During the party following the Sundance Film Festival awards ceremony last Saturday night, I had occasion to ask Jeffrey Blitz – who’d just won the jury prize for best director for his coming-of-age dramedy Rocket Science, one of my favorite films at the festival – if he’d had a chance to rub shoulders with any, you know, famous people. He responded with a gentle rebuke: “Well, for me, the real stars of the festival are the other filmmakers.”
That statement’s been rattling around in my brain ever since. It reminded me of the John Edwards-esque truism that there are actually two Sundances: the one sprinkled with the Justin Timberlakes, Heather Grahams, Jared Letos, and Queen Latifahs of the world, and the much larger one without.
I mean, what’s more likely: That over the course of the festival you read about a movie called Hounddog, in which Dakota Fanning gets raped, or about a movie called Padre Nuestro, in which two Mexican young men struggle for survival after being smuggled into New York City? Not to leap to conclusions here, but I’m going to guess that it’s the former, and yet Padre Nuestro was no less than the film that won Sundance’s top award, the Grand Jury Prize.
In fact, other than audience and screenwriter award winner Grace Is Gone (which starred John Cusack), almost all the feature films that won prizes at this year’s festival were made by people like Blitz, novice directors working with almost completely unknown casts. It would appear, however, that based on the vast majority of press coverage out of Park City, Utah – like from yours truly – these filmmakers and their films could easily remain largely unknown.
Sure, movie stars and well-known actors also had top-notch indie films at the festival – for one, I’m (mostly) with the inestimable Whitney Pastorek on The Nines, which stars Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Reynolds’ abs. But, heck, even I had to turn to my trusty festival catalogue during the awards ceremony to find out what the Feature Documentary Grand Jury Prize winner, Manda Bala (Send a Bullet), was actually about. To a degree, this has always been an issue at Sundance – its winners are often left-field surprises. But I can tell you that Padre Nuestro’s excellence was no secret leading up to its win, and after festival director Geoffrey Gilmore opened the awards ceremony by calling 2007 a “landmark year” for Sundance, I had to wonder if the full breadth of that accomplishment had been effectively communicated to the rest of the world.
So, PopWatchers, did you, like me, lose count of the number of times you read the words “Dakota” and “rape” in the same sentence? Would you – and please be honest here – want to know about, say, World Cinema Grand Jury Award winner Sweet Mud? If all the award winners were available on Netflix tomorrow, would you move them to the front of your queue? Or do these smaller films remain stuck in media obscurity because they are, point of fact, rather obscure?