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by Lela Scott MacNeil
January 19th, 2011

This Thursday, January 20th, the 2011 Sundance Film Festival will begin. 200 hundred films will be shown, chosen from more than 9,000 submissions.  Collectively, these films will go a long way to painting the landscape of indie film over the coming year. Just think of it as Prom for the Indie Film world.

This year’s festival is a particularly exciting one for Rooftop, because this year, there are more of our alumni with films at Sundance than ever before. Twenty-six of them to be precise.

The list includes filmmakers whose films we have shown in the past, such as Todd Rohal and Calvin Lee Reeder. It includes films we’ve funded and helped produce through the Rooftop Filmmaker’s Fund, like competition feature Martha Marcy Mary Marlene, directed by Sean Durkin, and filmmakers who have received grants from us in the past, such as Emily Carmichael. Not only that, several of the short films at Sundance this year are films already shown by Rooftop, including anamazing short by Ruben Ostlund. (Scroll down for a complete list of Rooftop Alum’s at this year’s Sundance Fest.)

And because we wouldn’t want you to feel left out of any of the exciting indie film action, we’ve invited several of our incredible Alumni to give their boots-on-the-snow accounts of the festival. These funny and insightful filmmakers, along with Rooftop’s own Artistic Director Mark Rosenberg and Program Director Dan Nuxoll, will  take you behind the scenes at the parties, the screenings, the wheeling and dealing. We’ll show you what the festival experience is really like, which films are the must-sees of 2011, and which you can skip.

Here’s who’ll be blogging for Rooftop at Sundance:

Emily Carmichael, Rooftop Alum and Filmmaker’s Fund Grantee
Film at Sundance: The Hunter and the Swan Discuss Their Meeting

Emily Carmichael

When he presented her with the David McCord Prize for Excellence in the Arts, Jamie Ciocco described Emily Carmichael as ” …an artistic phenomenon. Or perhaps more accurately…. a bizarre frightening mutant artistic freak. ” We agree. We love Emily’s work, which is why we’ve screened a number of her films and given her a grant from our Filmmaker’s Fund to continue her wildly charming Ledo and Ix Series.

Her short film The Hunter and the Swan Discuss Their Meeting, which will screen at this year’s, centers around a Brooklyn couple who have dinner with a hunter and his girlfriend, a magical swan woman. It doesn’t go well.

The Hunter and the Swan
A still from “The Hunter and the Swan”

David Lowery, Rooftop Alum
Film at Sundance: Pioneer

David Lowry

David Lowery is an award-winnning filmmaker from Texas. His work has been shown at festivals around the world, including Rooftop (St. Nick), Sundance, SXSW, Slamdance and Thessaloniki, among others. He is an alumni of the Berlinale Talent Campus, and in 2010 was named an Independent Icon by IFC Films.

David’s short film Pioneer was selected for this year’s Sundance Shorts program. The film, which stars Will Oldham, is about a father who tells his little boy the most epic bedtime story ever.

PIONEER – Trailer from David Lowery on Vimeo.

Ruben Östlund, Rooftop Alum
Film at Sundance: Incident by a Bank

Ruben Ostlund

Ruben Östlund got his start directing films about skiing in the late 90’s and later went on to study at the film school in Gothenburg. He made his award-winning feature debut with The Guitar Mongoloid in 2004. Involuntary (2008) was selected for Cannes 2008 and has since been in major festivals worldwide. It was also Sweden´s nominee for Best Foreign Oscar that year. His Sundance short, Incident by a Bank, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival 2010, and also played during Rooftop’s 2010 Summer Series. He is currently working on his next feature, Play (2011).

Incident by a Bank is a detailed and humorous account of a failed bank robbery. Rooftop screened it as part of our Swedish Cinema Week during last year’s Summer Series. You can read our interview with Ruben here.

Incident By a Bank
A still from “Incident by a Bank”

Calvin Reeder, Rooftop Alum
Film at Sundance: The Oregonian

Calvin Reeder

Calvin Reeder is an award winning filmmaker whose films have played festivals from Rooftop (The Ramblerand Little Farm) to Seattle to Vegas to Sundance. Filmmaker Magazine named him one of their Top 25 New Faces of Independent Film, calling his films “A stark mix of underground horror shock with existentialist atmosphere,” that put “the art into lo-fi splatter pics.” They go on to say, “like an Abel Ferrara Jr., Reeder meshes thought and design with genre storylines, like a Euro-filmmaker making ’70s drive-in films.

