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.'


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.

Mike Goodridge

AmericanAmerican Gross
Film (Sundance section) distributorrelease dateto date
1 Waitress (Spectrum) Fox SearchlightMay 2$19.1m
2 Once (World Competition: Dramatic) Fox SearchlightMay 16$9.4m*
3 No End In Sight (Competition: Documentary) Magnolia PicturesJuly 27$1.4m
4 In The Shadow Of The Moon (Competition: Documentary) ThinkFilmSept 7$1.1m
5 Broken English (Competition: Dramatic) Magnolia PicturesJune 22$960,000
6 The Ten (Spectrum) ThinkFilmAug 3$769,000
7 Joshua (Competition: Dramatic) Fox SearchlightJuly 6$450,000
8 Interview (Spectrum) Sony ClassicsJuly 13$416,000
9 The Savages (Premieres) Fox SearchlightNov 28$383,000*
10 Clubland aka Introducing The Dwights (Premieres) Warner Independent PicsJuly 4$379,000
11 Crazy Love (Competition: Documentary) Magnolia PicturesJune 1$300,000
12 King Of California (Premieres) First Look PicturesSept 14$270,000
13 For The Bible Tells Me So (Competition: Documentary) So First Run FeaturesOct 5$255,800*
14 Starting Out In The Evening (Competition: Dramatic) Roadside AttractionsNov 23$246,000*
15 Eagle Vs Shark (World Competition: Dramatic) Miramax FilmsJune 15$221,000
16 Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (World Competition: Documentary) IFCNov 2$240,482*
17 My Kid Could Paint That (Competition: Documentary) Sony ClassicsOct 5$216,484*
18 The Devil Came On Horseback (Spectrum) International Film CircuitJuly 25$132,000
19 Send A Bullet (Manda Bala) (Competition: Documentary) City LightAug 31$122,000
20 Dedication (Spectrum) The Weinstein CompanyAug 24$92,000
21 Zoo (Competition: Dramatic) ThinkFilmApril 25$69,000
22 The Nines (Premieres) NewmarketAug 31$63,000
23 Finishing The Game (Midnight) IFCOct 5$52,000
24 War/Dance (Competition: Documentary) ThinkFilmNov 9$49,000
25 The Good Night (Premieres) Yari Film GroupOct 5$22,400
26 The Great World Of Sound (Spectrum) Magnolia PicturesSept 14$20,000
27 Flying: Confessions Of A Free Woman (Special Screening) Artistic LicenseJuly 4$20,000
28 Grace Is Gone (Competition: Dramatic) The Weinstein CompanyDec 7$13,800*
29 Crossing The Line (World Competition: Documentary) KinoAug 10$9,250
30 Slipstream (New Frontier) Strand ReleasingOct 26$8,900
31 Protagonist (Competition: Documentary) IFCNov 30$8,200*
32 Everything's Cool (Competition: Documentary) City LightsNov 23$4,890*
33 Adrift In Manhattan (Competition: Dramatic) Screen MediaSept 21$2,000

* indicates the film is still on release in North America, grosses are at Dec 9, 2007

1 The Last Mimzy (Special Screening) New LineMarch 23$21.5m
2 Black Snake Moan (Premieres) Paramount VantageMarch 2$9.4m
3 Resurrecting The Champ (Premieres) Yari Film GroupAug 24$3.2m
4 Year Of The Dog (Premieres) Paramount VantageApril 13$1.5m
5 Rocket Science (Competition: Dramatic) PicturehouseAug 10$714,000
6 Trade (Premieres) Roadside AttractionsSept 28$214,000
7 Smiley Face (Midnight) First Look PicturesNov 16$6,000**

* indicates the film is still on release in North America, grosses are at Jan 6, 2008 ** still on release

Nanking (Competition: Documentary) ThinkFilmDec 12***
Teeth (Competition: Dramatic) Roadside AttractionsJan 18
How She Move (World Competition: Dramatic) Paramount VantageJan 25
The Signal (Midnight) Magnolia Pictures MidnightFeb 22
Chicago 10 (Premieres) Roadside AttractionsFeb 29
Snow Angels (Competition: Dramatic) Warner Independent PicturesMarch 7
Under The Same Moon (Spectrum) Fox SearchlightMarch 21
Son Of Rambow (Premieres) Paramount VantageMay 2
Padre Nuestro (Competition: Dramatic) IFCMay 14
Never Forever (Competition: Dramatic) Arts Alliance America/Prime Entertainment2008 tbc
Chapter 27 (Premieres) Peace Arch Entertainment2008 tbc
*** film had not opened at time of going to press