Chances are that by now you’ve already read some of the headlines bubbling out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. As usual, bold-faced celebrities descended on Park City’s Main Street sniffing out freebie swag like pigs hunting truffles. In their flashy ski parkas, thousand-dollar sunglasses, and Wookiee-chic snow boots, they hardly needed free stuff. And they certainly weren’t trying very hard to look inconspicuous. Sundance has become a place to be seen, and if you also have a movie in the festival, all the better.
At Saturday night’s Entertainment Weekly party, for example, Al and Tipper Gore, Robert Redford, Terrence Howard, Greg Kinnear, Crispin Glover, Robert Downey, Jr., as well as a few nostalgically familiar faces – Is that Rebecca DeMornay at 12 o’clock? Wait, wasn’t that Ally Sheedy near the bar? – were all questing for a starring role in the same Sundance fairy tale. Whether they’re members of already established A-list, the rising B-list, or the fading C-list, all have their mittened fingers crossed that their film will be the next sex, lies, and videotape, Reservoir Dogs, or Hustle & Flow.
Only four days old, Sundance 2006 has already been characterized as a ”seller’s market.” Now that the Miramax of yore with its blustering Weinsteins and open checkbooks is history, all of the indie studios are on equal footing looking for this year’s March of the Penguins or Blair Witch. But the thing about this year’s so-called seller’s market is that it hasn’t really materialized… yet. Aside from the reported $10.5 million that Fox Searchlight paid for Little Miss Sunshine – an early-festival crowd-pleaser starring Kinnear,Toni Collette, and Steve Carell – the bidding’s been tame. If not downright dead.
That should change by the time you read this. On Sunday night, audiences got their first peek at The Illusionist(pictured), an elegant period piece about a Viennese magician (EdwardNorton in quite the goatee) who poses a threat to the political andromantic ambitions of Austria’s young emperor-in-waiting (RufusSewell). The Illusionist also stars Sundance icon Paul Giamattias a dastardly inspector hellbent on debunking Norton’s parlor tricksas a fraud and Jessica Biel as the easy-on-the-eyes love interest ofboth Norton and Sewell. Aside from the earth-shattering news that Bielcan actually act (although Norton and Giamatti clearly steal the show),The Illusionist is everything a hungry acquisitions exec is on the lookout for at Sundance.
At a post-premiere dinner on Main Street, the cast and crew of thefilm settled in to their booths as they nervously eyeballed their cellphones on the table in front of them, waiting for the call that mightmean millions. They looked like twitchy Broadway playwrights on openingnight awaiting the early reviews. Then, somewhere between the timetheir appetizers were taken away and their main courses were served,the phones rang, and offers started coming. Needless to say, the moodlightened significantly by dessert.
As the dinner wound down, a deal hadn’t been signed. But theproducers were out of the weeds. It was clear to everyone that onewould be done soon enough. There was backslapping. There were calls formore bottles of wine. And more than anything, there was relief. Sweet,sweet relief. As midnight approached, Biel, Giamatti, and the rest ofthe giddy Illusionist posse headed down Main Street in search abar to celebrate, laughing, exhaling, and disappearing into the coldnight like one of Norton’s magic tricks. They had become the latest,but by no means last, version of the Sundance fairy tale about to findtheir happy ending.