum) Magnolia Pictures||Sept 14||$20,000|
|27 Flying: Confessions Of A Free Woman (Special Screening) Artistic License||July 4||$20,000|
|28 Grace Is Gone (Competition: Dramatic) The Weinstein Company||Dec 7||$13,800*|
|29 Crossing The Line (World Competition: Documentary) Kino||Aug 10||$9,250|
|30 Slipstream (New Frontier) Strand Releasing||Oct 26||$8,900|
|31 Protagonist (Competition: Documentary) IFC||Nov 30||$8,200*|
|32 Everything's Cool (Competition: Documentary) City Lights||Nov 23||$4,890*|
|33 Adrift In Manhattan (Competition: Dramatic) Screen Media||Sept 21||$2,000|
* indicates the film is still on release in North America, grosses are at Dec 9, 2007
|FILMS PREMIERED AT SUNDANCE 2007 WITH DISTRIBUTION IN PLACE|
|1 The Last Mimzy (Special Screening) New Line||March 23||$21.5m|
|2 Black Snake Moan (Premieres) Paramount Vantage||March 2||$9.4m|
|3 Resurrecting The Champ (Premieres) Yari Film Group||Aug 24||$3.2m|
|4 Year Of The Dog (Premieres) Paramount Vantage||April 13||$1.5m|
|5 Rocket Science (Competition: Dramatic) Picturehouse||Aug 10||$714,000|
|6 Trade (Premieres) Roadside Attractions||Sept 28||$214,000|
|7 Smiley Face (Midnight) First Look Pictures||Nov 16||$6,000**|
* indicates the film is still on release in North America, grosses are at Jan 6, 2008 ** still on release
|UPCOMING RELEASES IN 2007-08|
|Nanking (Competition: Documentary) ThinkFilm||Dec 12***|
|Teeth (Competition: Dramatic) Roadside Attractions||Jan 18|
|How She Move (World Competition: Dramatic) Paramount Vantage||Jan 25|
|The Signal (Midnight) Magnolia Pictures Midnight||Feb 22|
|Chicago 10 (Premieres) Roadside Attractions||Feb 29|
|Snow Angels (Competition: Dramatic) Warner Independent Pictures||March 7|
|Under The Same Moon (Spectrum) Fox Searchlight||March 21|
|Son Of Rambow (Premieres) Paramount Vantage||May 2|
|Padre Nuestro (Competition: Dramatic) IFC||May 14|
|Never Forever (Competition: Dramatic) Arts Alliance America/Prime Entertainment||2008 tbc|
|Chapter 27 (Premieres) Peace Arch Entertainment||2008 tbc|
|*** film had not opened at time of going to press|