With the recent economical problems, producers have had a tough time getting projects funded. The affordable DSLR cameras that capture both still and video footage initially geared for consumers use have not only made their mark in the prosumer arena but have now become a staple in the independent filmmaking world. In fact, almost 20 percent of the films screened at Sundance this year were shot using DSLR cameras, demonstrating the persistence and passion that emerging and independent filmmakers have for creative story telling.
A great example is the film from the U.S. Dramatic Competition, Higher Ground and Gun Hill Road, which showcased exceptional talent and superb cinematography and art direction that conveyed a meaningful message on a limited budget. The film’s Director/Actor Vera Farmiga was smothered with comments and questions at the Q&A about her direction and portrayal of a woman’s spiritual journey from childhood to adulthood. Farmiga spoke about the film’s low budget and how she needed to continually create different avenues to find success. “Cameras were always on the move, so I could never quite see what was shot,” she said. “So I had to go by instincts, feelings and intuition. You look at the crew, and you just know. [If] there was a twinkle in their eye, you just know you’re not hitting your mark.”
Director/Writer Rashaad Ernesto Green went to the Bronx to make his first film Gun Hill Road, which is about a macho ex-con who returns home to find his son has become a transgender woman. For realism, Green cast many New York actors, including Esai Morales, as the father. During the Q&A, Morales talked about how he had shunned playing roles like the one he plays in Green’s film. “[I avoided] characters like this because sometimes people think that’s all you are,” said Morales. “You know what? There is nothing wrong with going to your roots and keeping it real, as they say.” Green and many of the film’s cast and crew showed up at a hip private party on Main Street hosted by the New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development. The standing-room-only event had New York filmmakers and business reps discussing filming opportunities in the state.
Many film commissioners attended this year’s Sundance to promote their locales. The Montana Film Commission hosted an event along with Moving Pictures. Montana Film Commissioner Sten Iverson said this was their ninth year at Sundance and the event was a huge success, as more than 250 people attended, including many filmmakers with films at the Festival. “It just been nonstop networking,” said Iversen.
A filmmaker’s brunch at the Sundance House was hosted by the Utah Film Commission, Park City Film Commission and Association of Film Commissions International. Utah Film Commission Director Marshall Moore boasted about Utah’s advantage of having talented crews and support. He added that the state was recently included in the “Top 10 Locations in the World” in P3 Update Magazine. Producer Tamara Bell was on hand to support Utah filming and gave insight into her success. She has just finished the indie feature Talent, which stars Danny Glover, and was shot entirely in Utah.
Another Sundance highlight was the Indie Moguls Party at the Snow Park Lodge in Deer Valley. This yearly event sets the standard for pampering, and guests could enjoy the evening without having to fight huge crowds. Sponsored by FUJIFILM, FotoKem, Otto Nemenz and Raleigh Studios, the event offered free chair massages, dancing, an array of appetizers, a Mexican buffet and a chance to relax at an oxygen bar.
Deluxe had a nice gathering of filmmakers that included good food and networking in a casual environment. Cinematographer Nancy Schreiber, ASC was there to talk about Fugly!, her recent film with Writer/Producer/Actor John Leguizamo. Schreiber said they filmed half of the movie on a RED camera and the other half in Super 16, and she has embraced the movement to digital. “We have to learn to embrace change,” said Schreiber. “I try to make it look as good as I can no matter what I’m shooting in or whatever the budget is.”
Sundance also provided several filmmaker with workshops and receptions. At one such reception, the Sundance Institute and Mahindra Group (a company based in India) announced their collaboration and a new Global Filmmaking Award presentation that will be given annually. The 2011 winners were announced at special reception at the Sundance House, including Filmmakers Bogdan Mustata for Wolf (Romania); Ernesto Contreras for I Dream in Another Language (Mexico); Seng Tat Liew for In What City Does It Live? (Malaysia); and Talya Lavie for Zero Motivation (Israel). All four filmmakers were present to receive their award. “For me, it’s a great honor and a huge encouragement to keep working and searching for original cinematic storytelling,” said a humble Contreras. “What has really been great about working with Mahindra is they really share our values,” said Michelle Satter, director of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program. “The idea that stories can cross boundaries, political, cultural, geographic boundaries, and those stories connect us on the very deepest level.”
When all was said and done, the attendees of Sundance 2011 will remember great films, the filmmakers’ journeys, and the opportunities these artists will reap from their success. Below is a list of some more winners.
Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: How to Die in Oregon (directed by Peter D. Richardson)
Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Like Crazy (directed by Drake Doremus)
World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary: Hell and Back Again (directed by Danfung Dennis)
World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic: Happy, Happy (Sykt Lykkelig) (directed by Anne Sewitsky)
Audience Award: Documentary: Buck (directed by Cindy Meehl)
Audience Award: Dramatic: Circumstance (directed and written by Maryam Keshavarz)
World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary: Senna (directed by Asif Kapadia)
World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic: Kinyarwanda (directed and written by Alrick Brown)
Directing Award: Documentary: Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles (directed by Jon Foy)
Directing Award: Dramatic: Martha Marcy May Marlene (directed and written by Sean Durkin)
World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary: Project Nim (directed by James Marsh)
World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic: Tyrannosaur (directed and written by Paddy Considine)
Documentary Editing Award: If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (directed by Marshall Curry; edited by Matthew Hamachek and Marshall Curry)
Excellence in Cinematography Award: Documentary: The Redemption of General Butt Naked (directed by Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion, cinematography by Eric Strauss, Ryan Hill and Peter Hutchens)
Excellence in Cinematography Award: Dramatic: Pariah (directed and written by Dee Rees, cinematography by Bradford Young)
World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary: Hell and Back Again (directed and cinematography by Danfung Dennis)
World Cinema Cinematography Award: Dramatic: All Your Dead Ones (directed by Carlos Moreno, cinematography by Diego F. Jimenez)
Photos by Dyana Carmella