Sundance — why it matters

Jan 30, 2007 01:10 UTC

A few days ago, someone commented to a post I wrote on the parties at Sundance, questioning whether anybody saw or cared about Sundance movies. It was the middle of the festival, and I didn’t have a chance to answer. Another responder did, however, point out this year’s best Oscar nominee “Little Miss Sunshine” was a Sundance 2005 film.

The domestic box office for “Sunshine” was nearly $60 million, so a lot of people did see that one. There are many other recent examples, too, including ”Napoleon Dynamite” ($44 million domestic box office in 2004) “Garden State” ($27 million domestic in 2004).

Those are not big Hollywood numbers; they are not $100 million plus. But for independent films that cost less than $5 million, it’s a great return on investment. With the average ticket just over $6.00, “Little Miss Sunshine” probably attracted about 10 million people to the theaters. Thousands, perhaps millions, more will see it on DVD, pay-per-view television, in airplanes and at other specialty venues.

But forget about numbers for a moment. Think about directors who either got their start — or a major career boost — at Sundance. There was Steven Soderbergh with “sex, lies, and videotape” (1989), Kevin Smith “Clerks” (1994), Christopher Nolan “Memento” (2001). Whether you like their movies or not, those directors are all industry forces to be reckoned with, both inside and outside Hollywood.

Look for a minute at moviemaking styles. For Sundance 2003, directors Shari Springer Bergman and Robert Pulcini created “American Splendor,” a fictional film starring Paul Giamatti as comic book writer Harvey Pekar in the film about Pekar’s life. The interesting thing was, Pekar also appeared in the film playing himself and giving “talking head” interviews about his work. “American Splendor” blurred the old lines between what is a documentary and what is a fictional feature film.

Whoa everybody! Best film race is wide open

Jan 29, 2007 20:28 UTC

 The sun shone brightly on “Little Miss Sunshine” in Hollywood’s Oscar race on Monday after the film’s cast won the Screen Actors Guild award for best ensemble. If last year’s SAG win by the cast of “Crash” is any indication, then “Sunshine,” takes the front runner position in the Oscar sweepstakes.

Popular Oscar punditry last year had it that “Crash” won the best film Oscar because actors loved it, and they make up the largest block of voters of the nearly 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But this horse race is far from over.

Hollywood seems to want to honor director Martin Scorsese for “The Departed” regardless of whether people think it’s the year’s best movie, and Clint Eastwood “Letters of Iwo Jima” is being helped by at least two factors. Eastwood is well-liked by Academy voters, and combined with “Flags of Our Fathers,” directing two movies about the same subject from two different points-of-view is a directorial feat that is hard to ignore.

Last thoughts on Davos

Jan 27, 2007 20:00 UTC

I began this blog on Tuesday by saying that it had started snowing. The big issue for many of the less well-heeled among us — those without heavy duty limos and helicopters — is whether the snow that has built up all day will let us get home now that the World Economic Forum’s meeting is essentially over.IMG_2306.jpg

Let’s hope that the Swiss train system handles snow better than the British one handles leaves. (For those of you not familiar with British trains, they get disrupted easily.)

The Davos meeting has had one big achievement, being the locale for the agreement to restart global trade talks. It has also confirmed that climate change is now one of the top items on the world agenda. Africa, we are told, is getting a bit better. But it is still far, far away from being an Asian Tiger economy, or should that be African Lion economy?

Food for thought at Davos

Jan 27, 2007 16:31 UTC

davos1.jpgDavos is nothing if not international. So it seemed no big deal when lunch on Friday turned out to be a Saudi Arabian buffet. It was brought to us by people “proudly investing in the future of Saudia Arabia”. And very nice it was too.

Some ravenous attendees — including journalists, I’m sorry to report — rushed to get fed (pictured). Two queues formed, one from each end, causing something of a confusion at the meat and rice in the middle of the table. The spirit of Davos triumphed, however, and jostling was at a minimum and no one I heard tried to say where the queue should have started.

One of the young women serving us, wearing a Gulf-style costume but clearly from a more Germanic part of the world, did have a bit of a problem. People kept asking her what one of the dishes was. “I don’t know. It looks like porridge,” was her reply.

Trading up at Davos

Jan 27, 2007 15:39 UTC

davos_formin.jpgWhat business wants business (often) gets. Many of the executives popping in and out of panel discussions in Davos this week have been pushing harder than usual for a resumption of the stalled Doha round of world trade talks. Abracadabra! A meeting of government ministers on the sidelines, to use the jargon, agreed to get the ball rolling again.

Some, like Brazil’s foreign minister Chelso Amorim even reckon a trade deal of some sort can be hashed out by the end of March or early April. That would be earlier than the six months demanded earlier this week in a Davos-related statement from top chairmen and chief executive officers.

