SBS Blogs - Films
Catch-up viewing was prevalent in the finals days thanks to numerous flight delays out of Park City.
It’s not that one is eager to leave a film festival like Sundance, after 10 or so days shuttling between venues and standing in overheated tent lines, but it’s nice to have the option. After a week of clear and snow-less weather, the skies over Park City darkened and filled with sleet as this year’s festival wound down, unleashing a thick coating of ice while most of us began packing our bags. She’s a jealous mistress.
With the nearest airport closed and flights cancelled or overbooked for days, festival-goers took the opportunity to catch the films they didn’t get a chance to see, or just some zzz’s that passed them by. Certainly there were enough very good films to make up for the perceived lack of a really great one: Fruitvale, Kill Your Darlings, Afternoon Delight, The Spectacular Now and The Way, Way Back left with either honors or buyers or both. The Way, Way Back, a coming-of-age comedy starring Steve Carell (still remembered fondly by Sundance buyers, no doubt, as a star of Little Miss Sunshine) as a nightmare sort-of stepdad, made the biggest deal of the festival: $10 million from Fox Searchlight.
If Before Midnight was the sentimental favourite going into Sundance, it emerged as something tougher and more… adult. Richard Linklater’s third in what is now a real-time trilogy finds Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who met and spent a single night together in Before Sunrise (1994) and reunited for a life-changing afternoon in Before Sunset (2004), married with twins in tow. Based in Paris but vacationing for the summer in Greece, the couple banter and squabble as usual, this time about their children, their schedules, and Jesse’s increasing guilt over his 12-year-old son, whose mother retained custody and keeps the child in Chicago.
The French filmmaker is soon to debut Black Gold, an adaptation about the oil boom in 1930s Arabia.
The veteran French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud moves to his own filmmaking rhythm. He makes epic tales, often with his characters set against a harsh environment such as in 1997’s Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt, as independent international productions that appear without warning. Sometimes no-one notices they appeared, as happened with the virtually unknown 2007 comedy His Majesty Minor, which allegedly starred Vincent Cassel and Jose Garcia, but Annaud also has a filmography that includes 2004’s Two Brothers, 2001’s Enemy at the Gates, 1992’s The Lover and 1986’s The Name of the Rose.
His latest feature, which debuts internationally just next month, is Black Gold, a drama that looks at the rivalry between the rulers of a two Arab states, which is exacerbated by the discovery of oil just as a new generation is coming to power. Based on the Hans Ruesch novel The Great Thirst, the eclectic cast includes Mark Strong (Zero Dark Thirty), Antonio Banderas (The Skin I Live In), Frieda Pinto (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and Tahar Rahim (A Prophet).
Newell to renew Cold War
British filmmaker Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco, Four Weddings and a Funeral) has a standard piece of British period drama out in March, with the latest adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, starring Ralph Fiennes (Coriolanus), Helena Bonham-Carter (Les Miserables) and Jeremy Irvine (War Horse), but he’s currently at work on a more modern piece. Reykjavik will dramatise the 1986 summit between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the new leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, which lead to an unlikely thaw in Cold War relations. As Reagan, Newell – who probably would like everyone to please forget about 2010’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – has Michael Douglas (Wonder Boys), while Gorbachev will be played by the in-demand Austrian Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained).
Our correspondent returns to the Dutch festival after a break, and launches into an experiential French film.
Returning to Rotterdam for the first time in six years, one was struck by the changes on display. Not only to the town—the new Centraal Station, still under re-construction a decade on, now looking like a super-sized version of the Star Trek logo; entire blocks of ugly public buildings replaced by even uglier (though more modern) apartment towers—but to the festival itself. The industry centre, in the Doelen, seemed distinctly underpopulated; likewise, the press shows, dramatically cut back from previous years.
The reason, one British critic assured me, was a steady decline in ticket sales. Attendances last year were down (he claimed) by over 15 percent; to arrest the decline, the festival had taken stock, and elected to make everything more public- than industry-oriented.
A duty of disclosure obliges me to note that the reason for my visit was personal: a feature film I’d written was included in the Bright Futures (ha!) strand of the program. But that didn’t prevent me from cramming as many films as I could fit into my six-day visit.
The brainchild of a Sydney filmmaker, picSeeder looms as a novel way of funding short films.
