Fan Fare

Entertainment behind the scenes

Sundance rebels?

January 31, 2010

If you’ve been reading our coverage of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival (and we certainly hope so, otherwise our boss won’t pay for a return trip in 2011), you know by now that this year event organizers were promoting a return to a rebelliousness among independent filmmakers — those people making movies outside Hollywood’s major studios. The words “rebel,” “rework,” “rebirth,” and others figure prominently on Sundance posters, t-shirts, film trailers and the like. If you haven’t been reading about it, click here and here.

So the natural question all week has been, “do this year’s films exemplify a renewed indie spirit?” The answer depends on how you look at it. In the opening day press conference, even Sundance founder Robert Redford and festival director John Cooper seemed to disagree with Redford calling it a festival of rebirth for that independent spirit and Cooper thinking it was more a renewal of Sundance’s pledge to promote fresh, new voices in cinema. Rebirth or renewal? … TomAIto or TomAUto.

Here’s what we think. Sundance is first and foremost about films and filmmaking, say it’s organizers. So, what about the movies? Many are about the same, and a few will always be different — as different as the people who made them and how audiences perceive them. We ask: how was “Buried,” about a Iraq war contractor buried alive, any different from 2003′s “Open Water,” about a pair of scuba divers stranded in the middle of the ocean when their tourist boat leaves them? Both take us on horrific journeys that lead to personal introspection, but “Buried” also preys upon our feelings about the years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. So that’s a little different, yes. Movie watching is subjective and, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt (you can call him Joe) told us, a new movie is often about taking an old idea and “putting your own, unique spin on it.” Read our Q&A with Joe here.

The marketplace for buying and selling movies here has changed, somewhat. Gone is the notion that the “indie” label could sell anything, and it has been replaced by a more pragmatic business sense. And, after a tough 2009 market, several movies including “Blue Valentine,” “happythankyoumoreplease,” “Hesher” and “Winter’s Bone” found distributors in the festival’s final days.  The investor money is out there to fuel the market, industry veterans here say, but the players at the table are making smarter decisions about how much to invest and where to put their money. Read about that here.

The “indie spirit” is still alive at Sundance, but it never truly went away. In recent years, one just had to clear away the surface clutter to get to it. After Sundance  became a corporate circus for promoting products in the 2000s, some — certainly not all — of those corporate marketers have gone, and the ones that are here are less aggressive. This year (and in 2009 to a great extent, too) the recession cleared the clutter away for audiences. That’s good. And  while some industry watchers complained about the number of stars showing up in independent films in the late 1990s and 2000s, those observers should get over it. The indie world has more challenging material and characters, and that attracts actors and actresses. The stars are here to stay, and that’s just the nature of major studio vs. indie moviemaking heading into a new decade.

You can see the “indie spirit” among winners in the video above — a sort of mash-up of acceptance speeches from Saturday night’s awards. (Read about the winners here). And below, just for fun, is David Hyde Pierce and John Cooper performing a rap to loosen up the crowd — a couple of middle-aged, white hip hoppers, now that was rebellious. Or just plain funny. Click below.

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