In the final days of the Sundance Film Festival (January 10 to 20), when most events are winding down, screenings were packed and panels were lively.
Commissioning editors and distribs from around the world – including Peter Dale, head of docs at Channel 4 in the U.K.; Catherine Olson, a commissioning editor for Canada’s CBC Newsworld; Nick Fraser, head of the BBC’s ‘Storyville’ strand; and Jan Rofekamp of Montreal-based Films Transit – held court at the House of Docs, and disappointed people continued to be turned away from full theaters.
Overall, however, this year’s festival was quieter than the dotcom frenzy of years prior. Despite the sometimes two-hour lineups of eager festival-goers trying to get last-minute tickets to a see a documentary (more than 70 people waited in the cold, hoping to get a seat for the Saturday, January 19 screening of AMANDLA! a revolution in four part harmony by director Lee Hirsch and producer Sherry Simpson), most attendees agreed that there were fewer people in Park City for the event. ‘I prefer it,’ remarked hbo director of doc programming Julie Anderson. ‘I can actually walk down Main Street this year.’
Evidence suggests those absent from the fest’s 20th anniversary were not buyers and distributors. Although a doc is not usually the object of a time-sensitive bidding war, Sundance has become a key place of business, where important introductions often lead to successful partnerships. How to Draw a Bunny director John Walter and producer Andrew Moore, who arrived at Sundance without a broadcaster commitment, fielded interest from a variety of outlets,
including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and a New York-based distrib interested in supporting a theatrical release. Sundance veteran Kirby Dick and co-director Amy Ziering Kofman admit they are still considering self-distribution for Derrida, but only if the conversations held with distributors at Sundance should fall through after the festival wraps.
Sundance’s closing ceremony, hosted by actress Stockard Channing, feted the following docs: Daughter from Danang, directed by Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco, and produced by Gail Dolgin, won the documentary grand jury prize; AMANDLA! a revolution in four part harmony walked away with the documentary audience award and the freedom of expression award; Rob Fruchtman and Rebecca Cammisa earned the directing award for their film Sister Helen; and Daniel B. Gold was given the excellence in cinematography award for Blue Vinyl. Both Walter’s How to Draw a Bunny and Senorita Extraviada, directed and produced by Lourdes Portillo, were given the special jury prize. Amidst the applause were cries for an editing award, a sure sign of the rising popularity of digital capture and verité filming, which often see a higher shooting ratio.