His feature film debut, The Oregonian, will play the festival in the Park City at Midnight category. It stars True Blood’s Lindsay Pulsipher as woman from Oregon who is lost on the road and running away from her past, who has a chance to experience everything the grotesque Northwest has to offer, whether she likes it or not. If you know Calvin Lee Reeder’s short films Little Farm and The Rambler, you know you are in for some thick atmosphere in The Oregonian. Reeder is a king of ambiance, using color and sound to creep you out as much as the sinister characters do.

Trailer for The Oregonian:

Todd Rohal, Rooftop Alum
Film at Sundance: The Catechism Cataclysm

Todd Rohal

Named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film”, Todd Rohal has had his films screened at Rooftop since 2000. He’s the writer and director of The Guatemalan Handshake, which premiered at the 2006 Slamdance Film Festival where it won the festival’s Special Jury Prize. The film screened at over 40 International Film Festivals, including Rooftop, and was self-distributed via a year-long theatrical tour with the film’s single 35mm print. Rohal is currently in pre-production on Scoutmasters with Big Beach Films (Little Miss Sunshine, Everything is Illuminated), an original comedic screenplay which participated in the 2009 Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab.

The Catechism Cataclysm, his second feature, follows Father Billy, a young priest who has lost interest in the church and decides to take a sabbatical. Billy tracks down his high-school friend Robbie, who begrudgingly agrees to a canoe trip. On the water, the two men reminisce about Billy’s days as the keyboardist in a Christian band and Robbie’s as a guitarist for a metal band, but when night approaches, they realize they have lost their way—and that’s when things get weird.
Buoyed by commanding comedic performances and deft handling by director Todd Rohal, The Catechism Cataclysm spins a fantastic yarn that shines a light on the power of absurd fiction.

Catechism Cataclysm

Poster for Catechism Cataclysm

Mark Elijah Rosenberg, Founder & Artistic Director, Rooftop Films

Mark Rosenberg

Born and raised in New York City, Mark received his BA at Vassar College
and began showing movies on his roof in 1997. Mark has overseen the growth of Rooftop Films from a simple idea into one of the most innovative film companies in the country.

Mark has published articles on filmmaking and programming, and been a guest lecturer at places such as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Allied Media Conference and the University of Texas. Mark has served on grants panels for Cinereach, NYSCA, LMCC and Renew Media, and serves on the Advisory Council for Fractured Atlas. Mark has programmed film screenings across the world, and served on the jury at festivals including Sundance and SXSW.

Dan Nuxoll, Program Director, Rooftop Films

Dan Nuxoll

Dan grew up in Queens and attended Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, later moving on to Vassar College. Following his return to New York in 1997, Dan co-founded the legendary Peter’s Car Corp. on the top floor of the McKibbin Street Lofts in Bushwick. PCC soon became the home of Rooftop Films and for the next 5 years Dan helped to bring hundreds of films to his roof in Brooklyn.

Dan took over as full-time Program Director of Rooftop Films in 2002 and since then he has watched the film submissions rise to over 2,800 submissions a year. The programming for Rooftop Films has received increasing acclaim over the last years, and Dan has curated and organized events across North America and Europe. He has also served on juries for both Slamdance and SXSW.

Here’s a complete list of all the Rooftop Alumni at the 2011 Sundance Festival:

1. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Director and screenwriter: Sean Durkin) — Haunted by painful memories and increasing paranoia, a damaged woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult. Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Brady Corbet, Hugh Dancy, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson.

2. Crazy Beats Strong Every Time (Director and Screenwriter: Moon Molson) – An African-American twenty-something finds his Nigerian-immigrant stepfather passed out drunk in their project-building hallway and is pressured by a friend into murdering him.

3. The Hunter and the Swan Discuss Their Meeting (Director and Screenwriter: Emily Carmichael) – A Brooklyn couple have dinner with a hunter and his girlfriend, a magical swan woman. It doesn’t go well.

4. The Interrupters/U.S.A. (Director: Steve James) — From the Academy Award-winning director of Hoop Dreams comes a story of ex-gang members who are now protecting their communities from the violence they themselves once employed.

5. The Woods/U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Matthew Lessner) — When promised change that did not come, eight young Americans move deep into to the woods to start their own society. Cast: Justin Phillips, Toby David, Adam Mortemore, Nicola Persky, Chris Edley. World Premiere.