It all remains to be seen, of course, but the World Economic Forum will see the agreement to restart talks as a success for its annual meeting. On which point, I would add something to my earlier blog about why people come here.

Seen and not heard at Davos?

Jan 27, 2007 14:13 UTC

My colleague Alex Smith writes: The WEF invites spouses of the great and the good to its annual meeting in Davos but they don’t usually get stuck into the nitty gritty of the sessions.

Not so Judy Moody-Stuart, who has been married to Anglo-American Plc Chairman Sir Mark Moody-Stuart for the past 44 years and whose current projects include setting up a university for Asian women in Bangladesh.

Modestly introducing herself as “the wife of a businessman”, Lady Moody-Stuart — a self-styled activist Quaker — asked a panel on the future of the Middle East if they thought it would help create peace if the United Nations moved from New York to Jerusalem. Her question got short-shrift from the moderator who asked for a show of hands on the idea and then dismissed it as a non-starter based on the audience’s response.

SAG awards: Mirren has odds on

Jan 27, 2007 12:33 UTC

On Sunday, the Screen Actors Guild presents its annual awards. Usually, the winners of the SAG awards go on to win Academy Awards. With this year’s Oscar nominations thrown into chaos after presumed front-runner “Dreamgirls” was left out of a Best Picture nomination, the SAGs gain special importance. 

Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson were the presumed front runners heading into the Oscar nominations. But after “Dreamgirls” lost out in the Best Picture race when nominations were announced on Tuesday, Hudson and Murphy may be vulnerable. predicts that Alan Arkin’s portrayal of a cantankerous grandfather in “Little Miss Sunshine” will beat Murphy’s turn as a tragic r&b singer in “Dreamgirls” for Best Supporting Actor. 

Non, non, a thousand times, non

Jan 27, 2007 11:53 UTC

Royal-watchers could have had a pretty good time in Davos. The king and queen of Jordan, who host a Middle East Davos most years on the banks of the Dead Sea, have been speaking. Britain’s Duke of York has been wandering about. So has Belgium’s Prince Philippe.
But one Royal that has not been here is Segolene, presidential candidate for France’s Socialists. Nor for that matter have many French officials, candidates or otherwise, been around. Germany, Britain, the United States, Russia, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa have been most evident. La France, non.
The reason, French journalists say, is that Davos is altogether too into globalisation for gallic taste. Irony of ironies, then, that one of the top Frenchmen here is Pascal Lamy, secretary general of the World Trade Organisation.
France’s Davosophobia has triggered the ire of at least one of the country’s columnists — Nicolas Barre in Le Figaro. His gist is that France is hurting itself by snubbing Davos. That France is angry about globalisation is nothing new, he says, but that is no reason to shout it from the rooftop of the world.

School’s (almost) out

Jan 27, 2007 10:35 UTC

The snow is falling heavily and there is a kind of end-of-term feeling in Davos as the WEF annual meeting enters its lasIMG_2298[1].JPGt full day. Not a bad time, then, to ask why people really bother to come here.
There is a lot of scepticism among outsiders that Davos is just a big talking shop, full of self-importance and hot air. Some of this doubtless comes from the way the WEF presents itself. “Shaping the Global Agenda” is hardly a modest goal.

Talk of the “spirit of Davos” can, let’s face it, grate.
But the top business leaders wandering the halls here don’t buy into that wholesale. Chats with a number of them over the past few days have shown a general fondness for the meeting but for interestingly diverse reasons.
First there are the networkers like the European blue-chip CEO who said he goes nowhere near any of the discussion panels and comes simply to meet people. Then there are the sellers like the American hi-tech entrepreneur who was out flogging his latest toy or the Middle Eastern official who said he was tooting his organisation’s horn.
But the intellectual debate available is also a major draw. A leading wealth manager told me that of course he was here to meet clients, but what he really liked was that once a year he got to go “back to school”. Where else can he spend time digging into old issues and learning about completely new ones?

Big names, big continent

Jan 26, 2007 22:07 UTC

Africa_davos.jpgPeople who come to Davos are a sophisticated lot but a little celebrity can cause a frisson in even the most jaded boardroom executive. No question where the excitement was in Davos on the third day — the Africa session.
There was Bono, who took off his Fidel Castro cap beforehand, and Tony Blair, who still has the power to draw a crowd despite an upcoming departure. Bill Gates was also there. That was enough to guarantee a rapt audience.
What seems to be different is that people are not just wringing their hands about Africa and wondering if it will ever get out from under its corruption and debt burden. They are
talking up good news. Immunization is improving, education is more widespread and money is moving in.
I asked Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete — Davos is that kind of place — whether things really were getting better sub-Sahara. He said yes, at least compared with a few years ago.
(Pictures: Bono wanders through the crowd (left), Blair and Bono (Reuters/right)