Producer/director Bill Bennett is launching an innovative, global, online pitching competition designed to enable aspiring filmmakers to fund short films. Dubbed picSeeder, the inaugural edition will reward the winner with a cash prize of up to $50,000, funded from the $28 entry fee.
Contestants will be asked to submit a 1-minute video. Membership of the site (www.picseeder.com) is free and members will get to vote on their favourite pitch. Those who submit the 12 most popular pitches will then be asked to provide a 3-minute video.
From that shortlist the winner will be determined by an international jury comprising US sales agent Robbie Little, French financier/producer Jean-Charles Levy, Stephen Gates, New York-based head of the literary department at talent management company Evolution Entertainment, actress Michelle Ang and Indian producer Udayan Baijal, who was first assistant director on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and on the Indian shoots of Zero Dark Thirty, The Dark Knight Rises and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.
Our correspondent takes a look at the prizewinners in Park City, as a tearjerker takes double honours.
From the moment Fruitvale screened on the first weekend of Sundance no film came to match the verve it generated from Sundance viewers. A riveting drama and tearjerker boasting impeccable performances and storytelling, the film deservedly took out not only the Grand Jury Prize but the audience award as well.
Last year the prizes were clearly demarcated with the artier Beasts of the Southern Wild taking out the Grand Jury prize and Australian director Ben Lewin’s heartfelt crowdpleaser The Sessions taking out the audience award. It’s therefore significant that this year Fruitvale took out both. The ever-savvy Harvey Weinstein picked up the film for English-language territories.
A gritty portrayal of the last day in the life of a 22-year-old African American, Oscar Julius Grant III, who in 2009 was shot dead by a transit policeman in the San Francisco Bay area, the film was written and directed by Ryan Coogler and stars up-and-coming Michael B. Jordan. (Jordan is currently filming a boys-on-the-tear movie Are We Officially Dating? with Zac Efron and another young actor-of-the-moment, Miles Teller. Teller, who played alongside Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole, shared Sundance’s U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award with ShaileneWoollyfor their performances in James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now, apoignant bitter-sweet coming-of-age drama about the perils of adolescence and alcoholism.)
Themes of sex and lust are all the rage at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
After a relatively fallow year in 2012, Sundance has lived up to its promise of sex, sex and more sex in its 2013 program. The most obvious films, though, haven’t necessarily been the best. Anne Fontaine’s Australia-France co-production Two Mothers, about two women having long-term relationships with each other’s sons, doesn’t have an erotic bone in its body, while Naomi Foner’s Very Good Girls, with a tagline of two teenagers losing their virginity to the same guy, was really a stolid study of women’s friendship as in fact was Two Mothers.
At least both films are keeping fine actresses in work at a time when men dominate studio films. Naomi Watts and Robin Wright manage to rise above Christopher Hampton’s risible dialogue in the former, while in the latter Dakota Fanning again stakes her claim as one of the most mesmerising young talents alongside an over-acting Elizabeth Olsen.
Two risqué films that hit the mark are Lovelace (pictured) nd Kill Your Darlings, partly because they are based on exceptional real life people and feature engrossing performances from major stars. Amanda Seyfried is endearing as the young Linda Boreman, who would later become known as Linda Lovelace in Deep Throat, while Peter Sarsgaard reminds us of his talent for playing creeps with his portrayal of her abusive husband.
Jackie Weaver will star in a film about the day President Kennedy was killed.
November 22, 2013 is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of U.S President John F. Kennedy in Dallas by history’s most infamous ‘lone gunman’, Lee Harvey Oswald. Kennedy’s three years in office and his death have long obsessed filmmakers, and the anniversary of his death is launching new productions. Filming is about to begin on Parkland, the directing debut of screenwriter Peter Landesman, which documents the events on the day JFK was killed. The ensemble cast includes Zac Efron (The Lucky One), Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River), Paul Giamatti (Sideways), Billy Bob Thornton (Eagle Eye) and Australia’s Jackie Weaver (pictured), whose post-Animal Kingdom career in Hollywood is firmly established thanks to the American success of David O. Russell’s forthcoming Silver Linings Playbook, where she plays Robert De Niro’s wife and Bradley Cooper’s mother. Weaver scored her second Best Supporting Actress nomination for the role.