6. The Oregonian/U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Calvin Lee Reeder) — After surviving a brutal car accident, a simple farm woman limps down the road into the nightmarish unknown. Cast: Lindsay Pulsipher, Robert Longstreet, Matt Olsen, Lynne Compton, Barlow Jacobs, Chadwick Brown, Jed Maheu, Roger M. Mayer. World Premiere

7. The Catechism Cataclysm/U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Todd Rohal) — After becoming disinterested with the church, a priest tracks down his old classmate, a former metalhead whom he idolized in high school. When the two embark on a canoeing trip together, all hell breaks loose. Cast: Steve Little, Robert Longstreet, Walter Dalton, Miki Ann Maddox, Koko Lanham. World Premiere

8. Pariah (Director and screenwriter: Dee Rees) — When forced to choose between losing her best friend or destroying her family, a Bronx teenager juggles conflicting identities and endures heartbreak in a desperate search for sexual expression. Cast: Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker, Kim Wayans, Charles Parnell, Aasha Davis.

9. The Lie/U.S.A. (Director: Joshua Leonard; Screenwriters: Jeff Feuerzeig, Joshua Leonard, Mark Webber and Jess Weixler, based on the short story by T. Coraghessan Boyle) — A man overwhelmed and disappointed with life tells a lie to avoid going to work… what could possibly go wrong? Cast: Joshua Leonard, Jess Weixler, Mark Webber, Alia Shawkat, Jane Adams and Kelli Garner.

10. The Future/Germany, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Miranda July) — When a couple decides to adopt a stray cat their perspective on life changes radically, literally altering the course of time and space and testing their faith in each other and themselves. Cast: Hamish Linklater, Miranda July, David Warshofsky, Isabella Acres, Joe Putterlik.

11. HERE (Director: Braden King; Written By: Braden King and Dani Valent) — On assignment to create a new, more accurate satellite survey of Armenia, an American cartographer forms a powerful bond with an Armenian expatriate and art photographer. Cast: Ben Foster and Lubna Azabal with Narek Nersisyan, Yuri Kostanyan and Sofik Sarkisyan.

12. The Last Mountain (Director: Bill Haney; Screenwriters: Bill Haney and Peter Rhodes) — A coal mining corporation and a tiny community vie for the last great mountain in Appalachia in a battle for the future of energy that affects us all.

13. Pioneer (Director and Screenwriter: David Lowery) – A father tells his little boy the most epic bedtime story ever.

14. We’re Leaving (Director and Screenwriter: Zachary Treitz) – Rusty has to find a new place to live with his wife and his teenage American Alligator, Chopper.

15. YEARBOOK (Director: Carter Smith) – Something strange is going on at Rockdale high school…

16. Animals Distract Me (Director and Screenwriter: Isabella Rossellini) – A day in the life of animal-obsessed Isabella Rossellini as she visits with Mario Batali, Andre Leon Talley, Charles Darwin and a host of urban creatures in New York City.

17. The Majestic Plastic Bag (Director: Jeremy Konner; Screenwriters: Sarah May Bates and Regie Miller) – A plastic bag encounters enemies and escapes death on its epic migration to its final destination, the great Pacific Garbage Patch.

18. Bike Race (Director: Tom Schroeder; Screenwriters: Tom Schroeder and Hilde De Roover) – Two friends decide to stage a bicycle race to determine who is the best racer of all time, Eddy Merckx or Lance Armstrong. A love triangle develops during the race and the stakes of winning grow in importance.

19. Something Left, Something Taken (Directors and Screenwriters: Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter) – Everyone who enters a crime scene leaves something behind and takes something away, which proves true during a vacationing couples’ encounter with a man they believe to be the Zodiac killer.

20. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (Director: Dean Fleischer-Camp; Screenwriters: Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp) – A short conversation with Marcel, a shell with shoes on.

21. Baby / United Kingdom (Director and Screenwriter: Daniel Mulloy) – A young woman intervenes when she witnesses men mugging a girl. Now they won’t leave her alone.

22. Protoparticles / Spain (Director and Screenwriter: Chema Garcia Ibarra) – The experiment was a success: protomatter exists.

23. Stardust / Belgium (Director and Screenwriter: Nicolas Provost) – An investigation of the boundaries between fiction and reality. The camera ventures to Las Vegas and uses the glorious and ambiguous power of the gambling capital to turn everyday life into an exciting crime story.

24. Incident by a Bank / Sweden (Director and Screenwriter: Ruben Oestlund) – A detailed and humorous account of a failed bank robbery.

25. The External World / Germany (Director and Screenwriter: David O’Reilly) – A little boy practices playing the piano.

26. Tussilago / Sweden (Director and Screenwriter: Jonas Odell) – In 1977 West German terrorist Norbert Kroecher was arrested for having planned to kidnap the Swedish politician Anna-Great Leijon. Among the people arrested during the following raids was Kroecher’s former girlfriend ‘A.’

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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