Did the media cover the wrong Sundance?

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?

Comments (11 total) Add your comment
  • lola

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been thinking this whole week that EW’s coverage pretty much sucked. If I wanted to read about Justin Timberlake and Cristina Ricci at Sundance, I can just pick up US Weekly or People. It seems that even a few years ago, you guys were covering the small, truly independent films — now it’s celebrity blogging with Tara Reid and Heather Graham. What happened to you, EW???

  • Michealene

    I have been going to the Sundance FF since the early 90’s. For many of us, the “stars” of the festival have always been the filmmakers and their work. The festival has become a huge draw to hollywood, which has changed the environment dramatically. For me, part of the excitement of the festival was running into a admired director on the bus, or having a heated debate about the cost of a movie. Now if you ask the budget of a movie, you are told that the “lawyers have asked us not to disclose those numbers”. The stars, their limousines and their goodie bags are all part of the price we pay for an incredible festival. But, boy do I wish the festival was minus the “Hollywood” scene.

  • otto

    ‘Tis a pity. Not only has Hollywood invaded Sundance, but so has the religious right, protesting nonexistent things. I would love to see Dakota do another indie spoofing those nutballs.

  • Melissa

    Yes of course it’s covered wrong (EW is guilty too), it’s about the films, stupid. But it’s no one’s fault but the public with their appetite for gossip. Imagine how bad it would have been if Lindsey hadn’t been in rehab and been able to be there to “promote” her film.
    I met a journalist a few weeks ago who was planning his first trip to Sundance and was lamenting about how hard it will be do write up his coverage (he was planning on doing a daily digest for his website) and go to parties. Boo frickin’ hoo – simple answer, don’t go to parties. I love EW but will only read skim the articles to read about the films, not about the swag, booze or Tara Reid’s lap dances.

  • brandonk

    Mm, I’d watch Ryan Reyonlds’ abs read the Yellow Pages.

  • KTS

    For good or bad, the coverage given is apparently what the public wants as evident in what they purchase. That said, the film I’m most excited to see coming out of Sundance is “No End In Sight” and at this point I’d never have heard of it if it weren’t for ew.com’s coverage.

  • elizz

    “Or do these smaller films remain stuck in media obscurity because they are, point of fact, rather obscure?”
    maybe i’m missing the point, but aren’t they obscure only because the media doesn’t tell anyone who isn’t there about them? maybe i’d want to see Sweet Mud, but having no effing idea what it’s about, and with no Sundance catalog to look at, how can i know?
    so, maybe you guys could cover some of each ‘Sundance’

  • MiaS

    I read that Sienna Miller wanted to come back to Sundance when she had more time so she could see some films. I am really hoping that she meant MORE films but that is probably not the case.
    Sundance for me, is about the filmmakers. I don’t see the “star” movies or ones that have been picked up. I go to see great films that may never reach the multiplex because they don’t have a “star”. Do I see celebrities? Sure, a few(most go home when the media leave Wed.& I come Thurs.).
    But,what really excited me??? I met the director from “Hot House”. Talked to the director from “So, the Bible Tells Me So.” Saw Rocket Science, Manda Bala, Padre Nuestro in a packed 1270 person theater and clapped until my hands hurt. Talked to fellow fest goers about film. To me, that is Sundance not that P. Diddy walked down the street.
    Do they get stuck in obscurity because they are obscure???
    I bet if EW & others covered them, they wouldn’t be stuck there.
    People would want them, if they knew about them.

  • Michelle

    Okay, if you really want to go to Sundance and see movies, you can. In the satellite locations like Ogden, Salt Lake City and at the Sundance resort itself they have screenings twice a day of films you haven’t heard much about. Sometimes the producers or director will come to talk about the movie and do Q and A after, sometimes they don’t, but it is totally about the movies. There is a lot of “What have you seen?” discussions in the lines, and it is great. I saw 8 movies this year and could have seen more if it wasn’t for my stinkin’ day job. None of the movies I saw got ANY media coverage and believe me I looked for it. (Okay, except Waitress and I wonder if that had gotten as much coverage as it did if Adrienne Shelley hadn’t been killed). They were all good movies, and some of them were great.
    So yes, I think the media covers the wrong Sundance.

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