The one Kennedy assassination story that should come to the screen but probably won’t is a film version of actor John Malkovich’s stage adaptation of Libra, Don DeLillo’s 1988 book about Lee Harvey Oswald. Malkovich wrote, directed and co-starred in the 1994 play for Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the troupe he co-founded in 1976 with the likes of Gary Sinise and Joan Allen. Reviews at the time were mixed, but in retrospect not preserving the work appears an opportunity lost. It might also have shone a different light on Malkovich’s career, which has in recent years included such a high proportion of gangsters, killers and demented lowlifes that he appeared to be jockeying for position as the successor to Christopher Walken.
On the surface, the festival's flu warning seems to infected attendee's ability to seal a deal.
It’s on day four that the Sundance press and industry corps start to resemble the bags of trail mix they’ve been carting around. “Water and hand sanitiser” were the other survival tools Robert Redford recommended on opening day, the latter a reference to the flu circulating Park City, a bug that went viral with its own twitter feed before the first films screened. The latest public victim is Darren Aronofsky, who tweeted Saturday night that he’d been hit, and that his festival was over.
The ‘no handshakes please’ vibe of the traditionally long but convivial screening lines seems to have extended into the business-end of the festival: so far the biggest news from Sundance’s biggest weekend is the lack of big news. Relatively few deals have come through thus far, although the reason for that may be this year’s distinct move away from front-loading the festival with buzzy titles, ostensibly to keep people who otherwise jet in and out for the weekend on hand for a few days longer.
Documentary deals are leading the way: Alison Ellword’s four-hour History of the Eagles, a look at the lifespan of classic rock radio’s favorite band, was picked up by the Showtime network. One of a notable number of music docs showing this year, it is joined in deal-dom by Twenty Feet From Stardom (pictured), Morgan Neville’s crowd-pleasing opening night selection about the world of back-up singers, those men and women with familiar voices but not household names. Steve James, whose dazzling The Interrupters was a 2011 Sundance highlight, has already found a buyer for his as-yet untitled documentary about film critic Roger Ebert, as has Nick Ryan’s The Summit, which tells the story of the disastrous 2008 climb of the mountain known as K2.
There’s a spirited debate about the nomenclature of Australia’s film and
TV awards, with plenty of suggestions of alternative titles.
While the organisers of the ACTAA Awards are striving to enshrine the gongs as Australia’s premier film and TV honours with the second edition next week, there’s one issue they might like to consider.
There’s very little love for the name, according to numerous industry people who voiced their opinions after a provocative letter from producer Anthony Buckley was published in the Sydney Morning Herald last week.
If you’re uncertain what AACTA means, that’s part of the problem. The Australian Film Institute launched the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts in August 2011, modelled on the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Hence the AACTA Awards, which superseded the AFI’s own awards. The awards will be presented at two events, a luncheon on January 28 and on the night of January 30, the latter telecast on Network Ten.
Our North American correspondent lands in Park City and bears witness to 'the annual unveiling of Robert Redford'.
There is a certain ritual to a film journalist’s first day on the loose in Park City, where the Sundance Film Festival is beginning its 33rd year. The first stop is festival headquarters, where credentials are retrieved, hot ticket requests are made, and excited-but-not-too-excited glances are exchanged with strangers. From there we all move, in woollen herds, to the local grocery emporium, where exasperated locals look on as journalists, shills, starlets, and directors show off their new winter boots and struggle to maintain peak glamour while shopping for frozen chicken fingers.
And finally, provided that sub-zero weather and the hop’n’stop transit system haven’t foiled the timing, there is the annual unveiling of Robert Redford, which takes place during the opening press conference at the Egyptian Theatre. The sun seemed to shine a little stronger for the Sundance figurehead: after several minus-fifteen in the shade days, temperatures hovered tantalisingly close to zero as journalists piled into the movie palace named in 1926, when King Tut was the rage.
When you’re expecting instant frostbite, the freezing mark puts a spring in your step. This year’s festival won’t reap the benefit of similarly lowered expectations, alas: rumbles have already begun about whether Sundance can meet the high water mark set last year, when Oscar favorite Beasts of the Southern Wildand critical darling Simon Killer, among many other notables, premiered here.
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