Friday, February 5, 2010

Sundance rediscovers the art of filmmaking

Films connect to real people


By SABINA DANA PLASSE
Express Staff Writer

Lynn Shelton at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, talked about art and the artist. Photo by Sabina Dana Plasse

The 2010 Sundance Film Festival guide is titled "This Is Your Guide to Cinematic Rebellion." What is the rebellion? No more Hollywood studio influences at Sundance? Or, is the festival going back to its independent roots? Whether or not the festival is less influenced by distribution deals from major studios, the 2010 film festival mood was different.

Perhaps the film industry's most celebrated film festival in the U.S. has changed. Was it two days of much-needed snowfall that came down at the festival's opening? Was it the recession? Or was it difficult to celebrate an elaborate expensive art form knowing the earthquake in Haiti was a natural disaster with no end in site?

No matter all the "down" factors, celebrities came to Park City for film premieres, parties kept going into the wee hours of the night and filmmakers walked away with deals—not big ones but deals nonetheless.

Filmmaker Lynn Shelton had much to celebrate at Park City this year. At 44, she finally was paid to make a film. Shelton's "$5 Cover: Seattle" was part of a panel discussion at the festival's New Frontiers program, which celebrates the experimentation and the convergence of film and art. She debuted at Sundance in 2009 with her film "Humpday."

Shelton's film, "$5 Cover: Seattle," visits the Seattle music scene to discover a vibrant and collaborative world of musicians beyond the days of Seattle's well-known grunge music era personified by Kurt Cobain, Nirvana's lead singer and guitarist who died of a drug overdose.

"With the collapse of the record industry, it's all about making recordings yourself," Shelton said. "The musicians all support each other and it's healthy competition. It's all about creative collaboration."

Collaboration was very much part of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, which screened 117 feature-length films including 85 world premieres, 11 North American premieres and 12 U.S. premieres. Thirty-nine countries were represented, with 51 first-time filmmakers, including 27 in competition. These films were selected from 3,724 feature-length film submissions composed of 1,920 U.S. and 1,804 international films.

An audience award went to the film "happythankyoumoreplease," a classic independent film shot in New York City that features young people in their struggle to find love. In fact, a great many films at the festival explored the subject of love, from the neon-lit underworld of sex and drugs in Tokyo in the film "Enter the Void" by Gaspar Noe to the average male jerk in the film "Douchebag" by Drake Doremus.

"Restrepo" by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, awarded the Grand Jury Prize for documentary, was a first-hand look at the war in Afghanistan. The extraordinary film shows how close the filmmakers were to deadly firefights as well as provides first-hand accounts of the camaraderie of soldiers painfully pushing back the Taliban.

Sundance is an important entity to the film world, exploring pertinent themes about the current state of the world and fulfilling people's need to tell original stories. Gearing up the potential for Idaho to contribute feature filmmaking to festivals like Sundance, the Idaho Film Office is constructing a plan.

"Idaho wants feature films," said Bex Wilkinson, a filmmaker and a representative of Blaine County at the Idaho Film Office. "Legislation was passed for an incentive for film productions to come to Idaho but was lost with the recession."

Wilkinson said the film office would like to get back on track with an incentive plan for film production, in the form of a rebate or tax credits. Privately funded productions continue to happen statewide with hubs in Boise, Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint. In addition, the state has a number of established film festivals. "Buhl, Idaho" wrapped production this past September filming in Twin Falls and Buhl.

The Idaho Film Office wants to encourage the entertainment industry to consider Idaho not only to film movies but to create permanent employment in the state. Infrastructure credits can build permanent jobs with sound stages, rental equipment and post-production facilities.

"Training programs in Idaho will create a work force," Wilkinson said. "We are an investment and will bring income to the state. We have a diversity of terrain to make films and we can make a presence [in the film industry]."

Sabina Dana Plasse: splasse@mtexpress.com




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